CAPTAIN GUY CHARLES BOILEAU WILLOCK
LONDON IRISH RIFLES
25TH SEPTEMBER 1915 AGE 23
BURIED: DUD CORNER CEMETERY, LOOS, FRANCE
There are well over 66 characters in the above inscription, the number permitted by the War Graves Commission, and more than the 140 characters, which is Twitter's (old) limit. In fact it has a grand total of 204 characters. Why did the War Graves Commission allow it? It seems that the Commission used its discretion, if a family insisted - and could pay for it - it was allowed. It was more important that next-of-kin accepted the non-repatriation of bodies, and the uniform headstone than they limited their inscription to 66 characters.
Colin Bale in his ebook A Crowd of Witnesses: Epitaphs on First World War Australian War Graves mentions the case of Lieutenant Hugh McColl whose inscription ran to 124 characters. Bale explains this preferential treatment by the fact that Hugh McColl's father was a prominent Australian politician. This could be the reason, even though there's no documentation to support it. However, plenty of prominent people had dead sons, including the former British Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith and King George V's aunt, Princess Beatrice of Battenberg, and they didn't claim any special concessions from the Commission. In any case, Captain Guy Willock's relations don't appear to have been particularly prominent people anyway. His father, Charles Johnstone Willock, came from a military family in India and was a London barrister who died in March 1919, too early to have had any influence on his son's headstone inscription. Guy's mother, Maud, had died before the war.
The online Masonic Roll of Honour explains the War Graves Commission's preferential treatment by claiming that Guy Willock was Queen Victoria's nephew, but there doesn't appear to be any supporting evidence for this.
Guy Willock died leading his men over the top in an attack on the German trenches on the first day of the battle of Loos, 25 September 1915. Ten months later, the East Surrey Regiment famously kicked footballs across No Man's Land in their attack on the German trenches on the first day of the battle of the Somme, I July 1916. In this they were only doing what the Irish Rifles, Guy Willock's regiment, had done on 25 September. One of these footballs has survived and is among the regiment's most precious relics. In 2011, photographer Michael St Maur Sheil was given permission to take the football back to the battlefield where he photographed it on Captain Guy Willock's grave.
Several senior officers wrote letter of condolence to Charles Willock and an amalgam of these letters provide the wording for much of his son's inscription. 'The senior major' wrote: "Guy was one of our most valued officers, loved by all who knew him, of never failing cheerfulness in the most trying circumstances, and contemptuous of danger". Brigadier-General Thwaites wrote of how he had to "deplore the loss of a brave soldier and a gallant English gentleman".
The quotation that follows comes from Shelley's Adonais, his elegy on the death of John Keats - a not uncommon inscription.
With both parents dead, who composed Guy Willock's inscription? It appears to have been his step-mother, Edith Mary Willock, mother of Guy's half sister, Joan Mary Boileau Willock, who was 6 when her half-brother was killed.