PRIVATE RICHARD ARTHUR LEWIS
EAST SURREY REGIMENT
7TH JUNE 1917 AGE 25
BURIED: BUS HOUSE CEMETERY, YPRES, BELGIUM
"He still talks with us" ... how? Presumably through the services of a spiritualist medium. Such services were in great demand both during the war and in its immediate aftermath; many people believing fervently that their dead were speaking to them - just as Mr and Mrs Richard Lewis did. The Church disapproved strongly and would not have appreciated the Lewis's thanking God for this manifestation, as far as it was concerned, spiritualism was nothing less than pagan superstition. But those who believed both in God and in spiritualism believed that it was nothing less than evidence of the truth of God's promise of eternal life.
Belief in the supernatural answered a deep emotional war-time need in both soldiers and society. From the persistence of the belief in the acknowledged fiction of the Angel of Mons, or the Crecy bowmen, the individual evidence of soldiers whose dead comrades helped them avoid certain death, and Will Longstaff's hugely popular paintings featuring ghostly soldiers still inhabiting the battlefields, belief in the supernatural brought comfort and consolation.
There were definitely charlatan spiritualists out there, and this is what outraged people like Rudyard Kipling who wasn't interested in the theology of the matter. But though Kipling mocked spiritualism in his poem, The Road to Endor, he also told compassionate supernatural tales, like The Gardener.
Private Lewis served with the 12th Battalion the East Surrey Regiment, which arrived in France in May 1916. He was killed in action on 7 June 1917 when the 12th Battalion East Surrey Regiment attacked on the opening day of the Battles of Messines; the day the British blew nineteen mines along the Messines Ridge at 3.10 in the morning to herald the opening of the attack. Lewis is buried near St Eloi where the largest mine, containing 95,600 lbs of ammonal was fired. We don't know how Lewis was killed but despite the success of the operation some British soldiers were killed by the blast from their own mines.