LANCE CORPORAL WILLIAM EWART EATON
18TH OCTOBER 1917 AGE 22
BURIED: ETAPLES MILITARY CEMETERY, FRANCE
This inscription is an abbreviation of the last verse of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), 'The Reaper and the Flowers: a psalm of death'. Although the reaper is death this is not death the grim reaper: when he scythes the flowers, the children, that grow among the ripened grain he doesn't do it out of cruelty but because God wants them with him, to remind him of his time on earth when he too was just a child.
"They shall all bloom in fields of light,
Transplanted by my care,
And saints, upon their garments white,
These sacred blossoms wear."
And the mother gave, in tears and pain,
The flowers she most did love;
She knew she should find them all again
In the fields of light above.
Oh, not in cruelty, not in wrath,
The reaper came that day;
'T was an angel visited the green earth,
And took the flowers away.
The poem is headed by a line from 'They are all gone into the World of Light' by Henry Vaughan (1621-1695): "Dear, beauteous Death! the jewel of the just".
In 1911 William Ewart Eaton was an apprentice joiner. He served with the 126th Field Company Royal Engineers, part of the 21st Division, and died in a base hospital in Etaples on 18 October 1917. It's not possible to tell when he was wounded but in the past month the Division had been involved in the battles of the Menin Road, 20-25 September; Polygon Wood, 26 September - 3 October; Broodseinde 4 October and Poelcappelle, 9 October.
Eaton's father, George Henry, signed for the inscription. There is no mention of the angel - and only one flower ... his son.