CAPTAIN CHARLES KENNETH MCKERROW
ROYAL ARMY MEDICAL CORPS
20TH DECEMBER 1916 AGE 33
BURIED: LIJSSENTHOEK MILITARY CEMETERY, BELGIUM
This seemed such a strange inscription, even after I discovered that it was a quotation from Robert Browning's poem 'A Grammarian's Funeral' it still made little sense:
Others mistrust and say, "But time escapes:
Live now or never!"
He said, "What's time? Leave Now for dogs and apes!
Man has forever."
The capital letter for 'Now' gives a little hint: leave 'now' i.e. the present, to dogs and apes, man has forever to fulfil his destiny. It's an idea that appeared in more than one of Browning's poems:
Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a heaven for?
('Andrea del Sarto')
And in 'Rabbi Ben Ezra':
Shall life succeed in that it seems to fail:
What I aspired to be,
And was not, comforts me:
Matron Jessie Jaggard's husband used an extract from this last quotation for the inscription on her headstone in Gallipoli. Charles McKerrow's widow was therfore not the only relation to find comfort in the idea that regardless of our fate on earth, mankind has an immortal destiny that will be found in the world to come.
McKerrow was a GP in Ayrshire, with a First Class degree from Cambridge, before he took a commission in the RAMC in June 1915 and, attached to the 10th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, crossed with them to France in August 1915. In January 1915 he had married Jean Craik and that November they had a son. His letters in December 1916 look forward to the leave he was hoping to get in late January 1917. But on 21 December Mrs McKerrow received a telegram telling her that her husband had been dangerously wounded in the abdomen by a shell. In fact he was already dead.
The Imperial War Museum has a large collection of McKerrow's papers covering the period from August 1915 to his death in December 1916. Dr Emily Mayhew has used them to write about McKerrow in this blog post for the Surgeon's Hall Museum, and in her book 'Wounded: the long journey home from the Great War'2014.