SECOND LIEUTENANT JOSEPH IRVINE
4TH OCTOBER 1917 AGE 30
BURIED: TYNE COT CEMETERY, BELGIUM
Joseph Irvine's epitaph comes from one of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's best known short poems. In fact it was so well known that Irvine's widow, who chose it, would automatically have assumed that everyone would have known where the opening and closing verses of the poem were leading:
Break, break, break,
On thy cold grey stones, O sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.
Break, break, break
At the foot of thy crags, O sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.
In the two sentences, 'I would that my tongue could utter the thoughts that arise in me', and 'the tender grace of a day that is dead will never come back to me', Tennyson perfectly expresses the inarticulate grief of the bereaved and their desperate longing for a past that will never return.
Joseph Irvine was killed on the opening day of the Battle of Broodseinde on 4 October 1916. There are several rather strange things about this man. The War Graves Commission has his name as Joseph Irvine and his wife as Agnes J Doak, formerly Irvine, indicating that she had married again. But she hadn't because Joseph Irvine was in actual fact Joseph Doak. He first enlisted in February 1915 as Joseph Doak, and then enlisted again in September 1915 as Joseph Irvine. In September 1917 he was court martialled after apparently threatening a soldier and shaking another one. He was severely reprimanded. Early the following month he was killed in action.
His brother, Christopher Charles Doak, serving with the South African Veterinary Corps, died in South Africa on 16 April 1916. In fact, to be brutally frank, he committed suicide. As the letter from the Department of Defence in Pretoria to the Secretary for Defence in Melbourne, Australia, says, "his death was the result of an overdose of morphia administered by Doak himself and was in no way connected with active service".