LANCE SERGEANT ALEXANDER LORIMER RIDDELL
3RD OCTOBER 1918 AGE 33
BURIED: DUISANS BRITISH CEMETERY, ETRUN, FRANCE
I'm not sure what was going on here but it can have never occurred to Alexander Riddell that ninety-nine years after his death somebody would be looking at his attestation form and wondering what he'd been playing at.
Alexander Lorimer Riddell, army service number 706968, son of George and Margaret Riddell of Rosehearty, Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, was born in Scotland in 1885. In 1906, aged 21, he went to Canada and settled in Nanamo, British Columbia where he worked as a building contractor. He enlisted in the Canadian Infantry in February 1916, sailed from Halifax in July and joined his unit in the field in February 1917. He was wounded at Vimy Ridge in April 1917 and returned to Rosehearty in December where he married Jean Arthur. After two weeks leave he returned to the front and died of wounds received in action on 3 October 1918.
That, in brief, is the life of Alexander Lorimer Ridddell. It all comes from information provided by Riddell's family for his entry in the Marquis du Ruvigny's Roll of Honour. So why, on his attestation form, does he claim that he was born in New South Wales, Australia on 16 August 1877, which would have made him 44 when he was only 33. And why does he say that his next of kin is his step-father, Donald Riddell of Lincoln, Nebraska, when he didn't have a step-father. I don't have an answer.
His wife chose his inscription. It comes from Rudyard Kipling's poem The Children and is a savage indictment of the society that led its innocent children into war. Yes Kipling was probably moved to write it by his grief for the death of his own son, John, who was killed in action at Loos on 26 September 1915, but there is much more to the poem than the self-pity that one unsympathetic critic has accused Kipling of. Riddell's inscription comes from verse 3:
They bought us anew with their blood, forbearing to blame us,
Those hours which we had not made good when the judgment o'ercame us.
They believed us and perished for it. Our statecraft, our learning
Delivered them bound to the Pit and alive to the burning
Whither they mirthfully hastened as jostling for honour -
Not since her birth has our Earth seen such worth loosed upon her,
Never before has our earth seen 'such worth', such wonderful, valuable people thrown away, wasted in this manner. There is nothing at all heroic or triumphalist about this poem, no attempt at all to make death in war glamorous:
Nor was their agony brief, or once only imposed on them.
The wounded, the war-spent, the sick received no exemption:
Being cured they returned and endured and achieved our redemption,
Hopeless themselves of relief, till Death, marvelling, closed on them.
But, as Kipling acknowledges, we can rail against what has happened all we like, we can regret it, we can try to make amends, but in the end what's the point because nothing can bring our children back. "Who shall return us our children?" he asks, and the answer, of course, is no one.