29TH JULY 1915 AGE 22


Vitai lampada tradunt, they hand on the torch of life, is a quotation from De Rerum Natura a poem by the Roman philosopher Lucretius. It is also the motto of the Shore School, Sidney Church of England Grammar School, where Brian Simpson was educated. Here, as one of their best shots, Simpson was in the rifle team, as he was at university too.
There are two versions of his death. One version has him climbing a tree overlooking the German trenches in order to observe the fire of his guns. The other has him climbing a tree, in full view of the Germans, in order to shoot a sniper. Both versions have Simpson being shot as he climbed down. Knowing his record with a gun it is quite likely that he was trying to get a sniper. He is said to have died peacefully in his sleep in hospital a week after being wounded.
There is an obituary of Simpson in the Shore School magazine, Hermes (August 1918), and on the St Paul's College website taken from the university magazine, The Pauline. Here a friend wrote:

"We recall him in his room at College - amidst the smoke and laughter of many friends, and surrounded by those pictures of his choice which invariably called forth the good-humoured banter of men less artistic than himself."

When the war broke out, Simpson was in London studying sculpture. He joined the army on 4 August 1914, enlisting first in King Edward's Horse before taking a commission in the artillery. He then transferred to the Trench Mortars to get closer to the action.
The idea of the torch of life being handed from generation to generation was a common image. It appears in John McCrae's In Flanders Fields:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

'Vitai Lampada', the torch of life, is the title of Sir Henry Newbolt's most famous poem, which was greatly admired by the pre-First World War generation and has been greatly ridiculed pretty much ever since. I rather like it.

There's a breathless hush in the Close tonight
Ten to make and the match to win -
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

The sand of the desert is sodden red, -
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; -
The Gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
The regiment's blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks,
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

This is the word that year by year
While in her place the School is set
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind -
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"
Sir Henry Newbolt 1892