LIEUTENANT ROLAND AUBREY LEIGHTON
23RD DECEMBER 1915 AGE 20
BURIED: LOUVENCOURT MILITARY CEMETERY, SOMME, FRANCE
A wink from Hesper, falling
Fast in the wintry sky,
Comes through the even blue,
Dear, like a word from you ...
Is it good-bye?
Across the miles between us
I send you sigh for sigh
Good-night, sweet friend, good-night:
Till life and all take flight,
Roland Leighton's inscription comes from the last lines of this poem by W.E. Henley. In May 1915, he had written to his fiancee, Vera Britain, from the Front: "A little poem of W.E. Henley's came into my head last night as I walked across the fields in the starlight. Do you know it?" He copied the lines out for her and Vera recorded in her diary, "I shall cherish this poem as long as I live". In fact the last lines became a familiar way for them to sign off their letters to each other.
The poem also had a significance for Roland's mother, the romantic novelist Marie Connor Leighton, and it was she who chose it for Roland's headstone. However, by altering the first word of the penultimate line from "Till" to "Though", she completely altered the sense. Nevertheless, it's what she wanted to say - "Though life and all take flight, never good-bye". Saying good-night was a ritual, ever since Roland had been a small boy he had always asked her to go and say good-night to him once he was in bed and this inscription was her eternal good-night.
You can read more about Roland Leighton and his death on my blog post.