PRIVATE CLARENCE ROBERT FOWLE
SOUTH AFRICAN INFANTRY
20TH SEPTEMBER 1917 AGE 18
BURIED: BRANDHOEK NEW MILITARY CEMETERY NO. 3, BELGIUM
Is there a personal story behind this inscription? We shall never know but the context suggests that there might be. The inscription comes from Tennyson's 'Idylls of the King'. Gareth, the youngest of his parents' sons, wants to go and join his brothers as a knight at Arthur's Round Table. But his mother wants to keep him safe and refuses to let him go, telling him, "Stay my best son! ye are yet more boy than man', and trying to persuade him that he can train for manhood by following the deer, in other words by hunting in the forest. Gareth replies:
... O mother,
How can ye keep me tether'd to you? Shame.
Man am I grown, a man's work must I do.
Follow the deer? follow the Christ, the King,
Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King -
Else, wherefore born?
Clarence Fowle was 18 when he was killed, technically too young to be at the front unless he had his parents' signed permission. Do we think he persuaded an unwilling mother to let him go? We shall ever know. It was his mother who chose his inscription.
Fowle, serving with the 1st Regiment South African Infantry, was killed in the attack on Frezenberg Ridge on the opening day of the Battle of Menin Road. Of the 20 September 1917, John Buchan's 'History of South African Forces in the Great War' said, "That day's battle cracked the kernel of the German defence in the Salient. It showed only a limited advance ... but every inch of the ground was vital". However, in Buchan's opinion:
"Few struggles in the campaign were more desperate or carried out in a more gruesome battlefield. The mass of quagmires, splintered woods, ruined husks of pill-boxes, water-filled shell holes, and foul creeks which made up the land on both sides of the Menin road was a sight which, to the recollection of most men, must seem like a fevered nightmare. ... the elements seemed to have blended with each other to make it a limbo outside mortal experience and almost beyond human imagining."