LIEUTENANT GEOFFREY WALTER GAVIN MAIDENS CATO
ROYAL FLYING CORPS
6TH NOVEMBER 1917 AGE 21
BURIED: LIJSSENTHOEK MILITARY CEMETERY, BELGIUM
This inscription is written in Maori and I had to apply to the Twitter community to find out what it meant. By return Mark Vent (@MarkVent) and S Disbrey (@dizzernp) replied that it meant Little Chief, their translation confirmed by Sharon Marris (@JournoKiwi). I had thought it meant something like noble fame but as you can see, it doesn't.
Had Lieutenant Cato not joined the Royal Flying Corps he would not have had a headstone inscription at all. The New Zealand Government objected to the imposition of a charge of 3 1/2d for each letter, believing it to be discriminatory, and so banned inscriptions for their soldiers. The Canadian Government felt the charge to be equally discriminatory but rather than banning inscriptions decided to pay for them all themselves. Cato's service in the Royal Flying Corps as opposed to a New Zealand regiment meant the ban didn't apply to him. British families could choose whether they wanted to pay for an inscription or not.
The War Graves Commission believed that families would welcome the opportunity of making some sort of contribution to commemorating their dead. However, I wonder whether the Commission realised just how poor some families were. Poverty is surely one of the reasons for the many blank headstones and the very short inscriptions like R.I.P. The Commission did waver the charge in numerous cases but some families will not have gone ahead in the first place because they knew they wouldn't be able to pay.
Geoffrey Walter Gavin Maidens Cato, who appears to have sometimes gone under the name Reginald Maidens Cato, grew up in Napier, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. He left for Britain in 1916 to join the Royal Flying Corps. He trained at Oxford Flying School, getting his wings in May 1917 at which point he went to France. He survived for six months despite crash landing twice.
However, on 6 November 1917, Cato took off at 2.55 pm. No one knows whether he completed his patrol or whether it was aborted but within half an hour of take-off his plane broke-up and crashed into Lake Dickebusch. Cato and the observer were both killed, drowned. It could have been enemy action or a fault with the machine but there was a suspicion that Cato, known for his fondness for 'stunts', aerobatics, had put the plane into too steep a dive and it had broken up.