26TH JULY 1918 AGE 40


There was the Door to which I found no Key:
There was the Veil past which I could not see
Some little talk awhile of Me and Thee
There seem'd - and then no more of Thee and Me.

Then to the rolling Heav'n itself I cried,
Asking, "What lamp had Destiny to guide
Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?"
And - "A Blind Understanding!" Heav'n replied.

Then to this earthern Bowl did I adjourn
My Lip the secret Well of Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur'd - 'While you live,
Drink! - for, once dead, you never shall return."

The poem is the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and the author Edward Fitzgerald. Private Rennell's inscription comes from quatrain XXXIII, but what his wife, Mrs Rose Ellen Rennell, meant by it is difficult to tell - even more difficult when you learn her story, which is related in two letters a descendant has put on Ancestry:

Dear Mrs Rennell,
Your husband wishes me to write and tell you he was wounded on the 25th July. I saw him as he passed through [the] dressing station, and he particularly wished me to send his love and to assure you not to have any anxiety about him.
I sincerely hope you will get good news of him soon.
Yours sincerely,
(Signed) C.T.Richards C.F.
Chaplin 7th London Regiment

1 Aug. 1918
Dear Mrs Rennell,
I am very sorry to have to give you news that your brave husband died on July 26th at a casualty Clearing Station, the day after he was wounded. When I saw him the day before, I knew matters were serious, but he wished me to reassure you, so I did not say all I felt about him.
Since returning to the Battalion, I have found that your husband received his wound in doing a very gallant and splendid action. He went out under very heavy fire to bring in a wounded man of another attacking battalion; was himself so severely wounded that he had to return; but in spite of the severity and pain of his wound he went out again, and succeeded in dragging in his man and getting back himself. All through he showed the utmost pluck and endurance, and I understand that he was highly recommended for his magnificent deed.
Please accept my very deep sympathy in your trouble. I know the blow will be a heavy one, and I do feel for you, especially too as your husband told me that your house was destroyed by a bomb not so very long since.
May you find comfort in the thought that he gave of his very best, and lived and died a real hero, his soul assuredly now in God's keeping. His one thought when I was with him was that you should not worry or be anxious about him.
Yours very sincerely,
(Signed) CT Richards C.F.
Chaplain 7th London Regt.

On the night of the 19/20 May 1918, at about 12.15 pm, a Gotha dropped three bombs - one 300g and two 50g - over Stratford East London. The larger bomb demolished two houses in Maryland Square, damaged fifty others, killed two people and injured seven others. Mrs Rennell and her two children lived at 48 Maryland Square.
The Gotha was shot down by a Bristol fighter over East Ham.
So what did Mrs Rennell mean by her choice of inscription? Was it that understanding is not necessary, you should just put your faith in God because whatever happens is His will? Perhaps, but then she could have found a more Christian source than this to say so. Or does she mean that fate strikes randomly and there is no sense in anything? Who can tell.

[The information about the bombing of East London comes from Ian Castle's wonderfully detailed and informative website: Zeppelin Raids, Goths and 'Giants' Britain's First Blitz 1914-1918.]