PRIVATE JOHN JAMES GUSTHART
20TH MAY 1917 AGE 33
BURIED: NINE ELMS BRITISH CEMETERY, WEST FLANDERS, BELGIUM
A deathless army is one made up of the old, dead soldiers of the past who march with their living comrades, swelling their ranks. It's an ancient idea that gave rise to numerous First World War legends, including that of the Crecy archers helping the soldiers at Mons.
John Gusthat's widow chose his inscription, quite possibly inspired by an old Imperial marching song called 'The Deathless Army', written in 1891 with music by H. Trotere and words by F.E.Weatherly. Whilst the soldiers sleep in a city square on the night before an attack a phantom army gathers:
Solemnly, silently, through the night,
Grim set faces and eyes so bright,
As heroes look when they march to fight
At the head of a mighty army.
And then I knew, in the still night-tide,
What men were must'ring side by side,
They were the men who had fought and died
In the ranks of our brave old army.
And their gallant swords may broken lie,
Their bones may bleach 'neath an alien sky,
But their souls, I know, will never die, -
They march in a deathless army.
The idea of 'deathless' also implies immortality, soldiers whose memory and reputations will never die. It's not the same as the Christian concept of eternal life, which comes from the resurrection of the body. To the ancient world you gained an everlasting name by dying for your country in battle - as John Gusthart had done.
Gusthart served with the 28th Battalion Canadian Infantry and was killed on 20 May 1917.
28th Battalion Canadian Infantry War Diary
Battalion in Support along BAILLEUL - RIAMONT - LOOS Line. Headquarters at T.27.d.4.5. During day enemy shelled our "A" Company front (Right Coy.) causing two Officer casualties. Lieuts. R.D'A STRICKLAND and D.J.CLARKE. Intermittent shelling throughout the whole day along the whole of B - R - L Line resulting in several O.R. casualties. Work parties carrying wire and consolidating B. - R. - L. Line at night. Weather fair.