7TH JUNE 1917 AGE 36


In his poem, 'The Character of the Happy Warrior', published in 1807, William Wordsworth enumerated the qualities of the soldiers on whom the security of Great Britain depended during the Napoleonic Wars. One hundred and ten years later he could have been describing the young men on whom Britain's security again depended.
Second Lieutenant Martin's inscription quotes Wordsworth's poem and can perhaps be best understood by reading the rest of the section in which it appeared. In answer to the the question, 'Who is the Happy Warrior? Who is he whom every man in arms should wish to be?' Wordsworth enumerated his numerous qualities, which included:
... who, if he be called upon to face
Some awful moment to which heaven has join'd
Great issues, good or bad for human-kind,
Is happy as a Lover; and attired
With sudden brightness like a Man inspired;
And through the heat of conflict keeps the law
In calmness made, and sees what he foresaw;
Or if an unexpected call succeed,
Come when it will, is equal to the need:

The lines had a great resonance with the soldiers of the First World War, as can be seen by the following letter, which Second Lieutenant Alexander Gillespie wrote to his father on the eve of an attack.

Trenches: September 24 1915
My Dear Daddy,
... Before long I think we shall be in the thick of it, for if we do attack, my company will be one of those in front, and I am likely to lead it; not because I have been specially chosen for that, but because someone must lead, and I have been in the company the longest. I have no forebodings, for I feel that so many of my friends will charge by my side, and if a man's spirit may wander back at all, especially to the places where he is needed most, then Tom himself will be here to help me ...
It will be a great fight, and even when I think of you, I would not wish to be out of this. You remember Wordsworth's 'Happy Warrior':
Who if he be called upon to face
Some awful moment to which heaven has joined
Great issues, good or bad, for human kind,
Is happy as a lover, and is attired
With sudden brightness like a man inspired.
Well, I never could be all a happy warrior should be, but it will please you to know that I am very happy, and whatever happens, you will remember that. Well, anything one writes at a time like this seems futile, because the tongue of man can't say all that he feels - but I thought I would send this scribble with my love to you and Mother.
Always your loving

'Bey', Alexander Gillespie, was killed the next day. His body was never found and he is commemorated on the Loos Memorial, hence he has no grave and no inscription. The Tom he refers to was his brother, Lieutenant Thomas Gillespie, who was killed in action on 18 October 1914 and also has no grave.