LIEUTENANT COLONEL JOHN HENRY MORRIS ARDEN
ROYAL AIR FORCE
22ND JULY 1918 AGE 44
BURIED: ALEXANDRIA HADRA WAR MEMORIAL CEMETERY, EGYPT
Lieutenant Colonel Arden's inscription is a quotation from Robert Browning's poem 'Prospice' in which the poet expresses a bold determination not to hide from death but to meet it head on.
John Henry Morris Arden was a professional soldier who served throughout the South African War and the Sudan Campaign and retired from the army in 1912. He rejoined immediately war broke out and went to France with the Expeditionary Force. He was awarded the DSO at Neuve Chapelle in March 1915, was badly wounded in July 1915 and then again on 1 July 1916. What exactly happened next is unclear.
According to Flight magazine, 15 August 1918, "After his recovery he was given a Staff appointment and was made commandant of an RFC Cadet Wing. Having been asked to undertake an important work of military organisation in the Near East, he is reported to have died at Cairo shortly after his arrival in Egypt."
The Roll of Honour for Cambridgeshire tells a slightly different story. Arden "Died 22/7/1918 at Aboukir, Egypt, aged 44, from self-inflicted wounds, while serving with No. 3 Cadet Wing RAF."
If this is true it casts a different light on his inscription, which was chosen by his brother-in-law, Edward Hilliard, Bursar of Balliol College, Oxford. In fact the inscription and the whole poem now read less like someone who was not afraid of death and more like someone who was keen to meet it.
Fear death? - to feel the fog in my throat,
The mist in my face,
When the snows begin, and the blasts denote
I am nearing the place,
The power of the night, the press of the storm,
The post of the foe;
Where he stands, the Arch Fear in a visible form,
Yet the strong man must go:
For the journey is done and the summit attained.
And the barriers fall,
Though a battle's to fight ere the guerdon be gained,
The reward of it all.
I was ever a fighter, so - one fight more,
The best and the last!
I would hate that death bandaged my eyes, and forebore,
And bade me creep past.
No! let me taste the whole of it, fare like my peers,
The heroes of old,
Bear the brunt, in a minute pay glad life's arrears
Of pain, darkness and cold.
For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave,
The black minute's at end,
And the elements' rage, the fiend-voices that rave,
Shall dwindle, shall blend,
Shall change, shall become first a peace out of pain,
Then a light, then thy breast,
O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again,
And with God be the rest!