PRIVATE CHARLES JOHN MANN
26TH JANUARY 1917 AGE 22
BURIED: GUARDS' CEMETERY LESBOEUFS, FRANCE
The vacant place or vacant chair was once a common euphemism for death. The idea probably predates the American Civil War but a song from that era, recorded in 1915 by John McCormack, spread its popularity beyond the shores of America. It was originally written to mourn and honour a dead Union soldier:
At our fireside, sad and lonely, often will the bosom swell,
At remembrance of the story how our noble Willie fell;
How he strove to bear our banner though the thickest of the fight,
And uphold our country's honour in the strength of manhood's might.
And it kept that association into the First World War. The original song referred to the family gathering for Thanksgiving but is relevant to all family occasions. These are the words of the chorus:
We shall meet but we shall miss him
There will be one vacant chair.
We shall linger to caress him
While we breathe our evening prayer.
Charles Mann was killed in action in January 1917. Buried close to the front line, his body was exhumed in August 1920 and reinterred in Lesboeufs. 'Charley's' father confirmed his inscription - giving it added poignancy by addressing his son rather than the reader.