NOTHING'S WORTH WHILE
BUT THOUGHTS OF YOU
This is a real cry of despair from Mrs Rose Sumner, a widow whose husband had died in 1913. It must have been an emotion felt by many of the bereaved but no one has articulated it quite so plainly as this. The 1901 census shows there to have been a nine-year-old daughter, May. But there is no trace of her later.
James Sumner's father had been a stone mason, as his father had been before him, but James became a professional soldier. The 1911 census shows him to have been serving in India with the 64th Battery, 5th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. He was with the same battery when he died of wounds in a Casualty Clearing Station on 27 May 1917.
There is no individual information about Sumner's death but the 5th Brigade's war diary records it as being in Cite de Caumont where hostile planes, hostile balloons and hostile shelling are a daily occurance.
OH GOD WHY DID YOU
TAKE MY ALL
MY HEART HAS A WOUND
THAT WILL NEVER HEAL
It is unusual to see an inscription like this. Most people do not rail against God, rather they say they are prepared to accept His will: 'Not my will but thine O Lord'; 'God knoweth best'; 'We cannot Lord thy purpose see but all is well that's done by thee'. This won't do for Mrs Augusta Renaud. Married in 1911, her inscription challenges God and declares that her heart will never heal. And perhaps it never did. Augusta Renaud did eventually remarry but not until 1957, forty years after her first husband's death. She died in 1978 aged 84.
Renaud originally served with The Queen's Royal West Kent Regiment but at the time of his death was with the Labour Corps. This suggests that he had been wounded, reducing his medical fitness from A1. However, whilst this might mean that you were not fit enough to be a front line soldier it didn't keep you away from danger. Renaud is buried in Canada Farm Cemetery, a front line dressing station cemetery.
HE DIED FOR US
IN OUR HEARTS
AND THE VALHALLA OF HEROES
The destination of dead British soldiers tended to be heaven, or some Classical haven of heroes and gods where they would achieve immortality. I've not seen Valhalla mentioned before. It's an appropriate place since it's the Nordic destination of those who have died in combat, a place to which they are led by Valkyries. However, as the nineteenth century progressed Valhalla became increasingly associated with Germanic heroes, especially after the operas of Richard Wagner brought both Valhalla and the Valkyries into greater prominence in Germany.
Herbert Henry Renshaw was the second of his parents' seven children. His younger brother, Arthur Edwin, signed for his inscription. Father Renshaw was an insurance agent, Herbert Henry Renshaw was an assistant in a furniture shop. He joined the East Anglian Cycle Corps in May 1915 and served with them in France and Flanders from August 1916. He later transferred to the 11th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment and was with them when he was killed on 25 September 1917.
The 11th Battalion war diary does not make any mention of casualties on 25 September:
"Battalion moved up to assembly position in Tower Hamlets sector relieving the 12th Royal Sussex Regt. Relief complete 11 pm."
The next day the entry reads:
"Bn attacked at 5.50 pm and captured all objectives and about 40 prisoners"
Renshaw's body, together with those of two other soldiers from the Royal Sussex Regiment, was not found until April 1919. Renshaw was identified by his disc and his paybook. The other two soldiers were never identified.
VALIANT FOR TRUTH
MY COURAGE I GIVE TO HIM
THAT SHALL SUCCEED ME
Mr Valiant-for-Truth is a character in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress who, when he knew his death to be imminent, called his friends together and told them:
"I am going to my Father's; and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage; and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought his battles who will now be my rewarder."
Thomas Fremantle's mother, Lady Cottesloe, chose his inscription. As you can see, it's not an exact quotation from Pilgrim's Progress but it is close enough for the association to be made. I wonder whether there is a hidden message here. Thomas Fremantle was his father's eldest son and the heir to the title, Lord Cottesloe. Therefore in a very real sense there would be someone to succeed him in this position after his death - his younger brother, John, who did indeed become the 4th Lord Cottesloe on the death of his father in 1956.
Fremantle was a King's Scholar at Eton when he insisted on leaving school in September 1914, whilst he was still only 17, to take a commission in the 5th Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He went with the battalion to France in May 1915. He was now 18 but without his parents' signed permission he would not have been able to go. Four months later, on 25 September, he was wounded in the head and back by shrapnel when a shell burst over his trench. Evacuated to a base hospital near Boulogne, where his parents were able to visit him, he died three weeks later.
There is more information about Thomas Fremantle on the Swanborne History site
REMEMBER WHAT HE WAS
THE BRIGHT, THE BRAVE
THE TENDER AND THE TRUE
James Robertson, born in Jedburgh, Scotland on 23 July 1888, was a baker in Woodstock, Ontario when he enlisted in the Canadian Infantry on 10 July 1916, giving his mother, Christina Robertson, in Jedburgh as his next of kin. She chose his inscription. It comes from an anonymous piece of memorial verse. The earliest I've seen it quoted is in the Brisbane Courier in December 1888. It became popular on funeral cards, In Memoriam columns in newspapers and in death announcements. The two verses of the poem read:
Remember what they were, with thankful heart,
The bright, the brave, the tender, and the true.
Remember where they are - from sin apart,
Present with God - yet not estranged from you.
But never doubt that love, and love alone,
Removed our loved ones from this trial scene:
Nor idly dream, since they to God have gone,
Of what, had they been left, they might have been.
Robertson served with the 18th Battalion Canadian Infantry. On 18 August 1917 the battalion came out of the front line and spent the 19th and the 20th resting at Bully-Grenay. The war diary recorded that at 9.30 am on the 21st the battalion:
"proceeded to Bouvigny Huts going into Corps Reserve. On the road 'D' Coy sustained 52 casualties, 23 of which were fatal, by the bursting of an enemy shell (high velocity). This bringing our casualties to approx 220 during the tour."
Robertson must have been one of the 23 fatal casualties. It was two days before his 29th birthday.
HE WAS A MAN OF HONOUR
OF NOBLE AND GENEROUS NATURE
This is a tribute from a sister to her brother, John Ripley, a butcher from North Cowton near Darlington in Yorkshire. Called up in 1916, Ripley served with the 9th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery and died of wounds at a Field Ambulance Dressing Station in Dikkebus on 7 August 1917, a week into the Third Ypres Campaign.
I have no doubt that Mary Ripley believed the words she chose to describe her brother: that he was honourable, noble and generous, but they are very much the qualities of an idealised type. However, it shows how important these qualities were considered to be. Yesterday, William Hadley Frank Redgate was described by his wife as 'the most unselfish and loveable natured man". This definitely has the ring of individuality to it, but Mary Ripley has done her brother proud.
IN LOVING MEMORY
OF THE MOST UNSELFISH
AND LOVEABLE NATURED MAN
What a lovely tribute from a wife to her husband - unselfish and loveable natured. I'm always very impressed when the next-of-kin say what they want to say rather than feel constrained into saying something conventionally formulaic.
Maude Ethel Redgate had been married to her husband for seven years when he was killed at Passchendaele. At the time of the 1911 census they had no children. However, when Mrs Redgate died in 1957 - 40 years after her husband and still living at the same address - probate was granted to Daisy Beatrice Cant, married woman. I'd like to think this was a daughter.
William Hedley Frank Redgate was a waiter before he joined up. He served with the 10th Battalion Essex Regiment, which, at the time of his death, was in the trenches at Bulow Farm. The war diary for 14 October records that the battalion moved into the line, holding the front from: - V.26.a.2.4 to V.19.d.9.9. The next day, the day Redgate was killed, it simply says, "Holding line. Patrols pushed forward during the night 15/16th Oct. 1917".
Redgate's body was not found until September 1919 at map reference V.25.b.4.7. There were three other members of the Essex Regiment found at the same spot. This looks to me like one of the patrols.
REST SOLDIER REST
William Ramsden, Herbert's elder brother, signed for this inscription. The parents were both still alive but perhaps their literacy was uncertain. The words come from the chorus of a popular song written in 1916 by an Australian singer, song writer called Alfred Morley.
Rest, soldier rest,
In thy grave on the hill-side,
Far from the ones you have left o'er the foam.
Rest till God's trumpet shall call you from slumber,
To meet once again in your heavenly home.
Despite the fact that it's a very Australian patriotic song:
Let all the world know Australia's story,
How her brave sons faced that curtain of shell,
"Boys fix your bayonets, charge! for Old England,"
Into the jaws of death, into that hell
And that it's concerned with the dead of Gallipoli:
Sweet be their rest on Gallipoli's hillside
Calm be their sleep in a soldier's last grave
The song must have circulated in Britain for the Ramsdens to know it.
Herbert Ramsden, 35 years and 10 months old, and 5' 4" tall as itemised on his attestation form, was a coal miner, born and bred in Yorkshire. In 1911 he was boarding with his sister-in-law, Jane, whose husband, Tom Ramsden, had been killed in a mining accident in 1910. Herbert joined up on 11 January 1915 and arrived in France on 1 May that year. He served with the 1st/4th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment, part of the 49th West Riding Division, and was killed in an attack near Potijze Chateau, one of the 160 casualties - killed, wounded and missing - that the battalion suffered that day.
OUR BRAVE AND ONLY CHILD
Herbert Quick volunteered in May 1915 when he was 18 and 10 months old. If they were under 19, soldiers had to have their parents' signed consent to serve abroad. Quick's attestation form notes that he has his father's consent. Quick did not have to enlist, there was never any conscription in Australia; how bitterly his parents must have regretted this when he was killed - their "brave and only child".
Quick served with the 3rd Australian Pioneers. He died in a general hospital in St Sever. There's no indication as to when he was wounded but from 21 October to 12 November 1917 the battalion were out of the line, billeted in the village of Wavrens resting and undergoing training. Prior to 21 October, the battalion had been engaged in building a mule track from Zonnebeke to Seine Road. Work began on 1 October and from then until the 21st between 1 and 12 ORs (other ranks) were wounded every day, except for the 11th, 12th and 17th when there were 'nil' casualties. This is probably when Quick was wounded.
GOOD WAS HIS HEART
AND IN HIS FRIENDSHIP SOUND
PATIENT IN PAIN
AND LOVED BY ALL AROUND
This is a fairly standard piece of memorial verse found during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century on headstones, funeral cards and In Memoriam columns. However, when found as the personal inscription of a soldier who died of wounds in a base hospital I always wonder whether the reference to pain might not be more relevant than usual.
Albert Purnell, a money-lender's clerk from Mile End in East London, served with the 62nd Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery. Equipped with heavy howitzers, their target was the enemy artillery, their strong points, ammunition dumps, roads and railways. And of course, they in turn were the enemy's target. A direct hit on a gun pit was devastating
The 62nd Siege Battery had been in Flanders since June 1917, fully involved in the Third Ypres Campaign. Purnell died of wounds in a base hospital in Wimereaux. Casualty Clearing Stations took the lesser wounded or those who were likely to die more quickly, base hospitals were for the severely wounded. In these circumstances, "patient in pain" has an ominous ring to it.
NO HATE WAS HIS
NO THIRST FOR FAME
WHEN FORTH TO DEATH
IN HONOUR WENT
Walter Penfold's inscription is occasionally seen in In Memoriam columns and as a dedication on war memorials. It's not poetry but nor was it ever intended to be. It's anonymous author, signing himself 'Cambrensis', included it in a letter he wrote to The Spectator, which was published on 27 November 1915:
Sir, - In our universities, and everywhere, older men are thinking daily of the spirit in which our gallant youths, one after the other, have said farewell to their teachers and friends when leaving England for the field of battle, where many of them have bravely fallen. There were no loud heroics when they went: simply, "I know I ought to go, and I am going"; or, "I want to do my bit." The following four short lines (they are not poetry, nor even polished verse) attempt to suggest in the fewest and plainest words some faint shadow of the feeling graven deep on many a mind by the remembrance of those who have thus gone, and most especially of those who will not now return: -
No hate was theirs, no thirst for fame,
When forth to death by honour sent.
Life beckoned sweet; the great call came;
They knew their duty, and they went.
Walter Penfold served with 'C' Coy, 1st/4th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment, a territorial battalion drawn from East Grinstead and Crawley in Surrey. The battalion served in Gallipoli until the evacuation in December 1915; Penfold's medal card shows that he first entered a theatre of war - the Balkans - on 2 December 1915. In 1917 the battalion were in Palestine where Penfold was killed in the battle for Tell Khuweilfe, 3-7 November.
IF I TAKE THE WINGS
OF THE MORNING
THERE SHALL THY HAND LEAD ME
This lovely inscription comes from the Book of Common Prayer version of Psalm 139 verses 8 & 9:
"If I take the wings of the morning: and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there also shall thy hand lead me: and thy right hand shall hold me."
It was chosen for nineteen-year-old Lieutenant Pember by his father, Francis Pember, Warden of All Souls College, Oxford.
Pember, who went to Harrow with a Classical scholarship, won a Mathematics exhibition to Balliol College, Oxford in December 1914 when he was still only 16. He never took up his place at Oxford but rather took a commission in the Royal Field Artillery in July 1915, when he was 17. He served in Gallipoli and Egypt and then joined the Royal Flying Corps in the autumn of 1916, aged 18. In May 1917 he joined 5 Squadron in France. Five months later he was killed when:
"On the morning of September 30th he was flying over enemy lines taking photographs when he was attacked by four enemy scout machines, who came down on him suddenly from a great height. His machine was brought down, and both he and his observer were killed."
Flight magazine 11 October 1917
"If I take the wings of the morning ..."
NEVER TASTE OF DEATH
The words of this inscription come from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Caesar's wife, Calpurnia, begs him to stay at home because she fears for his life. Caesar replies:
Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
The inscription, chosen by Gunner Moore's father a fisherman from Gravesend in Kent, is a literary way of saying that his son was a brave man, who knew the risks he was taking when he enlisted in November 1915. Moore wasn't an original volunteer but by November 1915 he knew conscription was coming and joined up before he was called up.
I'm curious about this inscription, or rather about the Moores. They weren't obviously educated people - both father and son were fishermen, sister was a servant, mother was 'at home', yet they have chosen an eloquent, original and appropriate inscription that I haven't noticed before.
Moore served with the 96th Battery Royal Garrison Artillery, which went to France in May 1916, whether Moore was with it at that date is never easy to ascertain but he was certainly with it when he died of wounds on 16 August 1917. The Battery had newly transferred to the Canadian Corps and in mid-July was at Lievin. The Historical Record of 96th Siege Battery R.G.A. records the circumstances of his death:
"On the night of August 14th, the eve of the assault [on Hill 60], the Battery was heavily shelled with gas and H.E. In spite of this, 120 rounds were fired and many lorries of ammunition unloaded. Bombardier Staines, Gunner Wain, Gunner Neill, and Gunner Moore were killed on this most unpleasant night, and Gunner Taylor was wounded."
According to the CWGC records, Gunner Moore died of wounds, which is born out by the fact that he's buried in a Casualty Clearing Station Cemetery and that his date of death is given as the 16th, not on either the 14th or the 15th, the night of the heavy shelling.
'TIS NOT IN MORTALS
TO COMMAND SUCCESS
BUT HE HAS DONE MORE
This is a rather mangled, though still recognisable, quotation from Joseph Addison's play, Cato (1712). The words are spoken by Cato's son, Portius, to Sempronius, one of the senators:
"Tis not in mortals to command success; but we'll do more Sempronius, we'll deserve it."
The play was a favourite of George Washington's who quoted from it regularly, particularly these lines.
McDowall's father, a painter and decorator in Maida Vale, chose the inscription, although by the time he chose it he and his wife were living in New Zealand.
McDowell was entitled to the 1915 Star having arrived in France on 5 October 1915. He survived for almost exactly two years, serving with the 7th Divisional Ammunition Column throughout the Somme campaign and the Arras Offensive before the Division moved to Ypres in the summer of 1917. Here it took part in the Third Ypres Campaign: Polygon Wood, 26 September to 3 October; Broodseinde 4 October; Poelcapelle 9 October, 1st Passchendaele 12 October. McDowall died in a Casualty Clearing Station at Lijssenthoek on the 13th.
BRITAIN BE PROUD
OF SUCH A SON
DEATHLESS THE FAME
THAT HE HAS WON
Maston's inscription comes from John Travers Cornwall, a poem by John Oxenham, published in 1917 in his book The Vision Splendid. Oxenham, the pen name of William Arthur Dunkerley, was, as Connie Ruzich has persuasively argued, the most popular poet of the First World War. He was certainly extremely popular with families at home, the next-of-kin who chose the personal inscriptions. Maston's inscription comes from verse 3:
Britain be proud of such a son!
Deathless the fame that he has won
Only a boy, but such a one!
Standing forever to his gun;
There was his duty to be done,
And he did it.
Fourteen-year-old Cornwall won the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Jutland by staying with his gun and awaiting orders whilst the rest of his gun crew were dead and, as Oxenham put it, 'mounded around him'.
Harold William Maston did not win a Victoria Cross but he had been awarded a Military Medal. This proved useful when it came to identifying ten soldiers found in unmarked graves on the old battlefield north of Ypres in March 1920. Three still had their identity discs but Maston could only be identified by his medal ribbon and his sergeant's chevrons. He had been killed in action in the attack on Broodseinde Ridge.
On Friday 7 March 1930 The Singleton Argus reported:
"Mr William Maston, a prominent Sydney businessman, died on Sunday while travelling to France to visit the grave of his son, Sergeant Harold Maston. The funeral took place at Aden on Tuesday."
HE DIED ON HONOUR'S FIELD
FOR GLORIOUS LIBERTY
'TWAS HARD TO PART
BUT GOD KNEW BEST
Private Martin served with the 58th Battalion Canadian Infantry, which was 'In the Field' 10 km north-east of Arras on 13 September 1917. The entry in the battalion war diary for that day reads:
"1 O.R. killed. Wind west ten miles per hour. Situation quiet."
That one O.R. was Thomas Frederick Martin from North Bay, Ontario who had enlisted in North Bay on 5 April 1916. There is no indication as to what caused this one O.R.'s death but Martin is buried in Beehive Cemetery, so called after a German machine-gun emplacement in the area that was known as The Beehive.
Martin's father chose his inscription, describing his son's place of death as 'honour's field, and 'glorious liberty' as the cause for which he died. Both of these deeply romantic phrases seem rather at odds with the rather brutally matter-of-fact report of Martin's death - '1 O.R. killed'.
The inscription finishes with a sentiment that is often found expressed in one form or another in the war cemeteries whether it takes the form 'Thy will be done' or as here, 'God knew best'.
FOR COUNTRY, HONOUR TRUTH
PROUD TO HAVE PAID THE PRICE
What a difference a hundred years makes. That may sound strange but just look at what Percy Marston's widowed mother and sisters thought the war was about - 'country, honour, truth' - and how much do we now think that all that was at stake a hundred years ago? And how much could we now all say that it was worth the price - the price of hundreds and thousands of young men losing their lives, their health and their sanity, let alone the collapse of empires, the displacement of millions of people and etc etc? And yet, that IS how many people saw it - it's just how it was. Not, of course, that they knew what they were letting themselves in for when the war began.
And who was it who was proud to have paid the price - does Mrs Marston mean she and her daughters were, or was it her son she was referring to? Whichever it was, the conviction would have brought with it consolation as Mrs Marston mourned her only son.
Percy Marston, educated at Ripon Grammar School and a clerk at the National Provincial Bank in Knaresborough, enlisted in October 1915. He served on the Western Front from March to September 1916 when he was invalided home. On recovering, he took a commission in the Durham Light Infantry, was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant on 15 July 1917, returned to France in August and died on 20 September of wounds caused by a bomb dropped from an enemy plane.
WHERE THE LINES
SWEPT ON IN TRIUMPH
AND THE HEROES STAYED BEHIND
Lines of soldiers don't sweep on any more, whether in triumph or otherwise, that's just not how fighting occurs these days. Nor is it how it occurred during much of the First World War, the soldiers were stuck in trenches and when they tried sweeping out they were usually mown down by machine guns or caught by artillery. Eventually they developed the technique of snatching and holding and it was only at the very end, after 8 August 1918, that any triumphant 'sweeping' could be said to have taken place. By this time Clarence John Lovell had been dead for ten months - one of the heroes who 'stayed' behind.
The inscription sounds as though it's a quotation but it doesn't appear to be. It was composed by Lovell's father, John Charles Lovell, a baker and confectioner in Leamington Spa whose wife, Clement John's mother, is one of the very few women I've come across in my research for this project who also had a job. She was described in the 1911 census as 'manageress confectionary'; I would imagine in her husband's business.
Clement John Lovell, a teacher at Rugby Road School, Leamington was commissioned into the Royal Garrison Artillery in February 1917. He served with the 274th Siege Battery, part of 62nd Brigade. The Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser announced his death on 27 October 1917, quoting how a fellow officer told his parents: "He was a splendid officer, capable and full of courage, and we feel his loss deeply". As would his parents - Clement John was their only child.
THEY ASKED FOR VOLUNTEERS
OF COURSE I WAS ONE 8.9.14
In the twenty-first-century there's a danger that this inscription might be taken the wrong way; it could sound as though the speaker was implying that he was a muggins for volunteering - "of course I was one". I am absolutely sure that this is not how Frank Loker's father, who chose the inscription, meant it. After all, Frank Loker wasn't the only one to volunteer in September 1914, his father, also called Frank Loker, volunteered on the 20 September, twelve days after his son.
Father had previously been a member of the 1st Volunteer Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment, so he was a returning soldier, which explains why the day after he volunteered he was promoted Company Quartermaster Sergeant.
The son, crossed to France on 14 February 1915 with the 1st Battalion Cambridgeshire Regiment. The Cambridgeshires served in France and Flanders throughout the whole war, acquitting themselves with distinction in the capture of the Schwaben Redoubt in October 1916. In September 1917 the battalion were in Flanders, they moved to Hill 60 on 2 September and Private Frank Loker was killed the next day.
Sergeant Major Frank Loker went to France with the 7th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment in July 1915. He remained in France until he was transferred to the reserve in February 1919. But I'm not sure that he came home even then because his address after the war was C/O War Graves Commission, St Omer, France. He may have become a gardener with the Commission, many old soldiers did, and why not when your son was buried in one of its cemeteries.
HE KNEW NO FEAR
Something about this inscription piqued my interest, what had Lieutenant Kinna done that made his mother want to choose 'He knew no fear' as his inscription? Kinna had been awarded a Military Cross, gazetted on 31 July 1916. The citation read:
"When in command of an assaulting party [he] showed conspicuous courage and initiative in leading his men and repelling counter attacks. By his cheerfulness and confidence he inspired his men in critical situations."
This could explain his mother's choice. Then I came across another website which said that shortly after winning his MC, Kinna's health had broken down and he had returned to England. By June 1917 he was able to take up light military duties and on 8 September he returned to France. He died of wounds four days later.
However, that was not the end of the story. A website run by David Kinna filled in the details. At the end of May 1917 Kinna was admitted to hospital suffering from delusions. According to his Commanding Officer, Kinna was suffering from alcoholism. Nevertheless, he was declared fit enough to return to the front on 8 September. Four days later he walked out of the mess tent and shot himself in the head in front of several witnesses. Kinna did die of wounds but the wounds he died from were self inflicted.
His mother was given the idea that he had died of wounds received in action but she was not satisfied and wanted to know more. Eventually, on 1 November 1917, she was told the truth - and knowing the truth she still chose this inscription. 'He knew no fear' takes on a different meaning when you know what happened.
KINDLE THY HOPE
PUT ALL THY FEARS AWAY
LIVE DAY BY DAY
I often wonder how people come across some of the poems from which they quote. Thomas Kershaw's inscription is from a gentle piece of verse written by a fairly obscure American teacher and occasional poet called Julia Harris May (1833-1912), Live Day by Day. There is no evidence it was published in Britain. The poem begins:
I heard a voice at evening softly say:
Bear not thy yesterday into tomorrow,
Nor load this week with last week's load of sorrow;
Lift all thy burdens as they come, nor try
To weight the present with the by and by.
One step and then another, take thy way -
Live day by day.
Live day by day.
Watch not the ashes of the dying ember.
Kindle thy hope. Put all thy fears away -
Live day by day.
Perhaps the fact that Mrs Mary Ellen Kershaw, Thomas Kershaw's mother, was a Canadian, or at least, was born in Canada, explains how she came across it.
The Kershaws had two children, a son and a daughter. Thomas, a teacher, joined up in September 1915 and disembarked in France on 18 November 1915, which entitled him to the 14-15 Star. He served with the 19th Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, which in October 1917 was just north of Ypres. Kershaw is buried in Canada Farm Cemetery, the site of a former dressing station, so it would probably be safe to assume that he died of wounds he'd received that same day.
SPEED, FIGHT ON, FARE EVER
THERE AS HERE
Joscelyne's inscription comes from the last verse of Robert Browning's final poem, Epilogue, from his final volume of verse, Asolando. The poem is not an uncommon source for inscriptions but they are usually lines chosen from verse two:
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.
The poem is thought to be Browning's summary of himself, a man whose optimism about life never failed. The final verse carries that optimism to death:
"Strive and thrive!" cry "Speed, - fight on, fare ever
There as here!"
Clement Joscelyne was a thirty-one-year-old married man with two children when he returned from Argentina in September 1916 in order to join up. I'm pretty sure the long arm of conscription couldn't have reached him there but he must have felt it was his duty. Commissioned into the Suffolk Regiment in June 1917 he went with it to France in July and was killed three months later. The battalion went up to the front on 9 October to repair the roads immediately behind the front line. The working party was under continuous enemy bombardment and Joscelyne was hit by shell fragments. He died the next day. Whilst he was in France, his wife gave birth to a son who he never saw. She chose his inscription.
AND THE SENTRY'S WORD
RINGS CLEAR AND LOUD
GOOD NIGHT, ALL'S WELL
Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette
Saturday 24 November 1917
Mr William Jobling, 7, Mulgrove Street, has been officially informed of the death of his son, Pte. Frederick Jobling, D.L.I., which occurred on October 8th. An officer of the regiment writes that Pte. Jobling, who met his death by an enemy shell exploding when on his way to a rest camp, was always bright and cheerful, highly respected, and devoted to his duties. The deceased joined the Army in March, 1915, prior to which he was a wireman at Messrs Craven's Ropery. He had also been wounded on a previous occasion. Another son, Pte. Joseph Jobling, West Yorks Regiment, was killed in action on October 30th, 1916, while a third son, Thomas Jobling, late of the D.L.I., has been discharged from the Army after having his left leg amputated through wounds received in action.
There were five Jobling brothers, Frederick, Thomas and Joseph were the three youngest. Joseph, who was not killed in action but died of wounds in a hospital in Etaples, does not have an inscription. Frederick's inscription was signed for by his mother. It's a quote from a patriotic poem, 'Sergeant, Call the Roll', written by J. Smedley Norton during the South African War. Both poem and author are very obscure, so obscure that the Internet has hardly heard of either of them. However, that wasn't the case at the time. The poem was written in the style of a music hall monologue and permission was needed from the publisher, the Black and White Budget, before it could be recited in public. The Budget reported in 1904 that more than 600 such requests had been received.
M. Van Wyk Smith, in his book 'Poetry of the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902' (Clarendon Press Oxford 1978) expresses the opinion that the poem has "no poetic merit, but [that] as a skilful pastiche of sentiment, patriotism, and melodramatic heartache as appreciated by a Victorian music hall audience, it stands as a supreme example of its kind".
A sergeant is given the task of calling the roll after the battle:
Show us the price of victory,
Just tell us what it cost;
Say what the Motherland has gained,
And also what she's lost.
The sergeant's son is among the dead:
Though his heart is well-nigh breaking,
Tears in his eyes are seen,
He ends his task of sorrow
Like a soldier of the Queen.
Frederick's inscription comes from the last verse:
They have answered God's field order
Given Death the last salute,
The guns are now unlimbered,
And the cannon's roar is mute,
The curfew note has sounded
Its sad and mournful knell,
The sentry's word rings clear and loud,
"Good night! All's well!"
WE CAN'T FORGET
Joseph Johnston was a reservist with the King's Own Scottish Borderers, which means he had already had a career in the regular army and was serving his time in the reserve, normally five years. He had married in 1912 and was working with the firm of Barr and Stroud, optical engineers in Glasgow, when the war broke out. He rejoined immediately. In his capacity as a returning soldier, probably an NCO, he went to the 16th Battalion Highland Light Infantry, a New Army battalion often known as the Glasgow Boys Brigade Battalion.
After helping to train them, Johnston went with the battalion to France in November 1915. He was killed on the eve of the Somme attack, one of two soldiers killed whilst the battalion were still bivouacking in Bouzincourt. At the end of the following day the battalion had suffered 20 officer and 534 other rank casualties out of the 25 officers and 755 other ranks who had gone into action.
Johnston's brother, Lance Corporal John Douglas Johnston, was on the reserve of the Scots Guards. He returned to his regiment when the war broke out and crossed to France with the 2nd Battalion, landing in November 1914. He was killed in action in an attack on the German trenches at Fromelles on 18 December 1914.
Joseph Johnston's inscription was chosen by Mrs M Mills, 18 Sheppard Street, Springdown, Glasgow. I don't know who she was. Johnston's wife remarried and became Mrs Gilmartin, but she must have been dead before the inscription was chosen as she is referred to as the late Mary Ellen Johnston. However, John Johnston's inscription, 'Memories dear', was chosen by his mother and she too lived at 18 Sheppard Street, Springburn, Glasgow. I would suggest therefore that Mrs M Mills was a sister and that she and her mother chose the inscription - 'We can't forget' - not, as most people said one way or another, we'll never forget but we can't forget.
FOR MANY ARE CALLED
BUT FEW ARE CHOSEN
The quotation comes from St Matthew Chapter 22 verse 14. This is the parable of the wedding feast where a king, having sent out invitations to his feast, ejects the man who doesn't turn up wearing the appropriate garments. The meaning of the parable is that all are invited to partake of the feast - invited to partake of God's grace - but if you aren't prepared to play your part through faith and repentance - wear the correct attire - then you will be ejected - you will be found wanting on the day of judgement.
I wonder what Horace Webster's brother, John, meant to imply by his choice of inscription - that Horace would be one of the chosen - that he would be accepted on the day of judgment because he did believe? I expect this is the sense he intended it but many, many men were 'called' between 1914 and 1918. They either answered the call of the recruiting posters and volunteered, or they were called by conscription. The chosen could be those who died, having been 'chosen' by God.
Webster's medal roll card shows him to have been entitled to the War and Victory medals not the 1914 or 15 Star so he was probably not a volunteer. He served originally with the Yorkshire Regiment and then with the Welsh Fusiliers. This is either a sign that on your arrival in France, or on your recovery from illness or wounds, you were sent where you were most needed despite your original regiment.
On the day Horace Webster was killed in the fighting on the Somme, I October 1916, a total of 1,442 members of the British Empire's fighting forces were similarly 'chosen'.
THROUGH EARTH'S WAR
THE ETERNAL CALM TO GAIN
John Frederick Graham was an Irishman, born in Rathdown, County Dublin, a mathematics medallist from Trinity College Dublin, who was the Accountant General in Madras, India. He was also a lieutenant colonel in the Madras Artillery Volunteers. On leave in England in September 1915, he offered himself to the War Office and was appointed a major in the Royal Field Artillery. He was killed in action, 'directing his artillery' on 1 July 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme.
His inscription comes from a hymn by Horatius Bonar called The Inner Calm. The hymn asks in the first verse:
Calm me, my God, and keep me calm,
While these hot breezes blow;
Be like the night-dew's cooling balm
Upon earth's fevered brow.
The hymn goes on to enumerate the various situations in which the supplicant requires this 'calm': in solitude and in the busy street, in health, pain, poverty, wealth, when wronged, taunted or shamed. And the sort of 'calm' asked for is outlined in the final verse:
Calm as the rays of sun or star
Which storms assail in vain,
Moving unruffled through earth's war,
The eternal clam to gain.
Graham's inscription was chosen for him by his widow, Mrs FM Watt Smyth, who married Lieutenant-Colonel Gerald James Watt Smyth in January 1917. Their son, Major Brian James Watt Smyth, was killed in action in Burma in February 1945. His inscription reads: Blessed are the pure in heart.
WEEPING MAY ENDURE
FOR THE NIGHT
BUT JOY COMETH
IN THE MORNING
Private Aley's inscription was chosen by his brother, Archer, and comes from Psalm 30 verse 5 in the King James' Version:
"For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."
The version in the Book of Common Prayer is rather more poetic:
"For his wrath endureth but the twinkling of an eye, and in his pleasure is life: heaviness may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning"
Is the night referred to a single night or a period of darkness? And is the morning simply the next day or perhaps death, as in the very popular inscription: "Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away?
Albert Ayley was a tailor from Sydney. He enlisted in December 1916 and embarked from Australia a month later. On 4 October 1917 his battalion attacked at Broodseinde Ridge. Aley was wounded. A witness to the Australian Red Cross and Wounded Enquiry Bureau reported:
On Oct. 4th during the attack on a ridge at Ypres Aley was with me on a carrying party. We had gone up and taken our position and were returning for ammunition when I saw Aley walking towards the D/S [Dressing Station].He had his arm bandaged but did not seem to be wounded elsewhere. I afterwards heard he D/W [died of wounds] Oct. 9th. Aley was about 22, delicate looking, 5' 4, and had relatives in England ...
Others agree with this witness as to the nature of Aley's wounds, which seems a bit strange as the report from No. 3 Casualty Clearing Station, Lijssenthoek states that Aley "died of shrapnel wounds on right leg".
BORN 12TH MAY 1894
PROMOTED ON THE
FIELD OF ACTION
FROM 2ND LIEUTENANT
This is not all its says on Eric Bowden's headstone; his inscription runs to 140 characters, more than twice the War Graves Commission's recommended limit (and with the link, more than Twitter will allow, which is why I've only included part of it in the Tweet):
Promoted on the
Field of action
From 2nd Lieutenant
He was one of the
Youngest colonels in
The British Army
"He has at all times
Set a fine example"
'Promoted on the field of action', this means that Eric Bowden did not return to Britain to pass an exam before achieving his promotion, it was granted to him whilst at the Front. It was undoubtedly a mark great confidence in your abilities and something for Bowden's mother, who chose his inscription, to be proud of, as she undoubtedly was.
Bowden was indeed one of the youngest colonels in the British army, although at 23, John Hardyman, the subject of yesterday's epitaph, was younger. However, it's not quite accurate to say that Bowden was promoted from 2nd Lieutenant to Lieutenant Colonel. At the time of his death Bowden was a major. The battalion war diary for 23 July 1918, not the 22nd as his headstone claims was the date of his death, reports that "Major E.G. Bowden MC [was] killed about 12 noon riding through Steenvoorde".
How could Mrs Bowden claim that her son had been promoted straight from 2nd Lieutenant? I'm not absolutely clear on this issue but I would suggest that perhaps all Bowden's promotions had been to acting ranks. I can see that in February 1917 he had been promoted from an acting Major to a temporary Major. It would seem that sometime close to his death he must have been promoted acting or temporary Lieutenant Colonel.
This was something the army did to ensure that once the war was over, or circumstances in some way changed, it didn't have too many officers for its needs. It was an emotionally controversial subject as seen when the subject of recognizing promotion in the field was brought up in a debate on the Army Act in the Australian Parliament on 18 September 1917: "surely these men had passed the toughest examination in being promoted at the front"; "there is no man more deserving of consideration than he who has won his spurs and has been promoted on the field of battle"; "all civilized countries, with the exception of Germany, recognise the principle that where men are promoted for deeds of gallantry on the field, they should not be required to undergo any examination"; "a man who has been promoted on the field of battle, and in a school of instruction behind the lines, has received all the training necessary to make him a leader of men, and has a perfect right to retain the rank he has won overseas".
The problem never arose for Eric Bowden and for so many men like him, they died before they returned home and therefore took their acting ranks with them to the grave.
When Mrs Ellen Bowden filled in the Family Verification Form she said that her husband was dead. George Howlett Bowden died in 1934. This shows how long it took to construct the war cemeteries. The Bowdens had had two children, two sons. Percy Leslie Bowden, Eric elder brother died at the age of 21 in 1910.
SCHOLAR, POET, ORATOR
JUSTIFIED BY FAITH
IN JESUS CHRIST
Have you registered John Hardyman's age and his rank? It's not a mistake; he was a lieutenant colonel, in charge of the 8th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry, at the age of 23. This despite the fact that he had only been in the army four years, since enlisting straight from university in August 1914.
Hardyman's father chose his inscription. The description of his son is true - but it appears it wasn't the epitaph he would like to have had. Hardyman was a scholar having won an open scholarship to Edinburgh University in 1911. He was a poet - a volume of his verse, A Challenge, having been published in 1919. The reference to orator is probably a reference to the fact that Hardyman was a member of council and a keen advocate of the Union for Democratic Control, a British pressure group formed after the outbreak of the war that made its criticism of the war very clear. Among its members were the names of many well-known opponents of war - E.D. Morel, Norman Angell, Bertrand Russell, Ramsay MacDonald ... and John Hay Maitland Hardyman who was a lieutenant in 1916, promoted captain and then major in April 1917, awarded a Military Cross on July 1916, promoted lieutenant colonel in May 1918, awarded a DSO on 11 August 1918 and killed in action on the 24th. His friend, Norman Hugh Romanes, in a brief memoir published in the front of A Challenge, wrote:
"It must not be forgotten that during the whole of his military career he was in constant correspondence with those at home whom it was most dangerous for him, from a military point of view, even to agree with, which he did openly, with no regard for consequences."
How did he square these beliefs with his military career? According to Romanes:
"He always professed strongly that his actions were absolutely consistent with his beliefs. While admiring the moral courage of many conscientious objectors, he was convinced that their attitude as a whole was tantamount to a refusal of the Cross."
A fervent Christian, as the second part of his inscription makes clear, Hardyman's poem, On Leave, expresses his belief, "That through sacrifice the soul must grow". Mankind must face the cross - but expect nothing on earth in return. In answer to the question in Australia's Prayer, "Is it in vain Lord, is it in vain?"
Out of the rending silence God replied:
'You ask the triumph I My Son denied.
Have faith, poor soul. Is not all history
Triumphant failure, empty victory?'
So what was the epitaph Hardyman would have chosen for himself? According to Romane it would have ended as follows:
"He died as he lived, fighting for abstract principles in a cause which he did not believe in."
THEY LEARN WAR ANYMORE"
ISA. II. 4.
Yesterday's inscription expressed the hope/belief that this would be the war to end all wars. But this was a hope that was as old as the hills, certainly as old as the Old Testament book of Isaiah, which dates from the 8th Century BC.
Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
More than 2,500 years later man was and is still 'learning war'.
Alexander Strachan, born in Islington the son of a former artillery man, enlisted in York and served with the 1st/8th Battalion West Riding Regiment. He was killed in action on the opening day of the battle of Poelcapelle. His mother chose his inscription.
WHO GAVE HIS LIFE
IN THE BELIEF
THAT HE WAS MAKING
FUTURE WAR IMPOSSIBLE
Today the description 'the war to end war' is used of the First World War with patronizing cynicism. How could people have been so naive to think this was possible. Well people did, and one of these people was Owen Ellis Augustus Allen - or his mother.
Although the phrase is always associated with Woodrow Wilson, the US President, it was in circulation long before Wilson rose to prominence. The War to End War, published in 1914, was the title of a collection of writings by HG Wells known pre-1914 for his pacifist views. Wells was someone who believed that the war was the result of the build up of German militarism, which needed to be stamped out. He thought that the war would be terrible but that as a result mankind would realise the imperative of working for peace - hence this would be the war to end war. "Every soldier who fights against Germany now is a crusader against war. This, the greatest of all wars, is not just another war - it is the last war!"
Owen Allen was just about to take up a teaching job at an elementary school in Essex when the war broke out. He joined up immediately and was commissioned into the 9th Suffolks in September 1914. He went with them to France in August 1915 and after ten months in and out of the front line around Ypres and the Somme, Allen transferred to the Royal Flying Corps.
It was whilst he was acting as an instructor at RFC Brattleby that his plane collided with another one as they came into land, the pupil pilot broke his leg, Allen and the pilot of the other plane was killed.
Allen was buried in his home town of Cambridge. His mother chose his inscription.
"TOO SAD FOR WORDS"
OUR DEAR GORDON
FATHER AND MOTHER
All next-of-kin were asked to check the details of their dead relation on the Family Verification Form before sending it back to the War Graves Commission. They were also invited to add a short personal inscription in the space indicated. Mr EO Baker, Gordon's father, wrote - "Too sad for words" Our dear Gordon Father and Mother. Gordon's parents may not have felt that words could express their sorrow but the words they have chosen speak it eloquently. 'Our dear Gordon' was their only child.
IT WAS FOR VISIONS
THAT WE FELL
Hugh Bartholomew's siblings compiled a charming memoir of their brother for their parents, which has been digitised and can be read online. The publication includes copies of the diaries he kept whilst at the front, his letters home and some of the letters of condolence his parents received. One friend, Alan Smith who was himself killed in September 1918, told them that Hugh had been standing in a trench at 9.30 pm on the night of 30 September when he was hit above his left eye by a piece of shell. By 2 am on the morning of 1 October he was in a Casualty Clearing Station where he was operated on. Friends visiting him that day found him by turns lucid and delirious but the next day he lapsed into unconsciousness and died at 1.15 pm.
Educated at Merchiston College, Edinburgh, Hugh had spent one term at Corpus Christi College, Oxford before taking a commission in the 14th Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders where he served with distinction being Mentioned in Despatches and achieving the rank of captain at the early age of 21.
His mother chose his inscription; his father, the distinguished cartographer John George Bartholomew of the map-making firm, having died in 1920. It's a line from a poem by Alfred Noyse, The Victorious Dead. This was first published in a special souvenir edition of the Daily Mail on 30 June 1919 to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, and later included in a collection of Noyes' verse called The Elfin Artist and Other Poems.
Noyse claimed that Britain's hills and valleys, crags and glens reverberate with the presence of the dead:
There's not one glen where happy hearts could roam
That is not filled with tenderer shadows now.
There's not one lane that used to lead them home
But breathes their thoughts to-day from every bough.
There's not one leaf on all these quickening trees,
Nor way-side flower but breathes their messages
But the heart. of the poem comes at the end of verse 4 - "Make firm, O God, the peace our dead have won":
For folly shakes the tinsel on its head
And points us back to darkness and to hell,
Cackling, "Beware of visions," while our dead
Whisper, "It was for visions that we fell".
TRULY A NOBLE SPIRIT
I wonder if Private Bartlett's mother was familiar with the writings of Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536)? His definition of a noble spirit would have pleased her:
"Every man rises superior to that which he can neglect or give up, when the good of his country requires it; but he who is incited by anger or revenge to war, is inferior to his own passion; and he whom ambition allures to battle, is previously subdued and made captive to the object of that ambition, while the man who prefers the public good to the indulgence of any of these mean passions, he is the man of a truly great and noble spirit."
The Compliant of Peace ... or The Plea of Reason, Religion, and Humanity Against War.
William Bartlett was a professional soldier who enlisted in January 1913 aged 18 and 4 months. He served with the 2nd Battalion the South Lancashire Regiment, part of 7th Brigade, and crossed to France on 14 August 1914, a week after the very first troops of the British Expeditionary Force had landed. Two weeks later, 23/4 August, they engaged with the enemy near Ciply a village just south of Mons. The 7th Brigade war diary reports that it was the South Lancashires that sustained the heaviest losses in the fighting.
It's possible that this is when Bartlett went missing. He is one of the few soldiers whose record file still exists and it includes two letters from his mother. Burnt, torn or nibbled, you can just make out that on 5 September 1914 she's enquiring for news of her son who she says she hasn't heard from for over 3 weeks, that his last letter came from Southampton, that she is very anxious about him, and that the suspense of waiting is terrible. Presumably she learnt that he was a prisoner of war because it was as a prisoner of war that he died three years later in a camp in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. After the war, his body was reinterred in Hamburg Cemetery.
The Bartletts had three children, one daughter and two sons - William and Arthur. Arthur joined the Royal Navy and served on HMS Natal. On 30 December 1915, whilst it was lying at anchor in Cromarty Firth, a spontaneous explosion in one of the ammunition stores tore open the rear of the ship causing it to capsize and sink with the loss of 390 lives. Arthur Bartlett was 18. His body was never recovered.
THEY WHO LEAVE THEIR
VALIANT BONES IN FRANCE
SHALL BE FAMED
Sapper Bayley's mother has contracted a speech from Shakespeare's Henry V to make an appropriate and original inscription for her son. Montjoy, the French herald, has just taunted Henry with the image of his soldiers poor dead bodies, which will soon lie festering in the fields of France. Henry retorts that he's quite sure many of his soldiers will return home to die in the fulness of time in their English beds:
And those that leave their valiant bones in France,
Dying like men, though buried in your dunghills,
They shall be famed;
Bayley, a clerk in a brewery at the time of the 1911 census, was the son of a tool maker in a nut and bolt works. His medal card indicates that he didn't enter a theatre of war until 1916 even though he served with the 9th North Midland Field Company, a territorial company of the Royal Engineers.
Bayley was killed on 9 August 1917 in the continuing Battle of Arras. He was originally buried on the outskirts of the town at St Laurence Blangy . His body was moved to Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery in 1924.
"HE WAS A VERAY
PARFIT GENTIL KNIGHT"
Yesterday's inscription introduced Chaucer's knight, today's summarises his qualities - he was a perfect example of masculine nobility and refinement. Such was the lure of medieval chivalry in the late nineteenth century that the families of many soldiers referred to it one way or another in inscriptions - the same reason so many people and institutions chose stained-glass, bronze or stone knights in armour for war memorials. Interestingly, despite the inverted commas and the archaic spelling, this isn't an accurate rendition of the original, which is generally spelt - "He was a verray, gentil, parfit knyght".
Berry had great difficulty enlisting; he was refused twice on the grounds of health - in fact the State Library of Victoria website has the badge he was entitled to wear, which says 'Volunteered for active service - Medically unfit". This was to prevent people like Berry being labeled 'slackers'. Berry's problem was that he had a weak heart as a result of a bout of typhoid fever. However, on 30 October 1916 he was eventually accepted and sailed for England that December. After training to be a signaller - and securing full marks in the qualifying exam - he arrived in France on 8 September 1917. Less than a month later, on 4 October, he received gunshot wounds to his chest and knee and died in a Casualty Clearing Station the same day.
Berry was educated at Scotch College, Melbourne. Their website has more information about his life and death together with some lovely photographs.
HE LOVED CHIVALRY
TRUTH AND HONOUR
FREEDOM AND COURTESY
There is a memorial in Loos British Cemetery that reads:
"To the memory of these 16 Dominion soldiers killed in action 1917 and buried at the time in Lens Canadian Cemetery No. 3, which was destroyed by the enemy". "Their glory shall not be blotted out."
Oliver Bilton was one of these sixteen soldiers, consequently he has what is called a Kipling Memorial. Kipling Memorials are headstones that look like normal headstones but for the superscription, chosen by Rudyard Kipling from the Apocrypha, Ecclesiastes 44:13, "Their glory shall not be blotted out". It was used to mark the graves of casualties who were known to have been buried in a particular cemetery but whose graves were subsequently destroyed in the fighting and couldn't be located. Bilton was originally buried in Lens Canadian Cemetery No. 3 but when the time came to consolidate the cemetery into Loos British Cemetery there was no trace of his body.
However, he was allowed to have a headstone in the new cemetery and therefore his wife was able to choose an inscription. It comes from The Prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and it introduces Chaucer's most admired character, the knight:
A knyght ther was, and that a worthy man, [There was a knight, a most distinguished man]
That fro the tyme that he first began [Who from the day on which he first began]
To riden out, he loved chivalrie, [To ride abroad had followed chivalry]
Truth and honour, fredom and curteisie. [Truth, honour, generousness and courtesy]
Chivalry, a series of religious, moral and social codes associated with medieval knights, was much glamourised in the late nineteenth century both in art and literature. Not surprisingly therefore, Oliver Bilton's is not the only inscription that references the code.
Bilton was born in Barrow-on-Humber, Lincolnshire, the youngest of his parents eight children. He emigrated to Canada and then enlisted in Aldershot, Nova Scotia on 10 August 1915 and served with the 24th Battalion Canadian Infantry. He went home on leave to Barrow in July 1917 when he married Miss Elsie Martin. He was killed in action the following month when the battalion attacked at Cite St Laurent close to the Lens-Bassee Road.
The Hull Daily Mail reported his death on 1 September, quoting from the letter his Commanding Officer wrote to his wife telling her that, "He [Bilton] was always held in the highest esteem by his fellows, he having such high ideals, which drew all the men to him". "Such high ideals" - it sounds as though his inscription may have been well chosen:
He loved chivalry
Truth and honour
Freedom and courtesy
"BELOVED AND HONOURED
FAR AS HE WAS KNOWN"
Birmingham Daily Post
Thursday 23 August 1917
Second Lieutenant Holroyd Birkett Barker, R.G.A. who ... died in a military hospital on 15th inst., aged 30, was the eldest son of Councillor T. Birkett Barker, J.P., M.I.M.E., ... He volunteered for military service in 1915. Lieutenant Birkett Barker was a prominent golfer, and won the gold medal for Warwickshire in 1912-13-14. In 1914 he lost the Midland Counties Championship by one stroke and in the same year competed in the Amateur Championship at Sandwich.
In January 1916 the same newspaper reported that all four of Mr T Birkett Barker's sons had now enlisted but that Fred, who had returned from farming in Canada, had just been invalided home suffering from partial paralysis and neuritis, the after effects of a severe illness. The 20 April 1917 edition carried the news that Greville Birkett Barker was in a London hospital suffering from shock and wounds having been shot down while flying at the front. Four months later it announced Holroyd's death from malaria in Salonika and in September 1918 that Allen Noel Birkett Barker had died of wounds at a Casualty Clearing Station in France.
Both Holroyd and Allen have the same inscription - "Beloved and honoured as far as he was known". It comes from Wordsworth's The Excursion:
All but a scattered few, live out their time,
Husbanding that which they possess within,
And go to the grave, unthought of. Strongest minds
Are often those of whom the noisy world
Hears least; else surely this Man had not left
His graces unreveal'd and unproclaim'd.
But, as the mond was fill'd with inward light
So not without distinction had he lived,
Beloved and honoured - far as he was known.
TRUE LOVE BY LIFE
TRUE LOVE BY DEATH IS TRIED
LIVE THOU FOR BRITAIN
WE FOR BRITAIN DIED
There's an interesting variation from the original in this inscription, was it misremembered or was it intentional?
On 16 February 1918 The Times published this suggestion:
For a Memorial Tablet
True love by life - true love by death - is tried:
Live thou for England - we for England died.
It was signed A.C.A. who is thought to have been Arthur Campbell Ainger (1841-1919) a Classics master at Eton and the author of a number of hymns including, 'God Moves in a Mysterious Way'. Ainger's word was England, whoever chose Corporal Bogie's inscription and it looks like a Mrs NA Flower, Sinlalula, Saskatchewan, used the word Britain.
Charles Alexander Bogie was born in Dumfries, Scotland in 1882; he was a Scotsman not an Englishman. At some point he emigrated to Canada from where he enlisted on 12 November 1914. Some Canadians already felt Canadian but many simply felt that they were Britons, even 'better Britons', abroad. I would suggest that this is how Bogie felt.
Bogie served with the 10th Battalion Canadian Infantry and died at No. 22 Casualty Clearing Station of wounds - "shrapnel wounds, left leg, left foot, left hand and face" ... for Britain.
ALL GRIEF AND PAIN
DEATH FOR THEE
IS TRUEST GAIN
Safely, safely gathered in
Far from sorrow, far from sin,
Passed beyond all grief and pain,
Death for thee is truest gain:
For our loss we must not weep,
Nor our loved one long to keep
From the home of rest and peace,
Where all sin and sorrow cease.
Esther Watcham chose some lines from the second verse of this hymn by Mrs Henrietta Dobree (1831-1894) for her son's inscription.
There appears to be some confusion about Watcham. Firstly over the spelling of his name. Watcham is how the War Graves Commission spell it, and the census records; he appears as Watchman in Soldiers Died in the Great War, and as Watsham on the war memorial in his home town of Fingringhoe near Colchester in Essex. Then there's the fact that his record in SDGW states that he 'died' on 27 August 1917, not that he died of wounds or was killed in action, the implication being that he died of illness. However, the Colchester Chronicle reported on 14 September 1917 that Private William Watcham of the Manchester Regiment had been wounded, and then a month later, on 12 October, that he had died of wounds.
Nevertheless, however his name was spelt - and there is only one William Watcham, and no Watsham or Watchman, who served in the Manchester Regiment and died in the First World War - and whatever the cause of his death, this young man was dead, as his mother saw it:
Safely, safely gathered in,
No more sorrow no more sin;
God has saved from weary strife,
In its dawn, this young fresh life,
Which awaits us now above,
Resting in the Saviour's love.
Jesus, grant that we may meet
There, adoring at his feet.
IN SILENCE HE SUFFERED
IN PATIENCE HE BORE
TILL GOD CALLED HIM HOME
TO SUFFER NO MORE
Private Crowe's inscription comes from a conventional piece of memorial verse, which often appeared in the In Memoriam columns of newspapers:
Peacefully sleeping, resting at last,
His weary trials and troubles past,
In silence he suffered, in patience he bore,
Till God called him home to suffer no more.
However, I have an ominous feeling that there may be more behind the words of this inscription than simple convention. Thirty-three-year-old John Crowe is buried in the cemetery of his home town of Arbroath. His medal card shows that he served initially with the Black Watch, army number S/18318, and then with the 4th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, army number S/40821, and that he was entitled to the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, in other words that not only had he served overseas (the War Medal) but he had entered a theatre of war (the Victory Medal). This raises the question as to why he was buried at home.
His inscription probably provides the answer, either he died at home from a lingering terminal illness or from wounds received in action. Men with the worst wounds were sent back to Britain to be cared for and to die. Private Crowe's inscription was perhaps meant literally:
In silence he suffered
In patience he bore
Till God called him home
To suffer now more.
A RUDDY DROP
OF MANLY BLOOD
THE SURGING SEA OUTWEIGHS
Private Donaldson's father chose the first line of a poem by the American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) for his son's inscription. The poem, 'Friendship', talks about the meaning a friend gives to life:
Through thee alone the sky is arched,
Through thee the rose is red,
All things through thee take nobler form ...
Perhaps the Donaldsons meant to imply that their son had given meaning to their lives; it would be quite natural for them to say this. However, taken out of context, the first line seems to be making a statement about the power or the influence of a brave man (their son) being greater than that of the sea. The Donaldsons, a baker and his wife from Sandport in Kinross, were proud of their soldier son and show it in their choice of inscription.
John Kerr Donaldson originally served with the Argylll and Sutherland Highlanders. I suspect he would have received his machine gun training with them. These gunners were usually strong men of above average intelligence who understood their guns and how to use them - and knew that they would be called upon to place themselves in dangerously exposed positions during attacks. They were detached from their original regiments when the Machine Gun Corps was formed in October 1915.
Donaldson served with the 58th Company Machine Gun Corps and died of wounds in hospital at Rouen, where he is buried. There is no information about when or where he was wounded.
"BUT HE LIVES. SOMEHOW
HE LIVES. AND WE WHO
KNEW HIM, DO NOT FORGET"
These words come from The Beloved Captain by Donald Hankey, the gentleman soldier and author who wrote for The Spectator under the pseudonym A Student in Arms. The beloved captain was a real man, Ronald Montague Hardy, under whom Hankey had at one time served. An old Etonian, Hardy was a quiet, thoughtful, caring man whom his men adored:
"There was not one of us but would gladly have died for him. We longed for the chance to show him that. We weren't heroes. We never dreamed about the V.C. But to save the captain we would have earned it ten times over, and never cared a button whether we got it or not. We never got the chance, worse luck."
The captain was killed when a shell landed in the trench on the exact spot where he was trying to dig out some of his men who had been buried by a previous shell. The story concludes:
"But he lives. Somehow he lives. And we who knew him do not forget. We feel his eyes on us. We work for that wonderful smile of his. There are not many of the old lot left now; but I think that those who went West have seen him. When they got to the other side I think they were met ... Anyway, in that faith let me die, if death should come my way; and so, I think, shall I die content."
Captain Ronald Hardy was killed at Hooge on 23 July 1915. The Beloved Captain was published in The Spectator on 15 January 1916. Donald Hankey was killed in action on 12 October 1916.
Captain Herbert Drewett was 33 when he joined the Inns of Court OTC in November 1915, and 34 when he received his commission in the 4th Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment in November 1916. According to the battalion war diary, he was killed in action on 31 October 1917 not on the 30th as in the CWGC records, in an attack on Turenne Crossing on the outskirts of Houthulst Forest.
His only brother, Charles, was killed in action on the 29 June 1916 and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
IN MEMORY OF MY DEAR SON
THE SILVER CORD WILL BREAK
Private Fulton's inscription is taken from the first line of a hymn by the prolific, American hymn-writer, Fanny Cosby, 1820-1915:
Some day the silver cord will break,
And I no more as now shall sing,
But, O, the joy when I awake
Within the palace of the King.
And I shall see Him face to face,
And tell the story saved by grace.
Cosby in turn took the imagery from the Book of Eccelsiastes 12:6: "Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern", all of which are metaphors for death. In the hymn, when the silver cord breaks we shall see God face to face, but somehow I feel that Mrs Felton believes that when the silver cord of her life breaks the 'He' she will see 'face to face' is her son.
The War Graves Commission has Private Joseph Felton, army number 11985, as aged 19 when he died. But the Joseph Felton 11985 who attested in West Bromwich on 19 September 1914 gave his age on that date as 19 and 88 days. He could have been lying but the 1901 census seems to confirm the fact that he would have been 19 in 1914 and 22 in 1917. Felton served with the 5th Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment and was killed in action on 5 October 1917 following the attack at Poelcapelle.
Some day, when fades the golden sun
Beneath the rosy-tinted West,
My blessed Lord will say, "Well done!"
And I shall enter into rest.
And I shall see Him face to face,
And tell the story saved by grace.
POOR OLD BILL
WE REMEMBER HIM STILL
Bill - William Jackson - was the second of four brothers, one of whom, Frank, chose his inscription. It's an affectionate inscription for a family that had fragmented following their mother's death in 1900. Father, Isaac Jackson, with his eldest son, Harold, went to live with Isaac sister's family, whilst William, Frank and Charles went to live with Isaac's brother.
William was a volunteer who served with the 16th Battalion Cheshire Regiment, originally a Bantam Battalion for men under 5' 3'', the minimum height requirement for soldiers. There is nothing to say how tall William Jackson was.
Jackson died of wounds at a Casualty Clearing Station in Proven on 29 October 1917. The 16th Cheshires had been in action on the 22 October South of Houlthorst Forest. The war diary recorded how the night of the 21st/22nd "was bitterly cold and there were heavy showers after midnight, the men underwent extreme discomfort and were wet through and perished with cold before zero hour arrived". When zero hour did arrive the men struggled to keep up with the barrage as the ground was pitted with shell holes which in some places were knee deep in water. Relieved soon after midnight on the 23rd their casualties totalled 9 officers and 37 Other Ranks killed, wounded and missing. Jackson would have been among the wounded. He died six days later.
Sine metu - without fear - is the motto of the Jameson family of the Irish whiskey brand. Eric Jamieson's brother, Andrew, chose his inscription, putting it in inverted commas. Was he indicating that the two families were related? Although John Jameson, to whom the arms and motto were granted in the mid 1800s came from County Galway, Ireland, his grandfather, John Jameson, came from County Clackmannan, Scotland. There could therefore have been a tangental connection.
Eric Jamieson was one of eight children. He had a twin brother, Ion, who became an expert in traditional Scottish country dances in the 1930s. In 1911 both Eric and Ion were apprentices. Unfortunately whoever transcribed the census has written 'Apprentice Statione', whatever that might mean.
Eric served with the 11th Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. On 22 August 1917 the Battalion was in the front line north of the Ypres-Roulers Railway line. The war diary reported that at 4.45 am the British barrage opened and the battalion advanced to be met almost immediately by heavy machine gun fire and sniping. By 6.05 the telephone lines had been cut, it was impossible for runners to get through and battalion HQ became dependent on pigeons for information.
The Battalion remained in the front line on the 23rd, described by the author of the diary as a 'trying day', at the end of which Lt J.F.C. Cameron was the only officer in the front line. The Battalion came out of the line with its C.O. Adjutant Lt Cameron and some 140 O.R.s. Lt E.L Jamieson was among the missing, a fact reported in the Linlithgow Gazette on 7 September, which hoped that he might be a prisoner. But a month later the same paper reported that it was believed he had fallen on the day he went missing.
It was October 1920 before his body was found in an unmarked grave, identified by his disc, badge and pince-nez glasses.
ON FAMES ETERNAL CAMPING
THEIR SILENT TENTS ARE SPREAD
The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on life's parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On fame's eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.
Verse 1 The Bivouac of the Dead
Theodore O'Hara 1820-1867
'Fame's eternal camping ground' is therefore the war cemetery and the 'silent tents' are the dead soldiers' graves. The poem goes on to explain how, now dead, the soldier will be spared all further troubles and nothing will ever diminish 'one ray of glory's light that gilds your deathless tomb'.
Captain Clarence Smith Jeffries 'glory' is assured - he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on the day he was killed when:
"his company was held up by enemy machine-gun fire from concrete emplacements. Organising a party, he rushed one emplacement, capturing four machine guns and thirty-five prisoners. He then led his company forward under extremely heavy artillery barrage and heavy machine-gun fire to the objective. Later, he again organised a successful attack on a machine-gun emplacement, capturing two machine guns and thirty more prisoners. This gallant officer was killed during the attack, but it was entirely due to his bravery and initiative that the centre of the attack was not held up for a lengthy period. His example had a most inspiring influence."
Jeffries' body was not recovered from the battlefield until September 1920 when it was discovered in an unmarked grave and identified by the three stars of his captain's rank and the initials CSJ on the groundsheet in which he was buried. Clarence Jeffries was his parents' only child.
I WAITED AND WAITED
BUT ALL IN VAIN
FOR THE DAY OF LEAVE
THAT NEVER CAME
There doesn't seem to have been any hard and fast rule about soldiers' leave but it appears that, depending on the war situation at the time, soldiers were entitled to up to ten days leave every twelve to eighteen months. Gunner Jones' medal roll card shows that he was not entitled to the 1914-15 Star so he can't have entered the war zone before 1916. Killed in August 1917, it'stherefore quite possible that he never got any leave.
William Jones is not a good name if you are trying to find out exactly who he was, there are rather too many of them. Even though his mother, who had remarried and was Mary Ann Davies at the time of her son's death, states that he was born in Bangor, I still can't find him in the census records. All we do know is that Gunner William Jones, army number 11782, served with the 460th Battery, 15th Brigade Royal Field Artillery and was killed in action during the Battle of Langemarck, 16-18 August 1917. We also know that his mother, who chose his inscription, lived at No. 1 Prospect Place, Near Hospital, Penydarren, Merthyr Tydvil (sic), and that he is commemorated on the Bangor War Memorial.
WITH HIS BROTHERS
My heart sank when I saw this inscription - just how many of Roderick MacKenzie brothers had been killed. It sank even further when I realised that he was one of nine boys. Yet in fact only one of them, Osmand, was also killed in the war. But the inscription definitely says 'brothers' - why not 'brother'? The 1911 census provides the answer. One of the questions on the form asks how many live births a woman has had, and how many of these have subsequently died. Mrs MacKenzie has answered, '1'. I would suggest that the child who died was a boy and that this explains why Roderick is 'With his brothers'.
Roderick served with the 14th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, which was in the trenches at Hermies just south of Bapaume at the beginning of September 1917. The battalion war diary described the day MacKenzie was killed but gives no real clue as to what could have caused his death:
"Fine fresh day - cool ... Some aeroplane activity. Our guns fired throughout the day at intervals but our covering battery is limited to a consumption of 30 shells per day so they are unable to be aggressive. The Infantry are not sorry as we don't want to stir up the Boche who is very quiet, until we have got our trenches into some sort of decent condition, and our dugouts built etc. From 7 pm until well after 8 pm a heavy bombardment could be heard on our left, a considerable distance away."
Osmand Mackenzie, who was one year older than Roderick, was killed on the Somme on 15 September 1916 when he too was 19. His body was never identified therefore he has no inscription. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
HE GAVE HIS LIFE
TO BRING IN
A WOUNDED COMRADE
Leslie McMurdo was underage when he was killed by a sniper - born in April 1900, he was only seventeen. But he had been determined to fight, so determined that when his attempt to join up in South Africa at the age of 16 failed he stowed away to Australia where he added two years to his age and claimed that he'd already undergone 121 days military training. The Australians accepted him on 21 September 1916, he embarked from Sydney on 23 December 1916, arrived in France via Britain on 4 August 1917, joined the 12th Rifle Company, 31st Battalion Australian Infantry on 24 August and was killed in action one month and two days later in the Battle of Polygon Wood.
Leslie McMurdo was the eldest of his parents' seven children. He was born in Stockton-on-Tees, Durham. The family emigrated to South Africa sometime between 1909 and 1911. His father, Thomas McMurdo, died in November 1914 so it was his mother who was his next of kin. She filled in the circular for the Roll of Honour of Australia and interestingly, she backs up her son's story claiming that he was 18 when he died. But the British records don't lie and they show that he was born in the second quarter of 1900. She also states that he came to Australia when he was 16 - that bit is true - "to go farming with Mr F.A. Sheppard ... but I do not know if he would have any other information to give you". I can't tell whether that is true or not but the speed with which he gets into the Australian army would indicate that he didn't have much time to do much farming. It's Mrs McMurdo who tells us of the manner of his death"
"After the Battle at "Polygon Wood", whilst attending a wounded comrade, 200 yards out in "No Man's Land, was shot though heart and left eye."
His body was found in an unmarked grave in March 1920.
'TIS THE LUCK OF THE GAME
My mother lived in Birmingham during the Second World War and the saying among her friends was, if the bomb has got your name on it it's got your name on it and that's all there is to it. In other words - it's the luck of the draw, or as Lieutenant McMullin's father put it, the luck of the game.
Four months before he died McMullin had narrowly escaped death and been awarded a Military Cross. The camouflage over one of his guns caught fire and could have exploded a large pile of ammunition had he and another lieutenant not risked their lives to extinguish the flames. On the 4 October, the opening day of the Battle of Broodseinde Ridge, he was not so lucky.
It's commonplace for letters of condolence to tell the bereaved that their son/husband was 'the best' , but it must mean something when the Brigade HQ War Diary for 4 October 1917 states: "The loss of Lieuts Bennett and McMullin is a big one to the Brigade. These officers have performed excellent service".
McMullin was a grazier from Brooklyn, Upper Rouchel, Aberdeen, New South Wales. He and his brother, Alfred Oswald McMullin, both enlisted on 29 August 1914 and embarked from Australia on 18 October 1914. Alfred survived the war and died in 1960.