LIEUTENANT ALFRED VICTOR RATCLIFFE
WEST YORKSHIRE REGIMENT
1ST JULY 1916 AGE 29
BURIED: FRICOURT NEW MILITARY CEMETERY, FRANCE
Alfred Ratcliffe wrote his own epitaph - not for himself but for a friend, 'G.C.H.', who died in 1912. The poem, 'A Broken Friendship', was first published in 1913 in 'A Broken Friendship and Other Verse" and then anthologised with some of his later poetry in several collections of soldier poets. Ratcliffe's mother chose the lines for his inscription although very oddly the family later placed a private stone in front of his War Graves Commission headstone, which obscured the original inscription. The plaque reads, "A very dearly loved son and brother".
The verse from which the original inscription comes is the last verse of the poem:
And through the darksome ways of strife
This thought shall lustre till the end,
The world was sweeter for his life,
And life lives - poorer by a friend.
[Harrogate August 1912]
The way the words are laid out in the inscription has led some people to think that the lines were written "by a friend" but no, it's that Ratcliffe's life is poorer by the loss of a friend.
There is an echo of a poem by Gerald Massey, 'In Memoriam, Earl Brownlow' in this last verse:
And Life is all the sweeter that he lived,
And all he loved more sacred for his sake,
And death is all the brighter that he died,
And Heaven is all the happier that he's there.
Ratcliffe, educated at Dulwich College and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, was killed on 1 July 1916. His senior officer having been killed earlier in the day, Ratcliffe was commanding the company at the time of his death. A fellow officer told his mother that "from where we found his body he must have led it pluckily and well".