31ST JULY 1917 AGE 24


'How can man die better than facing fearful odds'? Lieutenant Carl Hansen died "while leading his men" on the opening day of the third Battle of Ypres, the battle which became known as Passchendaele, according to The Times' death announcement. Hansen, serving with the Machine Gun Corps and attached to the 9th Battalion The King's (Liverpool Regiment), would have been in charge of his Lewis gun team. We don't know what happened to him but the battalion war diary reported that:

"Four minutes after zero, the enemy put a heavy barrage of H.E. shells on Oxford Trench - several men were hit there, a Lewis Gun team was knocked out, and the reserve Lewis Gun ammunition blown up".
F.M. Drew Lieut. Colonel Commanding 1/9 Bn. The King's L'pool Regt. T.F.
In the Field
Aug 1st 1917

Some time later Major E.G. Hoare, who was in command of the battalion on 31 July, wrote a poem called 'The Valley of the Shadow - 31st July 1917'. This vividly describes conditions on that day. These are verses three and four of the seven-verse poem.

Down in the valley the barrage fell,
Fountains of water and steel and smoke,
Screams of demons and blast of hell,
The flash that blinds and the fumes that choke.
The mud and the wire have chained the feet,
You are up to the knees in swamp and slime,
There's a laugh when the crossing is once complete,
But a setting of teeth for the second time.

Down in the valley the shambles lay
With the sordid horrors of hate revealed,
Tattered khaki and shattered grey
And the splintered wrecks of a battlefield.
Thank God for the end that is sure and swift,
For the fate that comes with a leap and bound,
But what if God leaves you alone to drift
To the lingering death in the pestilent ground.

Did Hansen meet a sure swift death, or a lingering one 'in the pestilent ground'?

Hansen's inscription was confirmed by his father. It comes from 'Horatius at the Bridge', a long narrative poem by Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay (1800-1859), a stalwart of poetry anthologies throughout the nineteenth century. In the face of overwhelming odds, Horatius decides that he will take a stand on the bridge in a valiant effort to prevent the invading hordes from taking Rome, since:

To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his gods.