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Base Details is a war poem by the English war poet Siegfried Sassoon. In the poem Sassoon condemns what he saw as the incompetence and callous indifference to the soldiers at the front displayed by the staff officers, or "scarlet majors" of the British Army, who stayed at the Base "Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel" and sending "glum heroes up the line to death". Like so many of Sassoon's poems "Base Details" is bitterly sarcastic and utterly derisive of the comfortable establishment that supported the continuation of the war while showing little concern for the people who suffered its consequences. It took place during World War I in France around 1914-1918.
The theme is anger and bitterness. This is an attack on those who start wars and send their fellow men to their death. These army officers plan battles from safety of base, and are usually not involved in the fighting. The first two Quartiles are talking about the Majors, in a very sarcastic way, and the last Couplet talks about how the war isn't actually a joke, that it is very serious.
- If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
- I’d live with scarlet Majors at the base,
- And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
- You’d see me with my puffy petulant face,
- Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
- Reading the Roll of Honour. ‘Poor young chap,’
- I’d say—‘I used to know his father well.
- Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.’
- And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
- I’d toddle safely home and die — in bed.
The major in this poem is cynical, he treats war as if it is a game. 'last scrap.' The major knows nothing of war because he has never been on the frontline. The major is a figure associated with power and privilege. Also, He knows that the meaning of the "last scrap" is how the major thinks of war, a game.
The title of the poem "Base Details"- Base possibly meaning a military base and Details could be a command assignment, someone or something lowly. "fierce; and bald, and short of breath" this would be a stereotypical World War I officer.
"Glum heroes" refer to the heroes by dying they are unhappy. "Up the line" is the battlefield. "puffy petulant face" is the officer's faces from the excessive eating and drinking. "Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel" the officers eat and drink until their hearts delight while the best hotel refers to them living in the lap of luxury. This also could portray them as acting like monsters and this is what Sassoon intended.
A very effective pun found in this poem is "scarlet major". Scarlet (red) has several different meanings.
Amendment: The main reference is to the red tabs that staff officers wore on the lapels of their dress uniforms. These denoted them as non-regimental officers that would never see actual fighting, but work safely in the rear headquarters. Sassoon was a very committed soldier, and his poems are nothing like as crude as the rest of this explanation here below implies. Sassoon was critical of staff officers, NOT majors.
The first being the red blood on their hands from knowing that they have killed all these people by sending them to the front line. It could also imply that their faces are red from being drunk or that they are very childish, which implies they are ignorant and will do anything to get what they want. Also their faces might be red because they are so obese and they are out of breath from doing nothing "Poor Young Chap" this direct speech mimics the Majors as they pretend to care, to get the public on their side,said almost as a matter of routine. "Scrap" The generals and Majors refer to the war as a game, or "scrap". "youth stoned dead" a very blunt metaphor which shows the harshness of the author, he isn't impressed. The last two lines however show how the war isn't really a joke at all, and how young boys are being slaughtered for small bits of land that really make no difference. "Toddle" refers to the drunk Major and a very good use of satire as it is effective in diminishing the normal view of a major, and "Die" is what Siegfried wants the major to do. Siegfried Sassoon shows great disgust towards military majors. He is appalled at the way the majors act while men are dying in the battlefield. The majors are fat, insensitive, greedy, vain and very proud, and display no empathy with the soldiers whatsoever. The use of iambic pentameter and a regular rhyming scheme help create a tone of sarcasm. As the topic is serious such an upbeat rhythm would normally,seem inappropriate except that Sassoon skilfully employs the techniques to satirise the complacent attitude of majors who never have to face the horror of war.