PRIVATE ROBERT ILLTYD FRENCH
YORK AND LANCASTER REGIMENT
12TH SEPTEMBER 1918 AGE 23
BURIED: RUYAULCOURT MILITARY CEMETERY, FRANCE
Sometimes next-of-kin choose inscriptions that are impenetrably enigmatic, like this one - "As yesterday" - or Lieutenant Horace Collins', "Yes Dad" which I wrote about in May. I admire their originality, especially as I always suspect I might have chosen something deeply conventional. However, is it possible to get an inkling of what Robert French's mother, Mrs Martha French, meant by her choice of inscription?
There's a memorial in Linthorpe Municipal Cemetery, Middlesborough Yorkshire that gives a hint. The dedication reads:
My dearly loved husband Robert French
Died on active service Aug. 18th, buried at sea
August 19th 1916
Also my dearly beloved only son Robert Illtyd
Aged 23 yrs 10 mths killed in action Sept 12th 1918
Buried at Bertincourt, France
Robert French was a time-expired naval petty officer who rejoined the navy on the outbreak of war. He served on board HMS Moldavia, an armed merchant cruiser on patrol in the North Sea. French is variously said to have 'died of disease', 'died of haemorrhage', died of a 'burst blood vessel'. However, someone has transcribed Moldavia's log book and this gives chapter and verse:
18 August 1916
Various courses for patrol
4.00 pm: In 56 26N, 11 27W, departed this life, PO Robert French, RFR, ON 138240, from haemorrhage following cancer of the stomach
19 August 1916
Various courses for patrol
9 am: Stopped and committed to the deep the body of the late PO 1c Robert French, in Lat 56 22N, Long 11 17W. RIP.
There is not the same level of detail known about his son's death. Robert Illtyd French's medal card shows him to have been entitled to the 1915 Star having first gone to France and Flanders on 17 April 1915. He served originally with the Yorkshire Regiment before being transferred to the 2/4th York and Lancaster Regiment. This was part of the 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division, which on 12 September 1918, the day French was killed, successfully took the town of Havrincourt; the first breach in the German Hindenburg Line.
Does any of this tell us what Martha French meant by her inscription? I would suggest perhaps that she was declaring that her love and her grief for her dead husband and son were the same 'as yesterday'; they had not diminished.
After I posted this, one of my followers suggested that the reference could be to Psalm 90 verse 4:
"For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night."
I think he could be right but I still can't really understand what Mrs French meant by her choice of words.