PRIVATE HORACE HOLTON
NORTH STAFFORDSHIRE REGIMENT
9TH JANUARY 1918 AGE 21
BURIED: PHILOSOPHE BRITISH CEMETERY, MAZINGARBE, FRANCE
This is an unusual quotation from Edward Fitzgerald's the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. When other families have quoted from this beautiful but fatalistic poem they have tended to choose passages that lament the fleeting nature of life. The quotation comes from the 26th quatrain. The 24th makes the point that we will soon all be dust so we may as well make the most of our lives whilst we can.
Ah make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie
Sans wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and sans End!
The 26th quatrain scoffs at those supposedly wise men who discuss the future, what do they know and what's more, what will anyone care when they're dead:
Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss'd
Of the Two worlds so wisely - they are thrust
Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
Are scattere'd, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust.
Horace Holton's father, William Henry Holton, signed for his inscription. The family lived in Leicester where William was a boot finisher and in 1911, fourteen-year-old Horace was working in a wholesale chemists. His medal card shows that he was entitled to the 1915 Star having entered a theatre of war on 28 July 1915. It looks therefore as though he volunteered on the outbreak of war when he was 18. His medal card says he served with the 9th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment. The War Graves Commission records say it was the 1st/5th. The 9th Battalion arrived in France on 29 July 1915, which would tie in with the date on Holton's medal card. However, neither of these battalion's war diaries give any indication of hostile activities on the day he was said to have been killed in action.
So, what could the Holton's have meant by their choice of inscription? Does it just mean that their son is dead - his mouth full of the dust of the earth he's buried in? That seems a bit literal. Did they mean that it is pointless listening to those who think they 'know' what they're talking about - politicians and opinion formers? It could. Or were they aware, as Fitzgerald must have been, that putting your mouth in the dust is an Oriental form of submission as when you prostrate yourself in obeisance before a superior being as a sign that you are prepared to accept their will? So is it just a superior way of saying, Thy will be done?