PRIVATE RALPH HAMILTON
THE BLACK WATCH
2ND SEPTEMBER 1918 AGE 20
BURIED: PERONNE COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION, FRANCE
Ralph Hamilton's father signed for his inscription. It comes from Lord Byron's narrative poem 'The Bride of Abydos', a story of Turkish love and revenge. Ralph Hamilton was killed in France but his battalion, the 14th (Fife and Forfar Yeomanry) Battalion Black Watch had been fighting in Palestine until their return to Europe in May 1918. They were therefore familiar with the land Byron describes: the land of cypress and myrtle of cedar and vine, 'where the flowers ever blossom, the beams ever shine ... and all, save the spirit of man, is divine?' The actual passage George Hamilton quotes refers to the two lovers:
The winds are high on Helle's wave,
As on that night of stormy water,
When love, who sent, forget to save
The young, the beautiful, the brave,
The lonely hope of Sesto's daughter.
The quotation has an interesting after life. Byron died in 1824 and for many years afterwards an In Memoriam notice would appear in The Times and Morning Post on the anniversary of his death:
Byron - George Gordon Noel, Lord Byron, died nobly for Greece, at Missolonghi, April 19 1824.
"When love, who sent, forgot to save
The young, the beautiful, the brave
The story was that a lady bequeathed money to ensure that on the anniversary of his death a wreath of Marechel Niel roses was laid at the foot his statue in Hamilton Gardens, London W1, and the notices appeared in the papers, 'until the Authorities of Westminster Abbey shall sanction the erection of some memorial in the Poet's Corner'. The 'immorality' of his life making him unacceptable to the Abbey authorities.
I haven't looked up to see how long the notices kept appearing but it was not until May 1969 that Byron got a memorial in Westminster Abbey.
Hamilton's battalion had been brought back from Palestine to meet the German offensive. the regimental history tells of how they had to receive instruction on a different kind of warfare. They had certainly had no experience of gas but the experts sent to train them in fighting with bayonets soon found 'we had not much to learn in that line'.
Hamilton was killed on 2 September 1918. The battalion successfully attacked across the Canal du Nord when 'murderous machine-gun fire opened up from the left and their rear.
"The battalion of Londoners on our left north of Moislains had withdrawn, the village of Moislains itself was never mopped up, and the eight Bosche machine-guns holding Moislains seeing this moved quickly to the south of the village and opened on our backs. In addition to this we were being subjected to very heavy fire on our left flank, which was now completely in the air, and we could actually see their gun teams working the 77's on the crest of the ridge. The Bosche had paid us the compliment of rushing up his best troops to meet our Division, and certainly the Alpini Corps were most gallant fighters. To advance unsupported was out of the question, and our casualties were by now very heavy, so there was nothing left but to withdraw to the west side of the Canal again and reorganise the remains of the companies."