LO, ONE WE LOVED
Lieutenant Charles Reynolds was a pilot with 55 Squadron, part of the Independent Air Force. If you've never heard of the Independent Air Force neither had I.
The Royal Air Force was formed on 1 April 1918, the Independent Air Force, or the Independent Force RAF, on 6 June. The RAF was intended as a tactical force, operating in support of the army on the ground, the Independent Air Force was to be a strategic force, attacking German railways, industrial centres and airfields. By the end of October, joined by French, Italian and American squadrons, it had become the Inter-Allied Independent Air Force. However, three days after the signing of the Armistice it was dissolved.
Charles Reynolds enlisted on the outbreak of war and was commissioned into the 1st Surrey Rifles on 14 October 1914. He was eighteen. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, getting his wings in June 1917. After this he received specific bombing training before joining 55 Squadron in March 1918. The squadron flew the new DH4s on daylight bombing raids over German targets. Reynolds was wounded on 18 May 1918 having taken part in a raid over Cologne when thirty-three bombers caused widespread damage and 110 casualties. He returned to his squadron in October and was killed on the 23rd when his plane crash landed on returning from a bombing raid.
Andrew Whitmarsh's British Strategic Bombing 1917-18: The Independent Force writes of the many difficulties day bombers faced. Forced to fly at very high altitudes with rudimentary oxygen equipment, oxygen deprivation was a real issue, as were extreme cold causing frostbite, headaches and temporary deafness - all contributing to debilitating exhaustion.
Reynolds' widowed mother, Annie Delesia Reynolds, chose his inscription. It is not a quotation from Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam but Mrs Reynolds will have been referencing it:
Lo! some we loved, the loveliest and best
That Time and Fate of all their Vintage prest,
Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to Rest.
Fitzgerald's melancholy verses, first published in 1859, perfectly capture the fleeting nature of life and the pathos of youthful death.
Mrs Reynolds says, "Lo, one we loved", but in fact she lost both her sons. James Reynolds also enlisted on the outbreak of the war. He did not take a commission but served as a private in the London Rifle Brigade and was killed in action on the 2 May 1915 during the Second Battle of Ypres. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate.
THAT HIS HANDS UNFURLED
STILL FLIES TRIUMPHANT
IN THE SUN
Ellis Jones was the son of Ellis and Margaret Jones of Blaeneau-Festiniog and the husband of Katie Jane Jones of Port Talbot. This is all I can tell you with any certainty, other than the facts that he served with the 14th Battalion, Welsh Regiment, wasn't entitled to a 1914 or '15 Star and died on 23 October 1918. I am going to assume that he died of wounds because he's buried in a casualty clearing station cemetery, and I'm going to suggest that he was wounded in the 14th Battalion's attack on the 20th October when the war diary reported:
"Attacked and captured objectives from K10d 90 95 to K11a 30 00 stubborn resistance was met with. Prisoners taken about 75 including 2 officers. The enemy left a considerable number of dead our casualties slight. The battalion was relieved by 17 RWF & returned to Billets in Bertry. Remained in billets."
But I don't know.
Ellis Jones' wife, Katie, chose his inscription. It comes from a poem written by Claude Burton, who was a regular contributor to the Daily Mail under the pseudonym Touchstone. The poem is called Unknown Grave. Ellis Jones did not have an unknown grave but Claude Burton's son did. Captain Henry Charles Claude Burton was killed in action on 27 July 1916 in the fighting at Longueval and Delville Wood. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
What does the inscription mean? In the poem, Claude Burton is saying that it doesn't matter if the soldier has no grave, we know his worth and our grief is the price we must pay for victory, to ensure that:
The banner that his hands unfurled
Still flies triumphant in the sun!
Taken out of context, as Mrs Katie Jones has done, the words are no longer the aim of victory but a statement that victory has been won.
SO HE PASSED OVER
AND ALL THE TRUMPETS SOUNDED
FOR HIM ON THE OTHER SIDE
Ernest Davison's inscription describes the death of Mr Valiant-for-Truth in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. A good man, who has aimed to follow Christ's teaching, the trumpets sound as he crosses the river of death to the Celestial City, the New Jerusalem.
"When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the Riverside, into which as he went he said, Death where is thy sting? And as he went down deeper he said, Grave, where is thy victory? So he passed over, and all the Trumpets sounded for him on the other side."
And why do the trumpets sound? It's a sign that the dead man is one of those chosen by God. As it says in St Matthew 24, there will be a time of great tribulation, nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom after which Christ will "send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds ... ".
For Mr John Davison, Private Davison's father, the trumpets will sound at the death of his son to signify that he too is worthy of reaching the Celestial City because he has died in Christ's service - fighting the Germans.
Davison served with the 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment and was killed in action on the 23 October during the Battle of the Selle. Originally buried in Contour British Cemetery in a single grave with a sergeant and three other privates, his body was exhumed and reburied in Amerval Communal British Cemetery in 1923.
REMEMBER THE LOVE OF THEM
WHO CAME NOT HOME
FROM THE WAR
The Poet Laureate, Robert Bridges (1844-1930), wrote these lines for his Eton Memorial Ode, 'In memory of the Old Etonians whose lives were lost in the South African War'. The words were set to music by Sir Herbert Parry and the piece performed when King Edward VII inaugurated the Memorial Hall on 18 November 1908. In 1912 Bridges published the poem in a collection of his works but it was never particularly well known.
At one time I thought Wakeman must have been an Etonian, which would explain how his parents knew the poem. But he wasn't, he was a former pupil of William Hulme's Grammar School, Manchester[ He is remembered on their War Memorial site]. However, Wakeman's inscription appears as a dedication on more than a few war memorials and this is probably attributable to the fact that it was one of the 'Inscriptions Suggested for War Memorials', a booklet which the Victoria and Albert Museum thought it would be helpful to publish in 1919.
The story of Malcolm Wakeman's death features in Jay Winter's Sites of Memory Sites of Mourning. Wakeman was called up in 1917 when he was eighteen. He joined the Royal Air Force, trained as an observer and was posted to France in July 1918. He seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the excitement of it all, his letters to his parents full of tales of derring do. Then on 2 October his plane, an RE8 on a counter attack patrol was shot down and the pilot killed. Wakeman was taken to hospital with head wounds. The German pilot, Leutnant K Plauth of Ja51 claimed the victory.
When informed, Wakeman's parents immediately set out to visit him, paying their own fare, which cost them £8 12s 8d. Despite initial optimism, Wakeman's condition deteriorated and he died on 18 October.
When Wakeman's father asked the Air Ministry to reimburse him the £8 12 8d, something it was prepared to do for parents too poor to afford it themselves, he was told that didn't fit this category. But Mr Wakeman successfully argued that he was not a rich man and why should he be punished just because he had been prudent enough to have some savings to hand. It's difficult to say how much £8 was worth in 1918 but apparently the average male earned £94 a year.
In 1923, the Wakemans, taking advantage of the St Barnabas Society's organised tours to the battlefield cemeteries, visited their son's grave. The cost of the journey this time was £4.
HIS MEN USED TO SAY
"WE WOULD FOLLOW
This is a lovely inscription, a real tribute to someone who must have been a natural leader of men. Howard Thomas left Winchester in the summer of 1915, just after his eighteenth birthday. In September 1915 he was commissioned into the Royal Scots and went with them to France the following May, just before his nineteenth birthday. Two years later, at the age of twenty-one, he was a captain with a Military Cross, which he won for his actions during the Battle of Arras in April 1917. The citation for the award reads:
"He led his platoon to the second objective with great courage, where he organised a party and outflanked the enemy, enfilading them, inflicting heavy losses. He was wounded but carried on throughout the day."
Thomas did not return to France until May 1918. Five months later, on 22 October, he was killed outright by a machine gun bullet in his head whilst leading his company in the capture of the village of Vichte.
I imagine that the quotation in Thomas's inscription comes from a letter of condolence written by a senior officer to his parents. The officer has passed on a great compliment - Captain Thomas's men would have followed him anywhere. What's more, they called him 'Tommy' without any seeming loss of respect.
The little book, A General's Letters to His Son on Obtaining His Commission (1917) offers this advice:
"In a well disciplined unit men find it almost impossible not to obey the commander's voice, however terrible the order."
"Your men will obey you because you are their officer, but you will succeed in getting infinitely more out of them if you can win their love and respect.
" ... it is as important to look after your men, and keep them fit, as it is to lead them well in action. If you look after your men, and if they know that in you they have a friend upon whom they may depend, you may rely on their never leaving you in the lurch."
It would appear that Howard Thomas, the only son of Harry and Mary Thomas of Cargilfied, Cramond Bridge, Midlothian, had learnt all these lessons.
[Much of this information comes from the Winchester at War website,. The accompanying photograph shows a whippet-thin young man with a face of earnest composure wearing a Glengarry and with his MC medal ribbon showing above his left breast pocket.]
HIS LAST MESSAGE
"I WOULD NOT HAVE MISSED IT
James Hewett had been a member of the Berkshire Yeomanry since he'd served with it in the Second South African War 1899-1902. In civilian life he was a sugar boiler in a confectionery factory but he remained a member of the Yeomanry, which became a Territorial force in 1908. At the outbreak of the First World War he opted for imperial service and was posted to Egypt with the 2nd Mounted Division in April 1915. Four months later the regiment was sent to Gallipoli where it served dismounted until the evacuation in January 1916. In March 1916 the regiment became part of the 6th Mounted Division, and in April 1918 it merged into the 17th Squadron Mounted Machine Gun Corps.
Hewett served with the Division in Egypt and Palestine until his death, taking part in all three battles of Gaza and in the capture of Lebanon in October 1918. For those who served in this part of the world, it was a totally different war from the Western Front - for the most part it was a war of movement, hot, dangerous, dusty and exhausting, but presumably for someone like Hewett exciting too. As he told his family, "I would not have missed it for anything".
The information on his medal card says that Hewett 'died', as opposed to 'died of wounds' or 'killed in action'. Like so many soldiers who served in that part of the world he could have died of dysentery or heat exhaustion or from the flu pandemic that was sweeping the world at the time.
Born in St John's Wood in 1891, Henry James Hewett was the son of Charles Hewett, who died in 1890, and his wife, Mathilda. Before his father's death the family lived at Uxmore Farm, Ipsden, which was then in Berkshire. Perhaps this is where Hewett acquired his skills in horsemanship.
NO THOUGHT OF GLORY
TO BE WON
THERE WAS HIS DUTY TO BE DONE
AND HE DID IT
It hadn't occurred to me that this was a quotation until I wrote up Second Lieutenant Andrew Bennet's inscription. Bennet's inscription comes from The Vision Splendid, a poem by John Oxenham, published in 1917 in a collection of verse of the same name. It was whilst looking through this book that I came across the poem Oxenham wrote in praise of sixteen-year-old John Travers Cornwell who, although mortally wounded, remained at his post on HMS Chester throughout the Battle of Jutland with the rest of his gun crew dead around him. The poem, called Promoted, begins:
There was his duty to be done, -
And he did it.
No thought of glory to be won;
There was his duty to be done, -
And he did it.
Wounded when scarce the fight begun,
Of all his fellows left not one;
There was his duty to be done, -
And he did it.
Why hadn't it occurred to me that this was a quotation? I'd seen other inscriptions that said, 'There was his duty to be done and he did it' and just assumed that the family were making a simple and direct statement since 'duty' was as great a motivator as patriotism - if not more so - when it came to people's reasons for joining the war. This inscription seemed to confirm it so I looked no further.
Oxenham, the pseudonym for William Arthur Dunkerley (1852-1941), was perhaps the most popular poet of the First World War. The sales of his wartime volumes, All's Well and The Vision Splendid, were phenomenal and one has to assume that the message he propounded was popular too. To Dunkerley, the outcome of the war depended on us - and he wasn't talking about whether we lost or won. Yes there had been huge material losses; yes many hundreds of thousands of men had been killed but after all the dead are only lost to us for a short while since we shall be reunited them when we too die. Despite these losses, to Oxenham the war will have been worthwhile, "if it brings us perforce to simpler living". He hoped that "the soul of the world has been shocked at last into true understanding of the inevitable and dire results of purely materialistic aims", the:
"wheels of life were skidding on the greasy ways of wealth and ease. We were leaving God out. This from which we are suffering is of our own incurring".
So that after the war:
"having paid, in blood and tears and bitterness of woe, - now with the spirit of God in us, with enlightened souls and widened hearts, we may look forward to The Vision Splendid of a new-made world".
Powerful stuff. This, however, is a view of the war that we have snuffed out. Rupert Brooke's Peace, has been much mocked for promoting a similar view:
Now, God be thanked who has matched us with his hour,
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping,
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary,
Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move,
And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary,
And all the little emptiness of love!
It may not be a view that we can comprehend today but that doesn't mean that it wasn't a view held then. Nor was it a view imposed by Governments and elites; it was a view that emerged among some people as the spirit of the age. As we have recently learnt, the spirit of an age can have many faces.
John O'Neill was born in Liverpool, one of the two children of John and Marie Isabel O'Neill. The family lived in Birkenhead where father was a gas fitter at the shipyard. Private O'Neill served with the 9th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers and died on 20 October 1918. This is the day that the war diary reported:
"The Batt attacked at 02.00 hours. The object of the attack being to capture the high ground E of the River Selle. All objectives were gained. Gains were consolidated and held"
9th Battn Royal Welsh Fusiliers War Diary
20 October 1918
The battalion attacked from Montrecourt, a village on the River Selle. O'Neill is buried in Glageon, over 50 km further east. Glageon had been in German hands since the beginning of the war and wasn't liberated until early November. It's where the Germans buried their own soldiers and allied prisoners. Was O'Neill already a German prisoner or was he taken prisoner on the 20th and died of wounds that day?
Britain, be proud of such a son! -
Deathless the fame that he has won.
Only a boy, - but such a one! -
Standing for ever to his gun;
There was his duty to be done, -
And he did it.
HE FELL 'MIDST
BLANDAIN'S BATTLE ROAR
FAR FROM THE PEACE
OF HIS SHETLAND SHORE
Serjeant Coutts went missing on 20 October 1918 - and remained missing until October 1990; his name carved onto the Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing in 1927.
I can't say how it came about that his body was identified but there's an asterisk in red ink beside his name in the Ploegsteert Memorial Register with a handwritten note dated 22.10.90, which says: *Known to be buried in Tournai Communal Cemetery Allied Extension*.
The date of the burial at Tournai was May 1930. This was the date when seven bodies, one of them unidentified, were exhumed from Blandain Churchyard and reburied in Tournai. Later, by whatever means, it became known that that unidentified soldier was Coutts and his family were contacted and asked to compose an inscription. The inscription record is very modern, which would match with it being created in 1990. And as with modern records, it doesn't say who signed for it. Coutts had been married to his wife Margaret for eight years when he died but I haven't come across a record of any children.
What happened to Serjeant John 'Bennie' Coutts? I can't really work it out but in October 1918 Coutts' battalion, the 11th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, were progressing though Flanders. At 10.00 on the morning of 19 October they reached Willems, fifteen minutes after the Germans had evacuated the town. At 15.30 on the same day they reached the village of Trieu de Warzon, four kilometres away, and by 17.00 they had taken it. By the 11.00 on the 20th they were in Houilly, another four kilometres further east, which they took after considerable hostile fire.
Blandain, where Coutts was originally buried, is halfway between Willems and Houilly - perhaps a casualty of the hostile fire.
Coutts wasn't buried in Blandain until September 1919 when his body was found at map reference N10c.95.45 and identified as a Sergeant Glott. As no British soldier with the surname Glott was killed in the First World War the identification was dropped and the body buried as an unknown sergeant. It would be interesting to know how the unknown Glott became Coutts but whoever did the research was able to convince the War Graves Commission, which amended their records and created a headstone for him.
Coutts' father, mother and wife were long dead. They had died in 1921, 1924 and 1971 respectively. In the absence of any known children perhaps it was a great-nephew of niece who chose the inscription. There is something slightly anonymous about it. Coutts may have been buried in Blandain but the location is not known for being the scene of any fighting. However, battle roar or no battle roar the location was certainly far from Lerwick in the Shetland Islands where Coutts had been born and brought up and where he had been a shoemaker like his father before him.
AS BRAVE AS A LION
& WORKED TO HIS LAST OUNCE
IN THE CAUSE
OF HIS WOUNDED COMRADES
Unless I am mistaken, this is an extract from a letter of condolence sent to Private Perry's parents by his senior officer, or perhaps by one of his friends in the Field Ambulance. There are no quotation marks around the words but they sound very immediate and very heartfelt as they mix a deeply conventional image - "as brave as a lion" - with the original, if slightly clumsy, image of someone working to their last ounce.
Perry had served with the Royal Army Medical Corps since he'd come to France in July 1915. At the time of his death he was with the 55th Field Ambulance under the command of the 18th Division. Field Ambulances were not vehicles but mobile medical units consisting of about ten officers and over two hundred men with responsibilities ranging from stretcher bearer to surgeon. There's a informative article about Field Ambulances on the Long Long Trail site .
We don't know what role Perry fulfilled but we do know that in September 1917 he was awarded a Military Medal 'for bravery in the field'. We don't know how or when he was wounded but we do know that he died of wounds in a base hospital in Le Havre.
SIR GEORGE WHITEHEAD, BT.
AND LADY WHITEHEAD
George Whitehead and his observer, Reginald Griffiths were artillery spotting over Lauwe when they were shot down at 7.50 am on the morning of 17 October 1917. The town was still in German hands and the two airmen were buried together by the Germans in a communal grave. It was five years before their bodies were exhumed and reinterred in adjacent graves in Harlebeke New British Cemetery.
I am always dubious about the parents who used their own status as a personal inscription on their son's headstone, as the Whiteheads have done. But then you see the final words - Deus vult, God wills it - and you have to acknowledge that whether the family were rich or poor, grand or humble, whether the words were written in Latin or plain English, the pain was as great for the Whiteheads as it was for any of the many families who chose 'Thy will be done', or 'God knows best' as their son's inscription.
And the Whiteheads lost both their sons. James Whitehead, the eldest son, died of war related illness on 3 March 1919 meaning that, at his death, the title went to Sir George's younger brother.
So, having confessed to prejudice about people conferring status on their sons by referring to themselves, I noticed that Reginald Grifffiths' headstone had exactly the same type of inscription and the same Latin tag:
Son of Owen
And Hetty Griffiths
Aberavon, S. Wales
The parents must have conferred and this I found rather touching since the Whiteheads and the Griffiths came from different worlds. It is enough to tell you that the seven members of the Whitehead family - and their seven servants - lived in Wilmington Hall, Dartford, Kent a house with six drawing rooms and eleven bedrooms, whilst the nine members of the Griffiths household lived in Aberavon, Glamorganshire in a six-roomed house that was also their shop - Owen Griffiths and Sons Fruiterer, Fish, Game and Poultry Dealer.
After the war, the Whiteheads sold Wilmington Hall and moved to Oxford. Sir George died in 1930 and left a bequest of £10,000 to the University to be known as the James Hugh Edendale Whitehead and the George William Edendale Whitehead Memorial Fund for the promotion of the study of history and/or the literature of England and her colonies.
WHAT PEACEFUL HOURS
WE ONCE ENJOYED
HOW SWEET THE MEMORY STILL
John Sharp's inscription comes from verse three of the hymn, O For a Closer Walk With God, by the poet and hymn writer William Cowper (1731-1800):
What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void
The world can never fill,
For John Sharp's family the words must have perfectly encapsulated their feelings - even though Cowper was not mourning the loss a loved one but the loss of God's love, which he felt he had forfeited through his own unworthiness.
Sharp came from Milesmark, a mining community near Dunfermline. His mother died in 1901 when he was five. His father, Frank Sharp, was a coal miner and it's possible to assume that John Sharp was too.
Sharp served with the 1st Battalion Cameron Highlanders, enlisting in 1916 when he became nineteen. He was a casualty of the opening day of the Battle of the Selle, 17 October 1918, in which the battalion took part as part of the 1st Division.
HAPPY HAVE WE MET
HAPPY HAVE WE BEEN
HAPPY DID WE PART
HAPPY MEET AGAIN
This is a version of the final toast given at Masonic Lodge meetings. I haven't been able to discover whether either Arthur Hancock or his father, Thomas, a dairyman, were Freemasons but this is definitely a Masonic toast.
Hancock began the war in the Royal Navy and was entitled to the 1915 Star. At some point he was commissioned into the Machine Gun Corps, where he served with the 50th Battalion MGC (Infantry), part of the 50th Division, in turn part of General Rawlinson's Fourth Army.
During the period known as the Pursuit to the Selle, 9-11 October 1918, the Allied armies pushed the Germans back almost ten miles towards the River Selle, where they decided to make a stand. The Battle of the Selle opened at zero hour, 05.10, on 17 October, a day of dense mist which greatly complicated the situation.
Hancock was in A Company, of which the war diary records that their situation "had been very difficult". Ordered to cover the left flank of the 149th Infantry Brigade, they encountered very heavy shelling, causing many casualties, "including Lt. Hancock killed".
News of his death reached his home town, Liverpool, and five days later notices from family and friends began to appear in the Liverpool papers: from his 'chum' Ernest Waters with whom he had served in the navy; from his brother, Tom, serving in Egypt, and from Lillian:
Hancock - October 17, killed in action, Second Lieut. Arthur Hancock, M.G.C. My hero - Always remembered by his sorrowing Fiancee Lillian and all at 20 Vandyke Street.
LIVERPOOL ECHO 24 October 1918
WITH THE VISION SPLENDID
HE SHALL SMILE BACK
AND NEVER KNOW REGRET
Here - or hereafter - you shall see it ended,
This mighty work to which your souls are set;
If from beyond - then, with the vision splendid,
You shall smile back and never know regret.
John Oxenham (the pseudonym for the popular and prolific poet William Arthur Dunkerley 1852-1941) originally wrote this verse for his poem 'Christs All! Our Boys Who Have Gone to the Front'. Here he assures those who are fighting that:
You are all christs in this your self surrender, -
True sons of God in seeking not your own.
Oxenham then repeated the verse in a poem he wrote later, which was called 'The Vision Splendid', which was published in a collection of verse of the same name. The thrust of this poem is that those who are fighting have redeemed the world from the selfishness and sin into which it had fallen:
O, not in vain has been your great endeavour;
For, by your dyings, Life is born again,
And greater love hath no man tokened ever,
Than with his life to purchase Life's high gain.
What is the 'vision splendid'? It's that time when all the people of earth shall come together as one to worship God, as envisaged in the Book of Revelation 7:9-10:
After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;
And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
Mrs Agnes Bennet, Andrew Bennet's widowed mother, chose his inscription. To be able to envisage that your son had fought not just for victory but to contribute to the coming together of all mankind must have brought her comfort - enough comfort to cope with the fact that twelve days after Andrew's death her only other son Alexander died of wounds?
Andrew Bennet was an observer with 82 Squadron. The squadron flew Armstrong Whitworth FK8s on artillery spotting and photo reconnaissance duties. Bennet and his pilot, Captain Humphrey Flowers, were shot down over Ledeghem, some sources say in aerial combat, others by ground fire as no German fighter claimed a corresponding kill that day.
THIS GRAVE WAS VISITED
BY HIS PARENTS
SUNDAY SEPT. 30TH 1923
If Thomas McBride's headstone says that his parents visited his grave in September 1923 it means that his permanent headstone hadn't yet been erected since there was still time to have this statement carved on it. This means that five years after McBride's death his grave was still only marked by a temporary wooden cross. It's a good illustration of the the massive task that the War Graves Commission had undertaken.
McBride had originally been buried with twenty-six other members of his battalion in Quiery-la-Motte. Their bodies were all exhumed and re-buried in Orchard Dump Cemetery in June 1921 but their graves were not marked with permanent headstones until two years later.
There is no evidence for this but I'm going to suggest that McBride's parents made their visit to his grave under the auspices of one of the charitable organisations that offered free visits to the battlefields for families who would not otherwise have been able to afford it. My assumption that the family would not have been able to afford it is based on the fact that in the 1911 census John McBride, Thomas's father, was a cotton piecer in a cotton mill. This meant that he mended the broken threads during spinning. In 1911, fifteen-year-old Thomas was a scavenger in a cotton mill, someone who cleaned up the cotton fluff that accumulated under the machinery. Travelling on the continent was expensive, complicated and very rare for those without access to money. I think the family would have used an organization like the St Barnabas Society.
Strictly speaking, Thomas McBride's parents, John and Ellen McBride, did not visit his grave in 1923. Ellen McBride died before 1901. It was his father and his stepmother, Mary Jane, who came.
HE WAS A PRISONER
DEATH SET HIM FREE
Private Cross's wife means this literally; James Cross was a prisoner of war and death did set him free. Usually when inscriptions talk about the freedom of death they mean that the dead person has been set free from the cares of this world:
He has outsoared the shadow of our night;
Envy and calumny and hate and pain,
And that unrest which men miscall delight,
Can touch him not and torture not again;
ADONAIS Percy Bysshe Shelley
But this is not what Evelyn Cross meant, her husband had escaped captivity by dying.
Cross died of pneumonia in a German hospital in Hautmont. The town had been in German hands since the earliest days of the war and wasn't captured by the British until 8 November. James Cross had been in German hands since the 16 April 1918.
Cross served with the 1st Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment. On the evening of the 12/13th April 1918 the battalion went into the front line in the Wytschaete Sector. The war diary gives up at this point and says that the ensuing period, 12-
16 April, is best described by reproducing verbatim the official account of the operation sent by Brigadier-General GH Gater to the Higher Command.
The battalion were to be responsible for holding the line from Bogaert Farm to Stanyzer Cabaret cross roads. On the night of the 15/16th this was extended to Scott Farm. At 4.30 am on the morning of the 16th the Germans subjected the line to a heavy and continuous bombardment until 5.45 am before attacking under cover of dense fog. They succeeded in breaking the line. The British found it impossible to tell what was going on until the Germans were at close quarters. However, the Lincolnshires stood firm,
"and fought it out to the last. No officer, platoon or individual surrendered and the fighting was prolonged until 6.30 am. ... The withdrawal was covered by the Adjutant, Captain McKellar, with revolver and bombs, firing into the enemy at close quarters."
James Cross was one of the many missing after the engagement. Eventually his wife was informed through the offices of the International Red Cross that he had been taken prisoner. His death on 13 October from pneumonia was probably a result of influenza.
[Gater's report is in turn reproduced virtually verbatim in The History of the Lincolnshire Regiment 1914-1918.]
NO KING OR SAINT
HAD TOMB SO PROUD
AS HE WHOSE FLAG
BECOMES HIS SHROUD
This inscription comes from a very patriotic poem called Nationality, written by Thomas Osborne Davis (1814-1845). Verse one declares that a nation's voice is a solemn thing and should be respected. Verse two states that a nation's flag, unfurled in the cause of Liberty, should be guarded "till Death or Victory" - with the assurance that anyone who dies defending it will have an honoured grave:
No saint or king has tomb so proud,
As he whose flag becomes his shroud.
Verse three insists that God gave nations the right to defend themselves with the sword against a foreign yoke.
'Tis freedom from a foreign yoke,
'Tis just and equal laws,
Which deal unto the humblest folk,
As in a noble cause.
So far so good, this is England fighting for her liberty against the fear of a German 'yoke'. Except that it isn't. The nation entitled to her voice, entitled to just and equal laws, is Ireland, and the foreign yoke belongs to England.
Thomas Osborne Davis, the author of the poem, was an Irish nationalist whose nationalism was based on shared Irish culture and language rather than on Catholic Emancipation or full blown independence and republicanism. He was in any case a protestant, as were Charles Stuart Parnell and Roger Casement, two other Irish nationalist figures.
The Leonards were a Roman Catholic family from Brackaville, a rural community near Coalisland, Co. Tyrone. Who knows what the family's politics were but throughout the twentieth century Coalisland was an IRA stronghold. However, many Irish people were prepared to fight for Britain because they believed John Redmond who told them that English gratitude would ensure they were rewarded afterwards with independence. And many Irish people fought for Britain because they didn't want independence.
It's not possible to tell what motivated James 'Joe' Leonard to enlist - money, adventure, escape, principle. He was an early volunteer, his medal card shows that he was entitled to the 1915 Star having arrived in France on 29 September 1915. This was well before the British suppression that followed the Dublin Easter Rising in April 1916.
Leonard served throughout the war with the 157th Field Company Royal Engineers, part of the 16th (Irish) Division. The war diary exists and shows that in October 1918 the Company were based in Auchy constructing pontoons for crossing the Heutedeule Canal and attempting to stop a leak or a 'cut' in the canal bank. The diary for 13 October records:
"No. 3 [Section] in canal cut .Sprs Leonard and Dunnington killed and the stopping of the leak was not successful."
It sounds as though there was some kind of accident in which Leonard and Dunnington were killed. There is certainly no mention of any enemy action that day. By the way, the War Graves Commission gives the date of his death as the 12 October, the war diary as the 13th.
Mrs Sarah Ann Leonard, Sapper Leonard's mother, chose his inscription - or did she? In the 1901 census neither parent were said to have been able to read.
May Ireland's voice be ever heard,
Amid the world's applause!
And never be her flag-staff stirred,
But in an honest cause!
May freedom be her very breath,
Be justice ever dear;
And never an ennobled death
May son of Ireland fear!
So the Lord God will ever smile,
With guardian grace, upon our isle.
NATIONALITY verse four
HE JOINED THE FORCES
AT 15 1/2 YEARS
AND DID HIS DUTY
Born in January 1899, Albert Knowles would have been fifteen and a half in July 1914. By implication therefore he joined up immediately on the outbreak of war. in August 1914. He was far too young. In theory you had to be eighteen before you could join the army and nineteen before you could serve abroad but in practice, in the early days of the war, if you said you were nineteen, and looked nineteen, the army took your word for it. Much is made of recruiting sergeants wilfully turning a blind eye to obviously underage boys but in fact, the army didn't want weaklings.: you needed to be able to march long distances, carrying your own equipment. But as I said, if you looked nineteen the army took your word for it.
Knowles obviously managed to convince the authorities. His medal card shows that he went to France in September 1915 when he would have been just over sixteen and a half. It was January 1918 before he became nineteen, by this time he had been in the army for over three years.
In March 1918 his eldest brother, Ernest, serving with the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards, died of wounds. Six months later, on 12 October, Albert was killed as the 16th Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps tried to cross the River Selle.
For all that the end of the war was only a month away, for all that the Germans were already putting out peace feelers, their soldiers were still fiercely resisting allied attacks so that by noon on the 12th the 16th Battalion, which had been charged with taking the line of the Le Cateau-Solesmes railway and the surrounding high ground, had been forced to withdraw 'disorganised' with very high casualties.
Albert Knowles may have deceived the army authorities about his age but his mother put that right on his headstone. There's a sense of pride in her choice of words, not so much pride in his deception but in the fact that even though he was only fifteen he had wanted to do his duty, and that he continued to do it "till death". There is no inscription on his brother Ernest's headstone.
[Richard Emden's 'Boy Soldiers of the Great War' is the book to read on this subject.]
IN FOREIGN SOIL SHE LAYS
AND IN THAT RICH EARTH
A RICHER DUST CONCEALS
This might not be exactly what Rupert Brooke wrote but when Mrs Sarah Hilling chose this inscription for her daughter she had Brooke's poem, The Soldier, firmly in her mind:
If I should die, think only this of me;
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam ...
At one time this was the most famous poem in England and Brooke, who died in 1915 on his way to take part in the Gallipoli Campaign, the most famous war poet.
I wish it had been possible to find out more about Sophia Hilling - most records give her name as Sophie, including the War Graves Commission, but the record of her baptism and all the census returns give it as Sophia.
She was born in Deptford, South London. Her father, Samuel Hilling, was a rag cutter, someone who cut up rags for paper making. He died before 1901 when her mother, Sarah Hilling, was supporting herself as a charwoman. Sixteen-year-old Sophia was a general domestic servant. Ten years later she was a sick nurse working at the Birmingham Workhouse Infirmary.
According to the information her mother gave the Commission, Sophia Hilling had had four year's war service before she died. There is no information as to where but in 1917 she was awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal (Second Class) for "bravery, coolness and devotion to duty whilst on active service". At this time she was working at the Welsh Metropolitan War Hospital, Whitchurch, Cardiff where soldiers received both orthopaedic and psychiatric treatment.
By October 1918 Hilling was in France working at one of the general hospitals in Trouville, France when she fell ill. On 12 October E Maud McCarthy, Matron-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders, recorded in her official diary:
"Wired Matron-in-Chief, War Office, and reported to DGMS that Sister S. Hilling, QAIMNS reported on the "Dangerously ill" list with pneumonia."
And then the next day:
"Wired Matron-in-Chief, War Office, and reported to DGMS that Sister S. Hilling, QAIMNS on the "Dangerously ill" list yesterday, died at 10.30 p.m."
[E Maud McCarthy's war diary is a wonderful resource. It has been transcribed by Scarlet Finders and can be read here.]
ENLISTED AUG. 1914
Hugh Davies's wife, Laura, chose to make a very bald statement on her husband's grave - but it speaks volumes. Her husband was a volunteer, and a very early volunteer at that. He had joined up in the first month of the war, August 1914, had survived for over four years and then been killed in its last month, October 1918. Fate is cruel.
Davies had enlisted as a private, served in Egypt from November 1914, and then in Gallipoli. He had risen through the ranks until in June 1916 he was a sergeant. That month the London Gazette recorded his award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal:
"For exceptional ability and good work. He turned out a large quantity of grenades to meet an urgent demand."
In September 1917 Davies was commissioned into the Royal Engineers. He served with the 430th Field Company and was killed on 12 October during the Second Battle of Le Cateau, the first battle having taken place in August 1914.
On the day of his death sappers had been at work around Le Cateau diverting a railway line, filling craters and trying to fix up a water supply. There's no evidence as to what Davies had been doing but as a plumber in civilian life it would seem logical that he was involved in the latter.
WITH THE UNRETURNING BRAVE
It may have been relatively unusual and poetic to describe the war dead as the unreturning brave but it was not unknown. A handful of British towns dedicated their war memorials to them and Australian newspapers used the phrase to head their casualty lists. Nor was it a new phrase: Lord Byron, writing about the dead of the Battle of Waterloo (1815) described how:
... Ardennes waves above them her green leaves,
Dewy with Nature's tear drops, as they pass
Grieving, if aught inanimate e're grieves
Over the unreturning brave.
American Civil War songs and poems often used the phrase:
O my heart is filled with love
For the unreturning brave
Another song ends each verse with a reference to eyes dimming and lips quivering, or hearts aching and tears flowing, orphans watching and widows listening, for the unreturning brave. And John W Forney's poem, The Men Who Fell at Baltimore, a skirmish between a secessionist crowd and Union troops in April 1861 talks about those who,
"... fell for right at Baltimore.
As over every honoured grave
Where sleeps the "Unreturning Brave,"
A mother sobs, a young wife moans,
A father for a lost one groans ... "
Hugh Price was the son of Daniel and Kate Price of Whitley Bay, Northumberland. His mother signed for his inscription.
Price served with the 3rd Battalion Prince of Wales West Yorkshire Regiment. However, at the time of his death he was attached to the 1st/7th Battalion the Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment. He was killed in action on 11 October 1918 when the 49th Division took the village of St Aubert where he is buried.
"Zero hour 9 am. An advance of 1,000 yards was made the Bn. passing through the Canadians who were holding the line. Towards noon the enemy counter-attacked with tanks & we withdrew 500 yds to Sunken Road ... where enemy were held for the night. During the night 11th-12th the enemy withdrew ... "
On the 12 October the German Government followed up their first note to President Woodrow Wilson of 3 October with a second note expressing their willingness to seek an armistice. The war had a month to run.
IN LOVING MEMORY
OF OUR ONLY CHILD DAVID
MOTHER AND FATHER
There is a world of pathos in this dignified inscription. David McLaren's parents have neither enhanced nor disguised their grief with either flowery imagery or a profound quotation - they have just made the simple statement that he was their only child.
John David McLaren was born in Pictou, Nova Scotia - New Scotland - Canada on 19 April 1895. Scottish families had been congregating here since the Highland Clearances of the late eighteenth century. He enlisted in March 1916 just before his twenty-first birthday, giving his occupation as 'clerk'.
After seven months basic training he left for Britain in October 1916 and underwent almost twelve months further training before going to France on 19 August 1918. He joined his unit - the 2nd Canadian Machine Gun Battalion - in the field on 1 September. From then until the time of his death forty-one days later, the Canadians were continually involved in fighting that saw them cross the Canal du Nord and take the town of Cambrai. McLaren died on 11 October of wounds received that day. His casualty record card gives the details - 'GSW L shldr legs hand' - gun shot wounds in his left shoulder, legs and hand.
WE FALL TO RISE
ARE BAFFLED TO FIGHT BETTER
SLEEP TO WAKE
The 5th Leicestershire Regiment's war diary for Friday 11 October 1918 covers almost three pages whereas at some points in the war one page would have done for at least five days.
Starting at Zero hour - 05.30 - the passing hours and in some cases half hours chart the ebb and flow of the fighting. At 10.45 the Germans retook Retheuil Farm and at 11.00, "covering his advance with very heavy machine gun fire", they retook the Chateau they had lost an hour earlier. It was also at 11.00 that "The MO Capt WB Jack RAMC [was] killed while attending the wounded with great courage".
Captain Jack had gone out to attend to a machine-gunned stretcher bearer when he was hit himself. For a little while it was too dangerous for anyone to go out to him but when the German fire slackened he was brought. He died a few hours later.
William Boyd Jack was born and educated in Scotland but in 1911 was practicing medicine in Kendal, Westmorland. Married and with three children, he joined up in March 1917, spent six months with the 1/3 North Midland Field Ambulance before being appointed Medical Officer to the 5th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment. He was with them for the last year of the war, throughout all the fierce fighting around the St Quentin Canal where he was awarded a Military Cross for his actions at Pontruet on 24 September 1918.
Mrs WB Jack chose his inscription. It comes from verse three of Robert Browning's Epilogue to his final volume of poetry, Asolando, which was published on the day Browning died:
One who never turned his back but marched breast forward,
Never doubted clouds would break,
Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake.
It is generally thought that Browning summarised own attitude to life in this verse: how adversity never defeated him, how he always believed that whatever happened was for the right, and that at the end of our lives on earth we would awake to a new life in heaven. It's a very positive inscription but I look at verse one and wonder how positive Mrs Jack felt:
At the midnight in the silence of the sleep-time,
When you set your fancies free,
Will they pass to where - by death, fools think, imprisoned -
Low he lies who once so loved you, whom you loved so,
- Pity me?
TO MEMORY DEAR
VENGEANCE IS MINE
I WILL REPAY SAITH THE LORD
This is a difficult inscription and on one level I am surprised the War Graves Commission accepted it. It was chosen by Rifleman Brown's mother, Henrietta, and it sounds as though she's saying that the Lord took vengeance on the Germans and ensured they lost the war as a punishment both for starting it and for killing her son.
Considering the circumstances of her son's death you can imagine that she had vengeance in her heart. Frank Brown was wounded on 30 November 1917 when the Germans made an attack on the trenches near Bourlon. For a long time it seemed as though they would break through the British lines but the Queen's Westminster Rifles hung on until the situation stabilised. They were relieved at 1 pm on 1 December by which time the regiment had suffered 117 casualties of which 25 were missing. Frank Brown was among the missing. Taken prisoner by the Germans, he died a month later in German captivity. Perhaps his mother assumed they had done nothing to save his life.
It's not possible to tell how Brown was treated but he died in Valenciennes, about 40km behind the front line, which would indicate that he was being cared for in a German medical unit and shows that he had not been shipped straight back to Germany to die in a prisoner-of-war camp.
Brown was buried by the Germans in Valenciennes, his body exhumed and reburied in February 1922. The War Graves Commission's 'concentration' records ask what evidence of identity there has been and the answer on the form is 'plate on coffin'. I find this very interesting, especially as I'm not sure that many British soldiers were buried in coffins. It would indicate that Brown and his fellow British casualties were buried with the same dignity as German soldiers.
So, did Mrs Brown have vengeance in her heart or was she more aware of the context of the words than many of us are today?
"Bless them which persecute you: bless and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good."
New Testament King James Version
WE DO NOT FORGET HIM
NOR DO WE INTEND
WE THINK OF HIM DAILY
AND WILL TO THE END
Robert Longden's mother composed an unusually emphatic inscription for her son. Whereas other families might say, 'Gone but not forgotten', or, 'Too dearly loved to be forgotten', Mrs Longden - Longden's father died early in 1914 - his sister, Jessie, and his two half-sisters, Minnie and Nellie, state firmly their intention to think of Robert daily until the day they die.
I sometimes think that individuals get lost in the general lament for 'the dead' of the First World War. An inscription like this reminds us of the burden of grief so many families carried with them for the rest of their lives. Mrs Longden, although by the time she chose the inscription she had remarried and was Mrs Peatfield, died in 1962.
Longden was not entitled to the 1914-15 Star; from his age I would imagine that he went abroad no earlier than July 1916, which is when he became 19. He was killed on 11 October 1918 in an attack on the village of Regncourt. The war diary reports how early in the attack two serjeants and ten men were killed by enfilade fire whilst sheltering in a ditch. It's possible that one of these men was Longden. In March 1920, Longen's body, along with that of one serjeant, one lance corporal and seven other men were recovered from an isolated burial site and reburied in Busigny Communal Cemetery Extension.
WHAT HAPPY HOURS
WE ONCE ENJOYED
HOW SWEET THE MEMORY STILL
Private Lehman's inscription comes from a popular piece of memorial verse, which can still be found in newspaper In Memoriam Columns in 2017:
What happy hours
We once enjoyed
How sweet the memory still
But they have left an aching void
The world can never fill
I don't know who composed the lines but they made their first newspaper appearance in January 1896. Interestingly, unlike much verse of this type, the words make absolutely no attempt to console or ameliorate the family's grief by referring to eternal life or meeting again. Lehman's inscription may not actually get as far as mentioning the aching void but the implication is there.
Irwin Percy Lehman was twenty-four when he was conscripted under the Canadian Military Service Act on 14 January 1918. On 16 April he embarked from Halifax, arriving in Liverpool on the 28th. The new arrivals were kept segregated for two weeks in case they were carrying contagious diseases. The day after they were released Lehman went down with mumps and was hospitalised for the next twenty days.
On 14 September he arrived in France and on 2 October he joined the 21st Battalion in the trenches on the Hindenburg Line. On 11 October the battalion took part in the attack on the village of Avesnes-le-Sec where they met with severe resistance.
"Zero hour had been set for 0900 hours. From 0530 hours onward the enemy shelled the assembly area intermittently with HE and Gas but few casualties were sustained. The hostile shelling had no effect upon the jump off at 0900 hours. ... The enemy's retaliation was prompt, and his machine gun fire from the right caused many casualties in the first thirty minutes of the advance, but the attack continued unbroken until the advance of the whole line, right and left, was held up on the high ground south-west of Avesnes-le-Sec. The enemy's counter measure was an attack of Tanks, and the 21st Canadian Battalion after inflicting casualties, was forced to withdraw ... Fifty per cent of our Officers, NCOs and Lewis Gunners became casualties during the first half hour of the action."
21st Battalion Canadian Infantry War Diary 11 October 1918
Lehman was one of these casualties. He's buried in Niagara Cemetery, Iwoy, a battlefield cemetery where 156 of the 199 burials died on 11 October.
AND AFTER THE SUNSET
IN THE UNKNOWN NIGHT
JOY CANNOT CEASE
The initials at the bottom of the inscription are D.G.C. They are the initials of the casualty, David Geoffrey Collins, and since Collins' parents described him as a 'poet, botanist, mathematician and peace lover', this would suggest that Collins wrote the words himself - on 5 April 1916. I haven't been able to find anything else Collins wrote but his name is included on the Forgotten Poets of the First World War website.
Collins had an unusual upbringing. His father, Edwin Hyman Simeon Henry Collins, was a highly erudite man who spoke several languages and had a very original mind. Although his name is now unknown, he was quite well known at one time as the man who befriended the exiled Chinese nationalist leader, Sun Yatsen, and tried to help him get his work published in the English language. Edward Collins was even better known, however, as a radical educational thinker who believed fervently that children shouldn't begin formal edcation before they were nine or ten, that they should never be taught to read but should learn to read themselves when they were ready, and that all their lessons should be held outside at all times.
To Collins, the real object of education was not the acquisition of knowledge but the preparation of the mind to receive, assimilate and use knowledge. By this means children would acquire the ability to think and the power to express their thoughts and feelings in appropriate language, either spoken or written. Collins brought his children up according to these beliefs. He refused to let them go to school, which caused him to be prosecuted for child neglect. But Collins used the witness box to gain publicity for his ideas, claiming that his methods would make his children "more useful, more independent, more robust in character, better in physique and with greater powers of assimilating knowledge" than other children.
David was obviously something of a prodigy and by his late teens was teaching in a prep school. He was called up when he was 18 and sent to France in August 1918, just after his nineteenth birthday. He served with the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards and died three months later of wounds received in the capture of Delsaux Farm, a German strong point.
David Collins' headstone is inscribed with the Star of David. His father, who had been born a Jew, and had trained and practised as a rabbi, had then preached for some time as a Christian Unitarian minister before returning fully to the Jewish faith. It was Edwin Collins who chose his son's inscription, using his son's own words to express his belief that death is not the end:
And after the sunset
In the unknown night
Joy cannot cease
[Much of the information for this post comes from Patrick Anderson's 'The Lost Book of Sun Yatsen and Edward Collins' Routledge 2017.
THE SOUL, FROM EARTH'S CONTROL
SEES HEAVEN'S LIGHT
They do not die
At freedom's call
In battle for the right.
The conflict o'er,
On Honour's breast.
Victor's by virtue's might.
In hallowed grave
'Neath sod or wave,
Strife o'er sleep after fight.
They do but sleep:
From earth's control
Released, sees Heaven's light.
We are the dead,
By earthly round,
See not horizons bright.
They live in fame,
Begirt with love,
Precious in memory's sight.
This inscription is based on the fourth verse of the above poem, The Glorious Dead, which was written by someone called Joseph Turner. The only place I have found the poem is on a website featuring one hundred poets from the town of Walsall in Staffordshire. I don't have a copy, but I think it might have originally been published in 'Songs from the Heart of England, an anthology of Walsall poetry' edited by Alfred Moss and published by T Fisher Unwin in 1920.
According to the poem it is we the living who are dead since we are unable to see the bright horizons that those who died in freedom's cause, fighting for the right, can see.
The poem having such a limited geographical circulation, it shouldn't surprise you to learn that James Edward Allen was born and brought up in Walsall, the third of his parents' four sons. Father, Herbert Allen, who signed for the inscription, was a police constable. James and his older brother worked in the town's leather trade.
James attested in August 1916 when he was 17 and a half. He was on home service until October 1917 when he was posted to France where he served with the 1st/4th Battalion Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment. He was killed in action on the 11 October 1918, exactly one month before the end of the war, when the Duke of Wellington's took the town of Rieux-en-Canbresis. James is buried in the town, in Wellington Cemetery where the majority of the casualties come from the Wellington Regiment and were killed on 11 October.
SOUNDS THE LAST RALLY
One of the symbols traditionally associated with the archangel Gabriel is a trumpet with which to sound the last rally - the trumpet call heralding the arrival of the Day of Judgement. Rally is a military word, used most particularly by the cavalry for a trumpet or bugle call sounded to recall the troops after a charge - to bring them home. Gabriel also calls people home, home to their father in heaven. In this way he is considered the messenger of man's salvation. This will be why Private Harvey's mother chose the words, the implication being that those who die fighting for their country are assured of salvation. Mrs Harvey will also be hoping that at the last rally, when she too is dead, she will be reunited with her son.
The inscription is taken from the last line of The Trumpeter, a song originally written in 1904 by J. Francis Barron, which became very popular during the First World War, especially after 1915 when it was recorded by John McCormack. In verse one the trumpeter sounds reveille to rouse the sleeping soldiers from their tents. In verse two he sounds the charge, and in verse three the rally.
It's an interesting song, interesting in that for all its popularity and stirring military associations it makes no concessions to the fact that wars kill people. In fact, in the often omitted last line of verse two the Trumpeter describes the aftermath of a charge as 'Hell'. In this he is echoing the words of William Tecumseh Sherman, the American Civil War Union general who famously said, "War is hell".
It's well worth listening to the song, which can be heard here. This is not McCormack's version, I don't know who is singing but it's rather more melodramatic than his version.
James Harvey, the son of a tram conductor in Glasgow, served with the 1st/2nd Lowland Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps and died of wounds in a Casualty Clearing Station in Boisleux-St Marc on 9 October 1918.
Trumpeter, what are you sounding now!
(Is it the call I'm seeking!)
"Lucky for you if you hear it all,
For my trumpet's but faintly speakin'.
I'm callin' 'em home - come home! come home!
Tread light o'er the dead in the valley.
Who are lyin' around face down to the ground,
And they can't hear me sound the 'Rally'.
But they'll hear it again in a grand refrain,
When Gabriel sounds the last 'Rally',"
PEACE WITH HONOUR
It seems ironic that someone called Lieutenant Yule should die of wounds on Christmas Day, but that is the case.
Yule had been at war since 23 August 1914 when, as a corporal serving with the 2nd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, he arrived in France as part of the original British Expeditionary Force. On 7 May 1916, Yule, now a serjeant major, was commissioned into the 7th Battalion Gordon Highlanders "for service in the field".
He must have been a valuable man. Twice during attacks in 1917 he served as an acting captain whilst still only a second lieutenant. On the second occasion he was awarded a Military Cross:
"2nd Lt. (A./Capt.) John Yule, Gord. Highrs.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in an attack. When the Tanks on his front were disabled and his company was exposed to close range fire he rallied his men in a most critical situation, and by his skilful dispositions undoubtedly saved many casualties. He sent in a most valuable report to his commanding officer, and showed the greatest coolness and courage throughout."
London Gazette 22 July 1918
In December 1917, the 7th Battalion were in France. They came out of the line on the 16th and marched to Fremicourt where they spent the next six days drilling, bathing and practicing bayonetting, rapid loading, wiring, bombing and bolt drill. On the afternoon of the 22nd they moved to Loch Camp, just west of Fremicourt. On the 23rd the war diary reported:
"Between 5.30 pm and 6.30 pm several enemy aeroplanes dropped bombs on Fremicourt and on the camp, wounding Lt. Yule, and four other ranks."
Lieutenant Yule died in a nearby Casualty Clearing Station at Grevillers two days later.
His wife, Jane Neilson Yule, chose his inscription - 'Peace with honour'. The phrase means peace secured or maintained without loss of national honour. It was used by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in 1878 when he and his Foreign Secretary, Lord Salisbury, returned from the Congress of Berlin to a hero's welcome. Cheering crowds accompanied Disraeli and Salisbury from the train station back to Downing Street from where Disraeli addressed the crowd, telling them:
"Lord Salisbury and myself have brought you back peace, I hope, with honour, which may satisfy our Sovereign and tend to the welfare of the country."
It became a famous tag, not just for the Treaty of Berlin but for other international treaties, especially the Munich Agreement of 1938, which bought Europe a valuable year of peace before the outbreak of the Second World War. For Mrs Yule, her husband had secured his own peace - his death - with honour - by dying for his country
The War Graves Commission's records state that Yule served with the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders but not only is Yule mentioned by name in the 7th Battalion's war diary but the 2nd Battalion were in Italy at the time of his death.
Wilfred Smith died of wounds in Palestine on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1917. I can't tell when he received those wounds but it was most probably between 21 November and 8 December in the severe fighting that led to the Ottoman armies abandonment of Jerusalem, which General Allenby entered - on foot to show his respect for the Holy City - on 11 December.
What can Smith's parents have meant by their choice of the single word 'Hope' for Wilfred's inscription? They could have meant any number of things but I am taking a gamble that they were referring to GF Watts' most famous painting, which went by the name of 'Hope'. The painting didn't disappear into private ownership but was donated by Watts to the Tate Galley, in other words, to the nation. Here it could be seen by the general public and once it became possible to make cheap reproductions of paintings, it became the most popular of all prints. Interestingly, Nelson Mandela apparently had a print in his prison cell, and Barak Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope, was inspired by Watts' painting.
Whatever the word 'hope' might conjure up for us today, I don't think it would be Watts' melancholy image of a dejected, blindfolded woman, sitting on a golden sphere in a swirling mist of blues and greens. The woman is plucking at the single remaining string of a broken lyre, her head bent close to try and catch the sound. As GK Chesterton said, the painting might as well have been called 'Despair'.
Yet perhaps this is what it's all about. We are alone in the universe, we don't know where we're going or what is going to happen to us but it is the human condition to hope, however slender the thread. By the end of the nineteenth century many people wondered where the world was going. As the old certainties faded - faith, the belief in progress, mankind's place in the great scheme of things - what would replace them? There wasn't much reason to hope but if we tried we might catch the faintest reverberations to encourage us.
And if people were discouraged by the situation in the world at the end of the nineteenth century, how much worse it must have been during the war years as Empires clashed and casualty figures mounted and hundreds of thousands of young men - including Wilfred Smith - were killed.
Many families chose inscriptions reflecting the Christian's "sure and certain hope of the Resurrection of the body unto eternal life". But Watts' painting doesn't reflect that kind of hope, and nor, I think, does Mr and Mrs Smith's inscription. Hope is something human's cling on to but there is no certainty about it.
HIS FATE AND FAME
SHALL BE AN ECHO
AND A LIGHT UNTO ETERNITY
Shelley's Adonais, his Elegy on the Death of John Keats (1821), is not an unusual source for personal inscriptions but people tend to choose line 344: 'He hath awakened from the dream of life', or line 352, 'He has outsoared the shadow of our night'. James Gore's inscription comes from the last four lines of the first verse:
Say: 'With me
Died Adonais; till the Future dares
Forget the Past, his fate and fame shall be
An echo and a light unto eternity!'
The inscription was chosen, or at least signed for, by Gore's younger brother John. The family lived in Liverpool where Gore had been born and where in 1911 James was working as a building lift attendant. However, at some point he must have gone to Canada because when he attested on 6 November 1916 he was working as a steward in Bellevue, Ontario, Canada.
Gore served with the 19th Battalion Canadian Infantry and arrived in France on 30 November 1917. He was killed in action on 9 October 1918 but that is not a day that the battalion were in action. In fact, all the war diary says for the 9th is that the companies were notified to move into new positions and that the move was achieved by 11.20 am. At 5.30 pm the battalion moved again to an area NE of Escaudouvees in preparation for an attack at 6 am the following morning, 10 October.
By the end of the 11th the battalion casualties amounted to one officer missing, four wounded and 139 other ranks either killed or wounded. Gore is the only person in the 19th Battalion to have died on the 9th - and it's not that he died of wounds in a hospital behind the lines because Sains-les-Marquion was a front line burial ground. His death was just part of the normal, unremarkable, wastage of war.
"LET ALL THE ENDS
THOU AIM'ST AT BE
OF THY COUNTRY'S, THY GOD'S
Horace Ellis's mother chose a quotation from Shakespeare's Henry VIII for her son's inscription. In the play, the time has come for Thomas Cromwell to say farewell to his mentor, Cardinal Wolsey. To Cromwell, Wolsey has been a good, noble and true master. But Wolsey has some advice for him - "fling away ambition: by that sin fell the angels":
Be just and fear not:
Let all the ends thou aim'st at be thy country's,
Thy God's, and truth's; then if thou fall'st,
Thou fall'st a blessed martyr!
For all their current obscurity, one wouldn't have to have known Shakespeare to know these lines. They featured in dictionaries of quotations, as mottos for newspapers, as dictation exercises for school children, passages to be learnt off by heart for elocution lessons or to be written out in handwriting copy books.
Before the outbreak of war, Horace Ellis was a lithographic artist working for a general printers. He was also a member of a territorial regiment, the Duke of Lancaster's Own Yeomanry. Serving with them, he reached the rank of acting sergeant before he took a commission in the Machine Gun Corps, serving with the 6th Squadron. He was killed on 9 October 1918 in the Second Battle of Le Cateau. The first battle had taken place on 26 August 1914, twenty-two days after he outbreak of war, and was part of the British army's fighting withdrawal. The town remained in German hands until the last month of the war..
THE NIGHT IS DARK
AND I AM FAR FROM HOME
LEAD THOU ME ON
Nineteen-year-old Percy Bealey was killed in action in the taking of the village of Forceville on 8 October 1918. It must have been his father who chose his inscription. The name on the War Grave's form is Mrs Bealey, but Mrs Emma Bealey, his mother, died in 1912.
The inscription comes from the second line of John Henry Newman's famous hymn, Lead Kindly Light Amid the Encircling Gloom, which he wrote as a prayer. Newman longed for the consolation of Christian certitude in an age of doubt. The Bealey family, and the many other families who chose quotes from this hymn, longed for consolation in their grief and hoped to find it in God.
So long thy power hath blessed me, sure it still
Will lead me on;
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
O GOD OF BATTLES
William Windsor's younger brother, George, chose his inscription from Shakespeare's Henry V. It comes from the first line of Henry's prayer on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt:
O God of battles! steel my soldiers' hearts;
Possess them not with fear; take from them now
The sense of reckoning, if the opposed number
Pluck their hearts from them.
It's a prayer for bravery in the face of a forthcoming battle.
Corporal William Windsor, served with the 20th Battalion Manchester Regiment, part of the 25th Division, and took part in the capture of Beaurevoir on 5 October 1918. He died in German hands the next day and was buried with eleven other members of the 20th battalion in Beaurevoir Communal Cemetery German Extension - eleven men: one sergeant, five corporals and eight privates all buried in one grave marked by two crosses. It wasn't until 1924 that the bodies were exhumed and reburied in Beaurevoir British Cemetery.
Windsor was born in Openshaw and grew up nearby in Gorton, Manchester. His father was a horsekeeper for the corporation and Windsor himself was a dental technician. He volunteered before the introduction of conscription, entering a theatre of war, France, on 9 November 1915, which entitled him to the 1915 Star. The battalion moved to Italy in November 1917 and only returned to France three weeks before Windsor was killed.
I AM LISTENING LORD FOR THEE
WHAT HAST THOU TO SAY TO ME
What does Mrs Ada Trewhella hope she is going to hear?
Master speak! They servant heareth,
Waiting for Thy gracious word.
Longing for Thy voice that cheereth;
Master, let it now be heard.
I am listening, Lord, for Thee;
What hast Thou to say to me?
She hopes to hear words that cheer, that bring her peace and that help her to accept God's will. Her husband, George Trewhella, is dead and she has been left with four daughters: Vera 12, Violet 11, Ada 7 and Lilian 3.
Master, speak! I do not doubt Thee,
Though so tearfully I plead;
Saviour, Shepherd! Oh! without Thee
Life would be blank indeed!
But I long for further light,
Deeper love, and clearer sight.
The words come from a hymn by Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-79).
George Trewhella worked for the Great Western Railway from 1902 until he was called up in May 1916. He was a plate layer who, according to his employer's reference, "gave satisfaction and proved himself a good workman".
Until January 1917 Trewhella was on home service but that month he went out to Salonika with the 267th Railway Coy. Royal Engineers. In August 1917, he spent a month in hospital with dysentery. Just over a year later he was admitted to hospital in Thessaloniki on 4 October suffering from influenza. He died the next day. The War Graves Commission's records say that he died of malaria but all his medical record cards say it was influenza.
Master, speak! I kneel before Thee,
Listening, longing, waiting still;
Oh, how long shall I implore Thee
Thy petition to fulfil!
Hast Thou not one word for me?
Must my prayer unanswered be?
ALWAYS THINKING OF YOU
Mrs Alice Spracklan has written a very simple but affecting personal inscription for her son, and by personal I mean personal. Albert had a father, Theodore, two brothers, William and Walter, and a sister Hilda but the message is from her, his mother - she just wants to tell him that she is always thinking of him.
The Spracklans lived in Five Bells, Watchet, Somerset where father was a carter on a farm and Albert was a farm labourer.
Unlike his brothers, Albert was not an early volunteer; he was not entitled to the 1914 or 1915 Star.. He served with the 1st/5th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment, which after service in Italy, returned to the Western Front on 11 September 1918. The war diary records that on 5 October:
"The Battn. marched in fighting order to Lormisset (4 miles) coming under occasional salvos of 5.9s whilst passing Grandcourt & suffering 5 casualties."
Later in the afternoon, the battalion received orders to take Beaurevoir, "which 2 Brigades had failed to take". At 18.40, zero hour, they set off following a creeping barrage but "A. Coy. from over keenness advanced into our barrage, followed by B Coy on the left. Although suffering several casualties the Coys were thus able to surprise a M.G. nest holding the embankment whilst still taking cover from our barrage."
The battalion pushed on, meeting little resistance except from isolated machine guns and snipers. Casualties by the end of the engagement were one officer seriously wounded and one killed by the British barrage, nine other ranks killed, forty-two wounded and one missing.
Spracklan is buried in Beaurevoir Communel Cemetery British Extension, a battlefield cemetery, where 35 of the total 82 casualties were killed, like him, on 5th October 1918.
RECTE FACIENDO SECURUS
Recte faciendo securus - by acting justly you need fear nothing - is the Inglis family motto.
Robert and Isabella Inglis of Lovestone, Girvan, Ayrshire had ten children: four daughters and five sons. I think you might be able to tell where this is going. The eldest son, Alexander, was killed in South Africa in 1901, the youngest son, David, was killed in France on 19 December 1914, Charles, the third son, on 25 September 1915, and Robert, the second eldest, died of wounds on 5 October 1918. William was the only one of the five sons to survive.
Prior to the war, Robert Inglis had been joint factor with his father of the Bargany Estate in Ayrshire and a sergeant in the Scottish Horse Yeomanry. In September 1914, he was commissioned second lieutenant and after a period of service in England embarked on 1 January 1916 to join the Egyptian Expeditionary Force on the Suez Canal. In October 1916 the Scottish Yeomanry became the 13th Battalion Royal Highlanders (Black Watch) and in June 1918 the battalion was moved to France. Inglis was wounded on 3 October 1918 when 'C' Company co-operated with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in an attack on Le Catelet and Gouy. The battalion war diary mentions that "there was considerable sniping causing several casualties". Inglis died the next day.
Recte faciendo securus - by acting justly you need fear nothing. The reference of course is to salvation rather than to having nothing to fear in this earthly life.
SEE THAT MY GRAVE IS GREEN
'See That My Grave is Kept Green' is a sentimental American song that was written by Gus Williams in 1876. A blues version by Blind Lemon Jackson, based on Williams' original song but with the final word of the line changed to 'clean' not 'green', is world famous among jazz aficionados. So much so that the words 'See that my grave is kept clean' appear on Jackson's headstone. However, Jackson's version dates from 1927 so it's Williams' song that Wilfred Simmons' father was quoting from in his son's inscription.
In the song, the singer asks that when he's dead his wife - I'm presuming - will keep his grave green:
When from the world and it's hopes I go,
Leaving for ever the scene
Though others are dear, ah, will you then
See that my grave's kept green.
By asking for his grave to be kept green, the singer is not just asking his wife not to forget him, "will you keep me, love, in remembrance", but also that his wife will dwell on the happy times:
Tell me you'll think of the happy past
Think of the joys we have seen.
This one little promise keep for me
See that my grave's kept green.
Wilfred Simmons was a student at the Hamilton Normal School when he enlisted in March 1916. He left Canada for England in October 1916, and in January 1917 went to France. He was attached to the Canadian Forestry Corps, in effect a military lumberjack unit, cutting down forests in England, Scotland and France to meet the army's insatiable demand for timber. Simmons served in the MT section.
In August 1918 he became ill with appendicitis. He was admitted to hospital on the 24 August and operated on. His condition seemed to improve but later he became very ill very suddenly and died of what his records say was 'recurrent appendicitis'.
Oh the days will come to you darling
When no more on earth I'll be.
Oh the days will come to you darling
When no more on earth I'll be seen.
One sweet little wish darling grant me
See that my grave's kept green,
See that my grave's kept green.
THIS EARTH HAS BORNE
NO SIMPLER, NOBLER MAN
This inscription comes from the epitaph Tennyson wrote for his friend General Gordon, killed in the Sudan in January 1885:
Warrior of God, man's friend, and tyrant's foe
Now somewhere dead far in the waste Soudan,
Thou livest in all hearts, for all men know
This earth has never born a nobler man.
It is difficult to overestimate Gordon's fame; he was one of the Victorian era's biggest military heroes, his achievements summarised on his memorial in St Paul's Cathedral:
Major General Charles George Gordon, C.B.
Who at all times and everywhere, gave his strength to the weak, his substance to the poor, his sympathy to the suffering, his heart to God.
Born at Woolwich 28 January 1833
Slain at Khartoum 26 January 1885
He saved an Empire by his warlike genius, he ruled vast provinces with justice, wisdom, and power.
And lastly obedient to his sovereign's command, he died in the heroic attempt to save men, women and children from imminent and deadly peril.
Tennyson's epitaph for his friend does not feature either on his memorial in St Paul's or on his memorial in Westminster Abbey but in the Gordon Boys' National Memorial Home, Woking, one of a series of boys' homes established throughout the country in his memory .
Edward Hills Nicholson was educated at Winchester College, and is remembered on their commemorative website. On leaving school he joined the regular army and fought in South Africa. After a period of service in India, he was posted to the Western Front in June 1915, and then to Salonika that November where he remained until he returned to the Western Front in July 1918. He was killed in the taking of Richmond Copse, a German stronghold, on the morning of 4 October.
Edward Nicholson was one of seven children; his parents had four sons and three daughters. Bruce Nicholson was killed on 3 May 1917 and Victor two months later on 9 August. Biographies of all three brothers appear on page 132 of the fifth volume of the Marquis du Ruvigny's Roll of Honour. The fourth brother, Walter, died suddenly in 1943 whilst serving with the RAF Volunteer Reserve.
In April 1912, Nicholson married Ethel Frances in Bombay Cathedral. She chose his inscription.
HONOUR HAS COME BACK
AS A KING TO EARTH
AND PAID HIS SUBJECTS
WITH A ROYAL WAGE
Whilst pre-twentieth century poets dominate the authors quoted in personal inscriptions, with Shakespeare and Tennyson taking the lead in what is admittedly my very unscientific analysis based on impression rather than statistics, Rupert Brooke and John Oxenham are the most popular of the twentieth-century. Neither of their reputations have survived very well but Brooke is definitely better known than Oxenham who few people have heard of these days.
Charles Cox's mother chose his inscription. It comes from Brooke's The Dead in which the poet claimed that by dying, by being prepared to sacrifice themselves, the dead have "made us rarer gifts than gold": the restoration of the high, moral qualities that mankind seemed to have lost before 1914. But now, thanks to them, "nobleness walks in our ways again; and we have come into our heritage".
It's a deeply traditional, romantic and heroic view of war, and of fighting and dying for your country, which has helped Brooke's reputation slide to its current lowly state. But that is how many people felt then. It is however arguable that Brooke, who was an intelligent and sensitive man, wouldn't have continued to feel like this, or write like this, had he lived. As it was he died on 23 April 1915.
Brooke might have changed his view but by the end of the war it was still that of many next-of-kin, like Mrs Cox; it brought them comfort.
Charles Cox, born and brought up in Newport, Monmouthshire, served with the 1st Battalion Monmouthshire Regiment. He died of wounds on 4 October 1918. The battalion were in action on the 3rd, he could have been wounded then, or on the 4th itself when the war diary recorded:
"Orders received for "C" Coy to dispatch a strong patrol (1 platoon) at 6.30 am as far into Montbrehain as possible, under cover of our bombardment. Patrol moved off at 6.30 am but was driven back by concentrated M.G. fire from front and both flanks. Only 3 returned unwounded. The remainder of the day was comparatively quiet with the exception of enemy shelling & MG fire ... "
Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!
There's none of these so lonely and poor of old,
But, that dying has made us rarer gifts than gold.
These laid the world away; poured out the red
Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene,
That men call age; and those who would have been
Their sons, they gave, their immortality.
NOT SINCE HER BIRTH
HAS OUR EARTH SEEN
SUCH WORTH LOOSED UPON HER
I'm not sure what was going on here but it can have never occurred to Alexander Riddell that ninety-nine years after his death somebody would be looking at his attestation form and wondering what he'd been playing at.
Alexander Lorimer Riddell, army service number 706968, son of George and Margaret Riddell of Rosehearty, Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, was born in Scotland in 1885. In 1906, aged 21, he went to Canada and settled in Nanamo, British Columbia where he worked as a building contractor. He enlisted in the Canadian Infantry in February 1916, sailed from Halifax in July and joined his unit in the field in February 1917. He was wounded at Vimy Ridge in April 1917 and returned to Rosehearty in December where he married Jean Arthur. After two weeks leave he returned to the front and died of wounds received in action on 3 October 1918.
That, in brief, is the life of Alexander Lorimer Ridddell. It all comes from information provided by Riddell's family for his entry in the Marquis du Ruvigny's Roll of Honour. So why, on his attestation form, does he claim that he was born in New South Wales, Australia on 16 August 1877, which would have made him 44 when he was only 33. And why does he say that his next of kin is his step-father, Donald Riddell of Lincoln, Nebraska, when he didn't have a step-father. I don't have an answer.
His wife chose his inscription. It comes from Rudyard Kipling's poem The Children and is a savage indictment of the society that led its innocent children into war. Yes Kipling was probably moved to write it by his grief for the death of his own son, John, who was killed in action at Loos on 26 September 1915, but there is much more to the poem than the self-pity that one unsympathetic critic has accused Kipling of. Riddell's inscription comes from verse 3:
They bought us anew with their blood, forbearing to blame us,
Those hours which we had not made good when the judgment o'ercame us.
They believed us and perished for it. Our statecraft, our learning
Delivered them bound to the Pit and alive to the burning
Whither they mirthfully hastened as jostling for honour -
Not since her birth has our Earth seen such worth loosed upon her,
Never before has our earth seen 'such worth', such wonderful, valuable people thrown away, wasted in this manner. There is nothing at all heroic or triumphalist about this poem, no attempt at all to make death in war glamorous:
Nor was their agony brief, or once only imposed on them.
The wounded, the war-spent, the sick received no exemption:
Being cured they returned and endured and achieved our redemption,
Hopeless themselves of relief, till Death, marvelling, closed on them.
But, as Kipling acknowledges, we can rail against what has happened all we like, we can regret it, we can try to make amends, but in the end what's the point because nothing can bring our children back. "Who shall return us our children?" he asks, and the answer, of course, is no one.
I SAW THE POWERS OF DARKNESS
PUT TO FLIGHT
I SAW THE MORNING BREAK
These lines come from a poem called Between Midnight and Morning, which is often said to have been found on the body of an Australian soldier killed at Gallipoli; the implication being that the soldier wrote it. Well, a copy of the poem could easily have been found on the body of an Australian soldier but he most definitely didn't write it because it was written by Owen Seaman, the editor of Punch, and published in December 1914 in King Albert's Book. However, the Australian story gave the poem great traction and it became known all over the world.
You that have faith to look with fearless eyes
Beyond the tragedy of a world at strife,
And trust that out of night and death shall rise
The dawn of ampler life:
Rejoice, whatever anguish rend your heart,
That God has given you, for a priceless dower,
To live in these great times and have your part
In Freedom's crowning hour.
That you may tell your sons who see the light
High in the heavens, their heritage to take: -
"I saw the powers of darkness put to flight!
I saw the morning break!"
Thomson was born and raised in Kapunda, South Australia. He began his career as an accountant but enlisted in November 1914 soon after the outbreak of war. He served with the 3rd Field Ambulance in Gallipoli from June to December 1915 and then transferred to France in March 1916. In January 1918 he returned to England and in May 1918 was gazetted Flying Officer (Observer) in No. 3 Squadron Australian Flying Corps. The squadron flew RE8s on reconnaissance, bombing and artillery spotting duties.
At 6 am on the morning of the 3 October 1918, Lieut Thomson and Lieut Gould Taylor took off from the airfield at Bouvincourt and never returned. Three days later a machine was found crashed at Folemprise Farm, 1,000 yards NW of Estrees. Beside the plane were two graves marked with the information that these were the graves of two unidentified Australian airmen. The plane could be identified by its number as Thomson and Gould-Taylor's and the bodies identified as their's. A year later their bodies were exhumed and buried in adjacent graves in Prospect Hill British Cemetery.
Thomson's father chose his inscription.
Rejoice, whatever anguish rend your heart,
That God has given you, for a priceless dower,
To live in these great times and have your part
In Freedom's crowning hour.
NOR ENGLAND DID I KNOW
WHAT LOVE I BORE TO THEE
This is a rather poignant inscription for an Australian soldier who was born in England in 1888 and only went to Australia in 1912 when he was 24. It was chosen by his wife Phyllis. She too was born in England although the couple married in Australia in 1913.
Browning volunteered in January 1918. There was no conscription in Australia; he must have wanted to go. However, January 1918 is quite late to be enlisting if you were someone who was keen to get to the war. This could be explained by his answer to the question on the attestation form - Have you ever been rejected for military service? Browning's answer is 'Yes - made fit by operation'. He had wanted to go, but he needed to undergo an operation before he could be considered fit enough.
Browning's inscription comes from Wordsworth's 'I Travelled Among Unknown Men' of which this is the first verse:
I travelled among unknown men,
In lands beyond the sea;
Nor, England! did I know till then
What love I bore to thee.
I don't think Browning regretted going to Australia. He must have liked it since he persuaded his older brother, James, with his wife and two children, to join him in the country in 1913. But when England was in danger he realised what he felt for the old country.
Browning was killed in action at Beaurevoir on 3 October 1918, six weeks before the end of the war. The news went to his wife in Australia and his family in England only learnt of his death through friends. His sister therefore wrote to the Australian Red Cross to ask if they could tell her how he had died and whether he had been buried. They were able to assure her that he had been killed instantly and buried properly but spared her the full details, which they had learnt from the stretcher bearer who was first on the scene:
"I saw the above (all of B Coy) and one other man whose name I think was Lionel killed by one shell near Beaurevoir about 7 am during the attack about 1/2 hour or less after we hopped over. I was stretcherbearing & was following up behind them and was not 8 yards from them. Browning (killed instantly) was hit through head, Clarkson (instantly) thigh to knee badly smashed and concussion, Sgt, Crockett (instantly) all over body, Lionel (instantly) head, Langley hit on left collar bone and the artery was cut he was the only one with any life and I tried to dress the wound and succeeded in stopping the bleeding but he was dead before I finished ... Browning, Clarkson and Langley were all late joined us at Cappy, first time in line."
HIS LAST WORDS WERE
AS HE FELL
"GO ON 'C' COMPANY
William Braithwaite was killed whilst charging a machine gun in an attack at Estrees on 3 October 1918. This was a preliminary action to the Battle of Montbrehain on the 5th; the Australians last engagement of the war on the Western Front.
Braithwaite served with the 22nd Battalion Australian Infantry and its Report of Operations gives a brief glimpse of the action on the 3rd October:
"There were several instances where determined resistance was offered by small groups of Machine Gunners, and an examination of the ground after the attack evidenced the fact that the bayonets had been used by our men to a greater extent than usual."
After school and university, Braithwaite joined his father's tannery, the largest employer in the town of Preston, Victoria. He enlisted in July 1916 and embarked for Europe that October, joining his battalion in France in January 1917. A collection of his private letters, now held in the Australian National War Memorial, shows that he took part in the the actions at Bapaume, Bullecourt, Ypres, Broodseinde, Villers-Bretonneaux and the August 1918 offensive. It was at Bullecourt that he was wounded in the arm and face during an action for which he was awarded the Military Cross:
"For conspicuous gallantry in leading his men into the enemy's trenches during the attack near Bullecourt on 3 May 1917. Although twice wounded he persevered with the work of consolidating the position and leading bombing parties against the enemy strongpoints."
Braithwaite was back in action by July and served throughout the Battle of Passchendaele. He was wounded again at Franvillers in June 1918, had two weeks leave in England in September and was killed soon after his return.
It was his father, also William Braithwaite, who chose his inscription. Although he and his wife had six daughters, William was their only son. William Braithwaite Senior died on 5 August 1922 whilst on a trip to Europe with his wife to visit their son's grave.
WE WHO LOVED HIM ONLY KNOW
HOW MUCH WE LOST
EIGHT YEARS AGO
This inscription has been chosen specifically to show how long it could take to build the permanent cemeteries, and how long it could be before the next of kin were asked for for a personal inscription. William Martin died of wounds on 2 October 1918, therefore it must have been 1926 when his wife, Harriett Martin, was asked what she wanted to say. However, I have come across inscriptions which refer to the death only being a year ago so it didn't always take this long.
Martin was born in Newhaven, Sussex in 1889. In 1911 he was a police officer boarding at a house in Camden Road, Eastbourne. Among the other residents of the house was a widowed dressmaker called Harriett Rose Lakey. William Martin and Hariett Lakey were married in West Derby the following year.
Martin's medal card shows that he was entitled to the 1914 Star having entered a theatre of war, France, on 19 August 1914. This means he was a member of the original British Expeditionary Force and that he had managed to survive until the last six weeks of the war.
A gunner in 1914, Martin was a serjeant in 1918 with a Meritorious Service Medal awarded in January 1918 "in recognition of valuable services rendered with the Armies in the Field during the present war".
Martin died of wounds in a Casualty Clearing Station in Grevelliers, 3 km west of Bapaume, on 2 October 1918. There is no record of what happened to him.
By choosing this single Latin word, Teribus, William Beattie's father elegantly linked many aspects of his son's life. The word itself is said to have been part of the battle cry of the men of Hawick during the Battle of Flodden in 1513 - 'Teribus ye Teri-Odin'. A nineteenth-century song by James Hogg tells of the months after the battle when bands of English soldiers plundered the surrounding countryside, devastating the towns and villages. This continued until the following year when a group of brave men from Hawick turned the tide by attacking a band of English soldiers at Hornshole and carrying off their flag. The song claims that this action led to the turning of the tide against the English marauders who subsequently turned tail for home. The factual history of the event may be questionable but the legend has remained very powerful and the skirmish is still commemorated in Hawick to this day.
In June 1914, to mark the 400th anniversary, a bronze statue of a horseman holding the captured English banner was unveiled in the centre of the town. The sculptor was William Francis Beattie who had been born in Hawick, which made him a 'Teri', a Hawickman. Although the statue was unveiled in June 1914, the outbreak of war two months later meant that the final touches were not put to it until 1921, three years after Beattie's death.
Beattie had been a member of the Lothian and Border Horse since 1910, but in April 1915 he took a commission in the Royal Artillery in order to see some action. Four months later he was in France. Awarded a Military Cross in 1917 for the rescue of some wounded soldiers under a heavy artillery barrage, he was badly gassed in April 1918 and spent five months recovering before returning to the front on 20 September. He died of wounds thirteen days later in a Casualty Clearing Station in Tincourt.
On 29 July 1921 the Hawick News and Border Chronicle reported that a workman had that week finally cut the memorial inscription into the base of the 1514 monument:
"Erected to commemorate the return of Hawick Gallants from Hornshole in 1514, when, after the Battle of Flodden they routed the English marauders and captured their flag"
The work was carried out by William Beattie's father, Thomas, who also carved another inscription:
Merses Profundo Pulchrior Evenit
Sculptor: Major William F. Beattie MC RFA
A native of Hawick
Born 1886 Killed in France 1918
The paper reports that the Latin line is a quotation from Horace suggested as appropriate by Sir George Douglas, Bart, the meaning of which is - "You may overwhelm it in the deep; it arises more beautiful than ever".
William Francis Beattie was his parents' only child.
THE LORD BLESS THEE
AND KEEP THEE
Mrs Kirkpatrick has quoted from a beautiful blessing in the Book of Numbers, Chapter 6 verses 22 to 26, for her son's personal inscription:
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them,
The Lord bless thee, and keep thee:
The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
I haven't really been able to identify James Kirkpatrick, other than that he was the son of Mrs M Kirkpatrick, 116 Bonnington Road, Kilmarnock and that he was entitled to the War Medal and the Victory medal which means that he wasn't a 1914 or 1915 volunteer His medal card says he is James M Kirkpatrick, and the Kilmarnock war memorial lists a James McC Kirkpatrick. From this slight information I have concluded that he is the son of David Kirkpatrick, a journeyman tailor, and Mary Kirkpatrick nee McCutcheon, and that he had two brothers, David and George, and a sister, Mary. I could very well be wrong.
Kirkpatrick, who served with the 7th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, died of wounds in a Casualty Clearing Station at Haringhe on 2 October 1918. There were three casualty clearing stations in the area known to the troops as Dozinghem, Mendinghem and Bandaghem, the soldiers' humorous Flemish names for what went on there - dosing them, mending them and bandaging them. Haringhe CCS was Dozinghem
The 7th Battalion had taken part the previous day in an attack on the village of Dadizeele when 73 other ranks had been wounded. There's no record of what happened to Jame Kirkpatrick but he may well have been one of those wounded that day.
HIS BODY TO FAIR FRANCE
HIS PURE SOUL
UNTO HIS CAPTAIN CHRIST
The name Bernard Richard Penderel-Brodhurst has a particular air about it, something that would seem to be totally appropriate for the heir to the perpetual pension settled on his ancestor, Humphrey Penderel, for his services in concealing King Charles II and aiding his escape after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.
Penderel-Brodhurst was the only surviving son of James George Joseph Penderel-Brodhurst, the editor of The Guardian. His brother, Charles, had died at the age of 17 in 1899. Educated at St Paul's, Bernard was articled to a firm of architects when the war broke out. He enlisted three weeks later and served in Britain until, having been commissioned into the Royal Engineers in July 1917, he went with them to France in April 1918.
On the evening of 1 October Penderel-Brodhurst was in an area of the front line that was not thought to be dangerous when he was shot by a sniper concealed in a pill-box no more than 40yards away. He died three hours later having never regained consciousness - three days before his 28th birthday and his first wedding anniversary.
His inscription comes from Shakespeare's Richard II. The words are spoken of Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk by the Bishop of Carlisle who tells Bolingbroke that the exiled Norfolk is dead:
Many a time hath banish'd Norfolk fought
For Jesu Christ in glorious Christian field,
Streaming the ensign of the Christian cross
Against black pagans, Turks and Saracens;
And toil'd with works of war, retir'd himself
To Italy, and there, at Venice, gave
His body to that pleasant country's earth,
And his pure soul unto his captain Christ,
Under whose colours he had fought so long.
Penderel-Brodhurst may have been buried in France rather than Venice but his father, who chose the inscription, believed that his son too had been fighting for Christ.
A WARMER HEART
DEATH NEVER MADE SO COLD
Know thou, O stranger to the fame
Of this much lov'd much honour'd name!
(For none that knew him need be told)
A warmer heart Death ne'er made cold.
'For R.A. Esq.'
by Robert Burns
By choosing this lovely epitaph written by Robert Burns for one of his friends, Mr and Mrs Adam Oliver have managed not only to reflect their son's Scottish heritage - he was born in Jedburgh, Roxburghshire - but to simply and effectively convey an affectionate character sketch of their nineteen-year-old son.
John Oliver served with the 7th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, part of the 9th Scottish Division. On 29 September 1918 the Division captured the village of Dadizeele, 16km east of Ypres towards Menin. Three days later the Division pushed on towards the Menin-Roulers railway north of Ledeghem but the Germans put up a much fiercer resistance with particularly heavy machine gun and sniper fire.
Oliver was one of the twenty-three members of the battalion who were killed in action or died of wounds that day.
BABY OF FAMILY
BORN GREEN BAY, WISC. U.S.A.
MOTHER STILL ANXIOUS
FOR HIS RETURN
Albert Kick was a Oneida First Nation Canadian, born on the Green Bay reservation in Wisconsin U.S.A. whose family moved to the reservation in Muncey, Ontario. He was 29 when he was killed, the baby of the family.
'Mother still anxious for his return' - I had in my mind's eye the image of a grieving mother unable to accept that her son was dead and still hoping that he was going to come home. However, I have a feeling that this is not what the words mean. It was Albert's mother herself, Katherine Kick, who chose the inscription and I think her concern was to do with her son's spirit, perhaps even his body.
The Oneida, as with all First Nation people, have very specific customs, practices and rituals associated with the dead, all designed to facilitate the successful passage of their spirit back into the spirit world from which it came. This should start with the return of the deceased person's body to the place where they had lived. Was Mrs Kick agitating for the return of her son's body or was it his spirit she hoped would return? Either way, Albert Kick's inscription reflects a Oneida concern for the afterlife of the dead man.
Kick and his brother, Ernest, briefly attended Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Pennsylvania and when I say briefly I mean from 13 August to 20 October 1904 when they 'ran from school'. The school have digitised their records and you can read letters from both the brothers, written several years after they 'ran away', in which they seem to talk appreciatively about the time they spent at the school so I wonder whether they went back again.
Carlisle Indian Industrial School was the flagship Indian boarding school founded on the principle that Native Americans were the equal of European Americans and that if their children were immersed in Euro-American culture, i.e. at one of these schools, it would given them skills that would help them advance in life. The school ran from 1879 to 1918.
Albert Kick attested on 28 January 1916. He served with B Company, 4th Battalion Canadian Infantry, the same company as his brother Ernest, and was killed in action in the taking of Sancourt during the battle for the Canal du Nord. He is buried in the same grave as an unidentified soldier.
GOD IS HIS OWN INTERPRETER
Private Copeland's father chose his inscription from a well-known hymn written by the poet William Cowper (1731-1800). Other relations chose to quote this hymn but most used the first line of the first verse - 'God move in a mysterious way' - whereas as Walter Copeland quoted from the last verse:
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.
One way or another they are all saying the same as those relations who chose: 'God knows best', or 'We cannot Lord Thy purpose see but all is well that's done by Thee'.
Walter Copeland had perhaps more reasons than most to hope there was a purpose in God's actions. In June 1916 his eldest son Vivian Marshall Copeland died at the age of 21, three months later his wife, Mary Jane Copeland died at the age of 49. On the 22 March 1918 his youngest son, Harold, went missing in action and it wasn't until 16 July that Walter heard that he was a prisoner of war. Then just over two months after this his middle son, Albert Copeland died of pneumonia in Salonika aged 21.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.