SECOND LIEUTENANT ROPER HENRY WHITROD
THE KING'S (LIVERPOOL REGIMENT)
28TH MAY 1918 AGE 28
BURIED: GWALIA CEMETERY, ELVERDINGE, BELGIUM
Second Lieutenant Whitrod's inscription comes from Charles Kingsley's 'The Heroes: or Greek Fairy Tales for My Children', published in 1856. The book was classic fare for the Victorian and Edwardian child. The quotation comes from the story of Perseus.
Pallas Athena came to him in a dream and 'looked him through and through, and into his very heart', telling him,
"'I know the thoughts of all men's hearts, and discern their manhood or their baseness. And from the souls of clay I turn away, and they are blest, but not by me. They fatten at ease, like sheep in the pasture ... But to the souls of fire I give more fire, and to those who are manful I give a might more than man's. These are the heroes, the sons of the Immortals ... Through doubt and need, danger and battle, I drive them; and some of them are slain in the flower of youth ... and some of them win noble names ... Tell me now Perseus, which of these two sorts of men seem to you more blest?'
Then Perseus answered boldly: 'Better to die in the flower of youth, on the chance of winning a noble name, than to live at ease like the sheep, and die unloved and unrenowned'."
This is the sort of reading matter that created the hearts and minds of so many men - and women - of the era. It's an attitude of mind that is conventionally thought to have belonged to the public-school-educated officer, schooled in the Classics. But Whitrod was no public school boy. He left school at 14 and joined the Coldstream Guards as a boy soldier. He was a corporal with nine years' service behind him when the war broke out.
His regiment landed in France on 12 August 1914, eight days after the outbreak. By late 1917 Whitrod was a serjeant. Early in 1918 he returned to England to take a commission in The King's (Liverpool Regiment). He arrived back in Flanders on 14 May 1918 and was killed by a shell two weeks later whilst returning with a working party from the front.
Whitrod was the son of Ramaiah Whitrod, a police constable, and his wife, Eliza. In July 1915, he married Minnie Wesson and in 1916 they had a daughter, Margaret. Minnie Whitrod chose her husband's inscription.