DRIVER WALTER GEORGE BIRKETT
CANADIAN FIELD ARTILLERY
25TH AUGUST 1916 AGE 25
BURIED: RENINGHELST NEW MILITARY CEMETERY, BELGIUM
Who is 'he', the person whose touch is revealed in a thousand things? I think it's the dead soldier, Walter Birkett, but I could be wrong and 'he' could be God. However, I don't think it is.
There was a huge popular interest in spiritualism during the 19th and early 20th centuries and this interest mushroomed during and after the First World War. People were desperate for some word from their dead sons and husbands and mediums provided them with this comfort - whether they were complete charlatans or not.
In fact the war encouraged the belief in ghostly manifestations with legends and images like the Angels of Mons , and the White Comrade . And after the war the Australian artist and former soldier, Will Longstaff, painted a series of extremely evocative images of soldierly ghosts haunting old battlefields and newly erected war memorials: the Cenotaph, Vimy Ridge, the Menin Gate, the coast of Belgium and Gallipoli. It all brought comfort to the thousands of people whose hopes for the future had been so radically altered by the death of their men.
This is why I think that Walter Birkett's inscription references his parents' belief in their son's continuing presence rather than in God's.
Birkett was born in Kingston Jamaica in the British West Indies in December 1892. He came to Canada with his parents and in 1914 was living in Cooksville, Toronto. He was a teamster and carried his experience as a wagon driver into the army where he served with the 2nd Division Ammunition Column of the Canadian Field Artillery. He died of wounds at a Field Ambulance station on 8 August 1916.
The source of the quotation is actually a poem by Claude Burton called An Unknown Grave.
4 January 2018