HE GAVE HIS LIFE
THAT WE SHOULD LIVE
Albert Wellington Jarman was born in Leicester and died in Leicester thirty years later. In the intervening years he had gone to Canada to live and work, returned to Europe to fight, and come back to Leicester to die. He is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's section of Leicester's Walford Road Cemetery, which is less than a mile from his father's home in Havelock Road.
Albert's parents were William and Priscilla Jarman. William Jarman was a shoe maker - as was much of the population of Leicester. Priscilla died and in 1896 William remarried. Eleven-year-old Albert was still living at home with his father and step-mother in 1901, but by 1911 he had gone to Canada. He settled in Londesborough, a small community in Ontario, from where he enlisted in February 1916, describing himself as a farmer.
Jarman joined the 161st Huron Battalion, part of the Western Ontario Regiment. On the night of the 9 October 1916 the 777 Huron County men of the 161st Battalion dined, drank and danced at the Bedford Hotel and the Oddfellows Hall in Goderich before marching to the station the next day and embarking for Europe - 551 of them would not return.
Jarman died on 1 April 1919, almost five months after the end of the war. His death is described in the cemetery register as 'following wounds'. Unfortunately that is all I have been able to discover about his death. There is no indication as to where or when he was wounded, nor the nature of the wounds. However, for general purposes the war was deemed to have ended on 31 August 1921. This meant that those who died of wounds incurred during their military service before that date are counted as having died during the First World War.
I don't imagine that Jarman died at home. Leicester was the location of the 5th Northern General Hospital, which had more than 2,600 beds and occupied several buildings in Leicester and North Evington. It admitted more than 95,000 casualties during its existence, of which 514 had died. Some of these will be among the 344 casualties buried in the Walford Road Cemetery; perhaps one of them was Alfred Jarman.
Alfred's father chose his inscription - 'He gave his life that we should live'. This is very close to the opening line of a poem by someone who was probably the most popular poet of the First World War, and is probably someone you have never heard of - John Oxenham, the pseudonym for William Arthur Dunkerley (1852-1941).
They died that we might live,
Hail and Farewell!
- All honour give
To those who nobly striving nobly fell,
That we might live!
The poem is a strange combination of the Roman poet Catullus's lovely tribute to his brother's grave, Ave Atque Vale, and the Christian concept of sacrifice. Christ's sacrifice for mankind was equated in many people's minds with the sacrifice the hundreds of thousands of young men made who died for the safety and security of the British Empire. According to the narrative, they 'gave' their lives so that people might be able to live - to live free from the threat of German militarism.
This inscription will feature as part of the Global War Graves Leicester project, which aims "to explore and bring to light how the 298 First World War casualties came to be buried in the cemetery, how their identities were negotiated in death; and how even the British burials alongside them also had connections throughout and beyond the UK. The purpose of this research will be to challenge and expand our understandings of the relationship between local and global in terms of Leicester and the First World War".
WENT OUT NOT KNOWING
WHITHER HE WENT
There's a scene in Hislop and Newman's Wipers Times where General Mitford informs Captain Roberts that Madame Fifi, owner of the local brothel, has just been executed by the British as a German spy. General Mitford hopes that Roberts never imparted any military secrets about the war to her. Roberts replies that he couldn't, he doesn't know any secrets, he just sits in his trench and has no idea what's going on.
I wondered whether this was the implication behind Corporal McNeill's inscription, a covert criticism of the fact that so many soldiers went blindly to their deaths not knowing what was going on. However, I wasn't sure that McNeill's father would have used the old-fashioned word 'whither', so I looked the sentence up and discovered that it comes from Hebrews Chapter 11 verse 8:
"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went."
Abraham put his trust in God, he had faith in Him, he obeyed His instructions just as Noah had done, and Moses, and numerous other characters from the Old Testament. None of these people knew what God had in store for them but their faith had brought them to a "better country, that is an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God for he hath prepared for them a city".
This is therefore not an unusual inscription for a God-fearing Scot to choose, but I'm still not one hundred per cent convinced that there's no hint of criticism in it. Many people did use the words of the bible and the prayer book to make covert criticisms of the war. For example, Lieutenant Robert Carpenter's inscription: An only son / "To what purpose is this waste?" / S. Matt. 26.8.
John McNeill was born in Gargunnock, Stirlingshire, where his father was the gardener to the Stirling family of Gargunnock House for forty years. McNeill was a bank apprentice when he joined up in February 1916 at the age of 18. He served with the 11th Battalion Royal Scots and was killed in action on 12 October 1917, the opening day of the Battle of Passchendaele.
IN LIFE I FEAR FOR MYSELF
I FEAR FOR MY MOTHER
Thomas Hanson's mother wanted to demonstrate her son's consideration towards her in the inscription she chose for his headstone. Presumably he had expressed these fears to her, fearing how she would cope with his death.
Hanson, a sheep overseer whose family emigrated to Australia sometime after the 1901 census, enlisted in October 1916. He reached Britain in July 1917, embarked for France in September and was killed in October.
On 22 March 1918, Driver FJ Brophy told the Red Cross Enquiry Bureau:
"I did not see the casualty, but I saw his dead body soon after it happened. He was unloading a waggon just in front of Zillebeke, when he was caught by a piece of shell, which entered his back and went through his heart, death was instantaneous. I knew him very well, he was the only man of this name in the battery."
Gunner AS Miller reported on 8 March 1918:
"I saw him killed at the Half-way House, near Ypres. He was caught by pieces of shell which hit him about the chest, death being instantaneous. He had not been with the battery very long, as he was a new reinforcement."
And how did Thomas Hanson's mother cope with his death? In May 1920 she sailed to England from where she went to France to visit his grave, something very few Australian mothers would have been able to afford to do.
It's strange how you can build up a picture of a person - and be wrong. I had Mrs Hanson down as a poor widow and Thomas as her only son. Thomas was her only son but Mrs Hanson was a remarried divorcee. The information comes from a reply to a letter the army authorities had written asking for clarification about Thomas Hanson's father. Her new husband replied:
"I have to inform you that the father of the late soldier is still alive, as far as I know, but am absolutely ignorant of his address. I also have to inform you that Mrs Hanson divorced her husband some years ago and has been married to me since then."
Mr FW Gregory 24 May 1920
IT ALL LOOKS NOW
What a strange inscription. I wonder what Private Milner's wife had in mind when she chose it. I can only imagine that it was her reaction to a photograph of her husband's grave, probably still with its original wooden grave marker since by the time the permanent headstones were erected she would have chosen her inscription. Gaza was far away and received very few visitors, even the St Barnabas Society didn't organise battlefield pilgrimages there, apparently there was no demand. However, the Graves Registration Unit and the War Graves Commission tried to send a photograph of a grave to the next of kin if they requested it, and since the Commission's aim was to make their cemeteries look peaceful, well-cared for places, unlike the surrounding battlefields, Mrs Milner's comment would not be surprising.
Before the war William Foster Milner had been a civil servant working in the Inland Revenue. His medal card shows that he was not entitled to the 1914-15 Star so he was not a volunteer, or not one who entered a theatre of war before 1916. But the records do show that he had served with the Kings Royal Rifle Corps before being transferred to the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
Milner was killed on 7 November 1917 the day the ruined and deserted city of Gaza eventually fell to the Allies at their third attempt.
I can't tell how long William and Alice (Olga) Milner had been married but, as his wife, Alice was entitled to choose her husband's inscription. I wonder what his parents might have wanted to say - William was their only child.
Je t'aime - I love you. I've seen declarations of affection on headstones before but I've never seen such a plain declaration of love. And the fact that it is in French means that Mrs Clough, assuming few English speakers would ever visit Tyne Cot Cemetery, decided to write it in the language of the country where her husband was buried. Not of course that Tyne Cot Cemetery is in France, but it's close, 16 kilometres away, and everyone would have known what she meant anyway, just as we do.
Serjeant Clough was a Yorkshireman, and from what I can tell so was his wife, Mabel. He served with the 9th Battalion London Regiment (Queen Victoria's Rifles), a territorial battalion, and is commemorated on the Hendon, Middlesex war memorial, so must have been living in London when the war broke out. His army number indicates that he was a September 1914 volunteer but his medal card says that his period of service in a theatre of war - France and Flanders - only spanned 21 March to 16 August 1917.
Clough was one of the many casualties the 9th London Regiment suffered on 16 August when the Fifth Army's offensive operations in the Ypres Sector were resumed. The battalion war diary describes how:
"In spite of big progress at the outset under cover of a terrific creeping barrage, the 169th Infantry Bde was compelled to withdraw to the original front line at dusk. The casualties in the Bn were severe."
After the war, when the battlefields were cleared, Clough's body was found at map reference J7G80x40 in June 1920. George William Clough is also commemorated on the Moor Allerton memorial in Leeds, Yorkshire
MY COUNTRY CALLED ME
AND I WENT
There are only two First World War servicemen buried in Laillang Communal Cemetery and the record states that they are both buried in the same grave. I have come to recognise what this means - they were airmen whose plane crashed and burnt with them inside, making their bodies indistinguishable from each other.
At 08.05 on the morning of 18 August 1917, Second Lieutenant Louis Harel and his observer Captain William Walker, serving with 11 Squadron and flying a Bristol F2b A7191, were shot down by Lieutenant Viktor Schobinger, a victory that gave Schobinger his 3rd 'kill'.
William Hope Walker had been born in Earlston, Berewickshire in 1892. At some point after 1901 his parents emigrated to Canada. Walker enlisted on 14 July 1915 and originally served with the Canadian Infantry before transferring to the Royal Flying Corps.
His mother, Helen J. Sinclair, formerly Walker, chose his inscription. It comes from a very obscure prayer (piece of verse) so obscure that it only appears twice on the Internet, both times in an Australian newspaper in December 1915. It must however have been better known for Mrs Sinclair, living in Canada, to have known of it. I feel that like many emigrants both she and her son must have felt the pull of the mother country following the outbreak of war.
God, who art love, be kind, be kind to all
Thy children, who must hear the sudden call;
Hot from their haste, their hate, their lust, their din,
Must open wide Thy door and enter in.
Cleanse from their feet the stains of dust and wear;
Take from their hearts what is not pure and fair;
For they, Thy children, they have trusted Thee
In death to save. This is their only plea -
"She called, my country called me, and I went" -
With this much, God of love, be Thou content.
PRAYER FOR THOSE KILLED IN BATTLE
Edith A. Talbot, in the 'Christian Guardian'
It may be fairly appalling verse but can you see what Edith Talbot was saying to God? Forgive these young men who are coming straight into your presence from hating and killing people, their justification for their behaviour being, "She called, my country called me, and I went".
GONE FOR EVER
This is a fairly bleak inscription - no, let's be frank - this is a very bleak inscription. There is no comforting mention of meeting again, no reference to everlasting life, no honour, no glory, no pride, just the hard fact - gone for ever. George Farley's grandmother chose it; she was his next of kin. Was she being phlegmatic? I don't think so; it sounds bitter and angry to me.
I can see that in the 1901 census George Farley lived with both his parents and his grandparents in Caister-by-the Sea, Norfolk. In 1911 he still lived there but only with his grandparents, Walter and Elizabeth George. I can't find any trace of his parents.
Farley served with A Battery 276th Brigade Royal Field Artillery. He is buried in a Field Ambulance cemetery in Vlamertinge, 4 kilometres to the west of Ypres.
THE MORNING STARS TOGETHER
AND ALL THINGS ARE AT REST
The Internet kept trying to persuade me that these words came from the Book of Job Chapter 38 verse 7. But this is what Job says:
"When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy".
It's close but it's not exact. Nor is this:
"Where sing the Morning-stars in joy together,
And all things are at home."
But nevertheless I think that this is the source of the inscription and if so it's rather interesting. The lines are close to those in The Open Secret, a poem written by Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) and published in 1905 in the fourth part of his book Towards Democracy. Carpenter was an extraordinary man: a radical free thinker and socialist writer, a vegetarian and a teetotaller, and a defender, even a proponent of, homosexuality, who lived openly - if remotely - with his homosexual lover for many years at a time when it was illegal to do so. The Open Secret promotes his other great passion, the simplification of life, living in the open:
Sweet secret of the open air -
That waits so long, and always there, unheeded.
Something uncaught, so free, so calm large confident -
The floating breeze, the far hills and broad sky,
And every little bird and tiny fly or flower
At home in the great whole, nor feeling lost at all or forsaken,
To Carpenter it is only man who hides himself away behind walls:
He, Cain-like from the calm eyes of the Angels,
In houses hiding, in huge gas-lighted offices and dens, in ponderous churches,
Beset with darkness cowers;
While man surrounds himself with 'ramparts of stone and gold',
... still the great world waits by the door as ever,
The great world stretching endlessly on every hand,
In deep on deep of fathomless content -
Where sing the morning-stars together,
And all things are at home.
Norman Boyd's father chose his inscription, changing the last word from 'home' to 'rest'. His son now rests in the wide open world, in eternity.
Norman Boyd was born and brought up in Burley-in-Wharfdale in Yorkshire where his father was an insurance agent. In 1898 he emigrated to Canada, from where he enlisted in February 1916. He served with the 2nd Canadian Infantry the Eastern Ontario Regiment. On 6 October 1917 the regiment went into the trenches at Lievin where working parties undertook repairs to the trench system and where they were periodically shelled and bombed. The war diary makes no mention of casualties. Boyd is buried at a Field Ambulance burial ground a few kilometres from Lievin.
THE DAUNTLESS HEART
THAT FEAR'D NO HUMAN PRIDE
O ye whose cheek the tear of pity stains,
Draw near with pious rev'rence, and attend!
Here lie the loving husband's dear remains,
The tender father, and the gen'rous friend;
The pitying heart that felt for human woe,
The dauntless heart that feared no human pride;
The friend of man - to vice alone a foe;
For "ev'n his failings lean'd to virtue's side".
ON MY EVER HONOURED FATHER
Robert Burns 1784
Burns composed this beautiful epitaph for his father's headstone in Alloway Kirkyard in Ayr, Scotland. Dr George Oldershaw quoted from it for his son's personal inscription in Coxyde Military Cemetery, Belgium.
Like his father, Leslie Oldershaw was a doctor, as was his older brother, George Francis Oldershaw. Leslie Oldershaw, who had qualified as a doctor by the age of 21, took a commission in May 1915 in the Royal Army Medical Corps and served for six months in the 1st Western General Hospital in Liverpool before being posted to Gallipoli in November 1915. After the evacuation he served in Egypt and then returned to Europe in the spring of 1917. Whilst home on leave in April 1917 he married Ruby Gorman whose sister, Elsie, was married to George Oldershaw Jnr. Six months later he was killed by a piece of shrapnel that struck his head. A fellow officer related to his parents how:
"He and I were walking down the road from the trenches in Nieuport, and when we had gone about a mile the accident occurred. All I remember is a flash, and then I was lying in the road and Leslie was lying by me. He never moved or spoke, and I think was killed instantaneously ... I have since been told that it was an aeroplane bomb that dropped close to us that did it."
Six days later Ruby and Elsie's brother, Howard Gannon, was killed in Salonika. Ruby served as a VAD in Western Europe from August 1918 to January 1919. In 1927 she married William Penman, a fifty-year-old widower. He died three years later. She died in 1969.
"SCATTER THOU THE PEOPLE
THAT DELIGHT IN WAR"
PSALM 68.30 VERSE
I wonder which people Mrs AM Blackwood had in mind when she chose this inscription for her son? Was it warmongers in general or did she have some specific people in mind? I have a feeling that it was the latter. The reading of the psalm implies that God's people are people of peace and that it is only necessary for the people of war to be crushed for there to be no more war. This was the reasoning behind the claim that the 1914-18 war was the war to end all war. In other words, it was only necessary for German militarism to be utterly crushed for there to be no more war. For this reason I believe that to Mrs Blackwood the people who delighted in war, the people who needed to be scattered, were the Germans - the people of peace of course being the people of the British Empire!
Leonard Blackwood had been a boot clicker before the war, the person who cut the uppers from the leather skins. He enlisted on 26 January 1916, embarked from Australia in April and left Britain for France that August. Blackwood was wounded in the Australian attack at Broodseinde Ridge on 4 October 1917. According to the records of No. 2 Casualty Clearing Station, Lijssenthoek he had a fractured skull and gun-shot wounds to his face. He died of his wounds three days later.
GIVE UNTO ME ...
THE SPIRIT OF SELF-SACRIFICE
What is self-sacrifice? It's giving up one's own interests, happiness and hopes for the sake of duty. This inscription is a salutary reminder that the men who fought in the First World War weren't naive enthusiasts for war but were doing their duty - and some men had to submit themselves to it. At the distance of a hundred years many people today can comfortably assume that those who fought were in some way different from themselves, they wanted to go, they wanted to fight, they were happy to give up their current lives, they were even happy to give up their lives. But this inscription shows the firmness with which some men had to speak to themselves in order to do their duty.
The lines come from Wordsworth's Ode to Duty. The poet claims that there are some people who just naturally do their duty - "Who do thy [duty's] work, and know it not". And then there are other's, like him, who "deferred the task, in smoother walks to stray". But now, recognising the peace that comes from knowing that you are doing your duty, he asks:
Unto thy guidance from this hour;
Oh, let my weakness have an end!
Give unto me, made lowly wise,
The spirit of self-sacrifice;
Edmund Cullingford was a volunteer. He served with the 9th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, which was raised in York in September 1914. According to his medal card, he went with the Battalion to Egypt in December 1915. In July 1916, it returned to Europe and on 9 October 1917 it took part in the attack at Poelcappelle.
The British barrage was terrific, it moved at a rate of 100 yards in four minutes with the soldiers advancing behind it over ground that had been churned into an endless mass of shell holes and mud so as to be almost impassable. However, despite the fierce barrage the German gun emplacements remained virtually impervious and the British troops were met by murderous machine gun fire from these 'pill-boxes', which relentlessly thinned their ranks. At the end of the day the 9th West Yorkshires had lost 12 officers and 203 other ranks killed, wounded and missing. Cullingford was one of the missing, his body located at map reference V.20.a.3.8 in September 1919 and identified by his disc. Think of what he faced and think again about the inscription his father chose for him, "Give unto me ... the spirit of self-sacrifice".
THOUGH LOST TO SIGHT
TO MEMORY DEAR
Until I did the research for yesterday's inscription, it would never have occurred to me that this was a quotation. 'Though lost to sight to memory dear' is so popular on both civilian and military headstones, and it appears so regularly on In Memoriam cards and the In Memoriam columns of newspapers that I had just assumed it was something that you said, no author required. But this appears not to be the case. The words are in fact the first line of a song written by George Linley (1798-1865) who wrote it originally for Augustus Braham (1819-1889). This is the first of its seven verses:
Tho' lost to sight, to memory dear
Thou ever wilt remain;
One only hope my heart can cheer -
The hope to meet again.
Some have argued that Linley didn't compose the first line he just quoted from what was already a popular headstone inscription. It is possible that this was the case. Certainly there's another poem, strictly speaking I suppose it's verse rather than poetry, where it's the final line of both of the two verses - the authorship is disputed but it postdates Linley. This is the second verse.
Sweetheart, good bye! One last embrace!
O cruel fate, two souls to sever!
Yet in the heart's most sacred place
Thou alone shall dwell for ever.
And still shall recollection trace,
In fancy's mirror ever near.
Each smile, each tear, that form, that face,
Though lost to sight to memory dear.
However, I am perfectly prepared to admit that the many hundreds of people who chose this inscription, and it is one of the most popular, had no idea that they were quoting either Linley or anyone else. To them it was just a conventionally popular headstone inscription.
In this instance it belongs to Gunner Robert Samuel Barber, who before the war had been helping his father on his dairy farm in Yandina, Queensland, Australia. Barber enlisted on 23 September 1915, embarked from Australia on 11 May 1916, arrived in Britain on 10 July and embarked for France on 24 November. He was killed by a shell on 3 October 1917.
A witness (Sergeant H. Canfield 18849) who described Barber as "about 5 feet 6 inches high, nuggety build, clean shaven, fair complexion, aged about 25", told the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing File what happened:
"Informant states that they both belonged to the 25th Battery, 7th Field Artillery Brigade, Barber being a lumber gunner and under Informant's charge. On or about 3.10.17 the Battery was in front of Ypres in action, firing at different targets. Barber was working with him and left him to go over to his gun, No. 1, and went into a little dugout that he was building alongside the gun. He had only been there about a minute when a stray shell came over and killed him instantly. Informant was only a few yards away at the time and saw his body. He was buried not far from the Battery and informant made a cross for his grave."
The cross survived and after the war it was found with Barber's body at map reference I. 6. b. 8. 1. just as Sergeant H. Canfield had made it, inscribed with the words:
In memory of
No. 18641 Gunner Barber R.S.
C of E
Killed in action 3-10-1917
EVER OF THEE
AM I FONDLY DREAMING
Harry Small's inscription, chosen by his wife Ethel, comes from an old love song composed in 1858 by Foley Hall with lyrics by George Linley. This is the first of its two verses:
Ever of thee I'm fondly dreaming,
Thy gentle voice my spirit can cheer;
Thou wert the star that mildly beaming,
Shone o'er my path when all was dark and drear.
Still in my heart thy form I cherish,
Ev'ry kind thought like a bird flies to thee;
Ah! never till life and mem'ry perish,
Can I forget how dear thou art to me;
Morn, noon and night where'e'er I may be.
Fondly I'm dreaming ever of thee,
Fondly I'm dreaming ever of thee!
Although more than 50 years old at the time of the First World War, the song's popularity was revived in 1915 when Edison recorded it as a duet beautifully sung by Elizabeth Spencer and Thomas Chalmers, which you can listen to here.
At the time of the 1911 census, Harry Small was an assistant at Affleck and Brown a large drapery store, later a department store, in Manchester. He lived in Ardwick Hall Residence for Shop Assistants where he was one of its 156 residents. I am assuming that he was a territorial soldier as he served with the 1st/4th a territorial battalion of the Royal Scots. He went with them to Gallipoli in June 1915. After the evacuation the 4th Royal Scots served in the Suez Canal region before going to Palestine. Small was killed during the Third Battle of Gaza.
I have found no trace of his wife Ethel, who chose such a loving inscription for her husband.
Ever of thee when sad and lonely,
Wand'ring afar my soul joy'd to dwell;
Ah! then I felt I lov'd thee only;
All seem'd to fade before affection's spell.
Years have not chill'd the love I cherish;
True as the stars, hath my heart been to thee;
Ah! never till life and mem'ry perish,
Can I forget how dear thou art to me;
Morn, noon and night where'e'er I may be.
Fondly I'm dreaming ever of thee,
Fondly I'm dreaming ever of thee!
MASTER, CAREST THOU NOT
PEACE, BE STILL
"And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm."
MARK Chapter 4 37-9
"Master, carest thou not that we perish"? This is the question the disciples woke Christ to ask when they were caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Mrs Ellen Richardson, Corporal Richardson's mother, must have wondered whether Christ was 'sleeping' when so many hundreds of thousands of people died during the war - did neither he nor God care? Mrs Richardson will have chosen her inscription well after her son's death, and well after the end of the war. Is "peace be still" a plea for a lasting peace, one that Christ will oversee?
In 1911 Mrs Richardson was a widow working as a charlady. George, her fifteen-year-old son, one of her six children, worked in a shoe factory in Olney, Buckinghamshire where most of the population were involved in the shoe trade.
George served with the 5th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment and went with it to Gallipoli, disembarking on 10 August 1915. His service with the 5th indicates that he had been a territorial soldier before the war. Evacuated with the rest of the British forces in January 1916, the 5th Bedfordshires served in the Suez Canal region until March 1917 when they went to Palestine. Here it took part in all three battles of Gaza. Richardson was killed in the Third.
READY IN HEART READY IN HAND
TO MARCH TO DEATH
FOR HIS NATIVE LAND
Frederick Golding's eldest sister created a rhyming couplet from some lines in Tennyson's poem 'Maud'. In the poem the narrator hears Maud singing in a meadow:
"A passionate ballad, gallant and gay
A martial song like a trumpet's call
Singing of men that in battle array
Ready in heart and ready in hand
March with banner and bugle and fife
To the death, for their native land.
Maud was written in 1855 at the time of the Crimean War (1853-56) when Tennyson could write that Maud was "Singing of death, and of Honour that cannot die". Tennyson, the most popular of the nineteenth century poets, seems from the evidence of this project to be the most popular of the poets quoted in personal inscriptions too. You can see how deep the association of war and honour and death must have run in British society, contributing to a culture that associated the concept of fighting and dying for your country with a noble death.
Frederick Thomas Golding was the son of a wheelwright in Chelmsford, Essex. In 1911 Golding was working in an ironmongery warehouse. Four years later he entered a theatre of war on 12 August 1915. He was killed in the 3rd Battle of Gaza whilst serving with the 1st/4th Battalion Essex Regiment.
ONE OF THAT INCOMPARABLE
THE BRITISH SUBALTERN
The dictionary definition of a subaltern is a junior army officer below the rank of captain. In other words a First or Second Lieutenant. However, in the context of the First World War that does not capture the full meaning of the word.
In his book, 'Six Weeks - the Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War', John Lewis-Stempel admitted how much he had come to admire these young subalterns during the time he spent researching his book and quoted one former soldier, Private AM Burrage, who wrote, "I who was a private, and a bad one at that, freely own that it was the British subaltern who won the war" [War is War by Ex-Pte X Gollanz 1930]. So who were these subalterns and how did they 'win' the war?
In the early days of the war many young officers were volunteers or territorial soldiers, in other words not professional soldiers, and almost all of them had been to public or grammar schools. RC Sherriff, author of Journey's end, claimed that early in the war you had to have been to a public school in order to qualify for a commission, saying that he himself was turned down because he had been to a grammar school. But I have heard Gary Sheffield say that it wasn't the fact of the public school that mattered but whether or not your school had had an OTC of which you had been a member that counted. Public schools were much more likely to have had an OTC pre-1914 than many grammar schools.
But to Sherriff:
"these young men never turned into officers of the old traditional type. By hard experience they became leaders is a totally different way and, through their patience and courage and endurance, carried the Army to victory after the generals had brought it within a hairsbreadth of defeat". [The English Public Schools in the War, RC Sherriff in Promise of Greatness ed. George A Panichas, Cassell 1968].
Later in the same article Sherriff wrote:
"Without raising the public school boy officers onto a pedestal it can be said with certainty that it was they who played the vital part in keeping the men good-humoured and obedient in the face of their interminable ill treatment and well-nigh insufferable ordeals".
Unlike junior officers in the German army, British subalterns lived with their men in the trenches, cared for them, shared their hardships, led them into battle and died with them. As EA Mackintosh says in his extremely powerful poem, In Memoriam, inspired by the letter of condolence he was writing to the father of one of his soldiers killed in the recent fighting, :"You were only David's father but I had fifty sons". Aware of the responsibility he had for them, Mackintosh writes:
Oh, never will I forget you,
My men that trusted me,
More my sons than your fathers'
For they could only see
The little helpless babies
And the young men in their pride
They could not see you dying
And hold you while you died.
Happy and young and gallant,
They saw their first-born go,
But not the strong limbs broken
And the beautiful men brought low,
The piteous writhing bodies,
They screamed "Don't leave me sir",
For they were only your fathers
But I was your officer.
"My men that trusted me" - there's a lovely letter quoted in Laurence Housman's War Letters of Fallen Englishmen from Lieutenant HM Butterworth, which illustrates this trust beautifully:
"... no digging or wiring party party ever goes out without an officer, that is the way to get the men along. If one takes out a party of men somewhere they don't know - in the open probably - to dig, they'll go like lambs as long as they've got an officer with them. The curious thing is that in civilian life they've probably cursed us as plutocrats, out here they fairly look to us. The other night some time ago, I had some men and had to get somewhere I'd never been before in --; as a matter of fact it wasn't difficult and we had ample directions so before we started I was told to send the men with a sergeant. Said the sergeant to me, 'I wish you were coming sir, I don't know the way.' I said, 'My dear man, nor do I.'To which he made this astounding reply, 'Very likely not, sir, but the men will think you do and they know I don't'."
In a deferential age the soldiers expected their officers to come from a higher social class. But as Sherriff concluded, this didn't mean they were toffs:
"It had nothing to do with wealth or privilege. Very few of the public school boys came from the landed gentry or distinguished families. For the most part they came from modest homes, the sons of local lawyers, doctors and schoolmasters - hardworking professional men."
This was just the class that William Steele Young came from. His father, Archibald Young, was a cutter and surgical instrument maker. William and his elder brother, Archibald, were educated at George Watson College a fee-paying day school in Edinburgh. Archibald, a territorial soldier serving with the Royal Scots, was mobilised on the outbreak of war. William, studying engineering at Edinburgh University and a member of the University OTC, volunteered and was gazetted second lieutenant on 1 September 1914. Archibald was killed in action in Gallipoli at Saghir Dere on or about 28 June 1915. He is commemorated on the Helles Memorial. William, who also served in Gallipoli and then Egypt and Palestine, was killed in action on 2 November 1917 during the Third Battle of Gaza.
Arthur Young was proud of both his sons, proud that they had both been members of that "incomparable brotherhood the British subaltern".
"SO HERE SHALL SILENCE
GUARD THY FAME"
TENNYSON'S IN MEMORIAM
According to the War Graves Commission, 'Iringa is on the top of a mountain, 505 kilometres west of Dar-Es-Salaam' in what is now Tanzania. It's a long way from England and all things English. The cemetery holds 131 graves from the Empire forces. Many of them belonging to Africaaners, Dutch Boers, with inscriptions like 'Ono dink aan jou', which I have an idea means I think of you, probably the equivalent of 'not forgotten'. And many of them belong to British South Africans born and brought up in the country. But some of them belong to men who were born and brought up in Britain as Sergeant JM Evan's makes plain: '1, Alban Square, Aberayron, S. Wales'.
A Mrs VH Flemming chose Barrett's inscription, perhaps his married eldest sister whose Christian names were Violet Helen. She quotes a line from Tennyson's In Memoriam, giving the reference as if to make sure that anyone reading it in that faraway place would know where it came from:
So here shall silence guard thy fame;
But somewhere, out of human view,
Whate'er thy hands are set to do
Is wrought with tumult of acclaim.
Hugh Treherne Barrett was born in Cheshire in 1883. His father, a commercial traveller, was dead by the time of the 1891 census. The next time Hugh Barrett appears in the record it's in the London Gazette of 9 June 1916 with the announcement that as from 23 March 1916 he has been granted the temporary rank of lieutenant in the Nyasaland Field Force. This newly formed force was made up of soldiers from various South African and Rhodesian military and police forces. Barrett's medal card shows that he joined a theatre of war on 5 September 1914 indicating that he had been in some form of military service before the formation of the Nyasaland Field Force in which he served as Chief Intelligence Officer.
Barrett's next appearance in the record is again in the London Gazette. The 26 April 1917 edition records the award of a Military Cross for an action on 27 October 1916 during fighting near the border of German South West Africa:
"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He reconnoitred the enemy's position, and subsequently guided a column three miles by night, enabling them the deploy unobserved between picquets of the enemy to within 250 yards of the position"
The three miles was over swampland that the Germans had thought impassable but through which Barrett found a way.
Barrett died on 6 November 1917. His body was originally buried in Mahenge but after the war the graves from here were concentrated in Iringa.
ALSO IN MEMORY
OF 23202 L/CPL R GARDNER
AND 30264 PTE A.V. GARDNER
KILLED IN ACTION
I said in yesterday's inscription that 'Also' was a very ominous way to begin an inscription because it always meant that another brother had been killed. Today's remembers two brothers killed in addition to the one on whose headstone they are remembered.
I don't know how James Gardner died but his two brothers were both killed in action: his elder brother, Alfred, serving with the 2nd/4th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, at Passchendaele on 10 October 1917, and his younger brother, Reginald, of the 8th Battalion King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, in the Battle of Arras on 9 April 1917. Neither brother has a grave. Alfred is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial and Reginald on the Arras Memorial. I like the way the parents have included the brothers in the order in which they died rather than in order of seniority; Alfred was 30 and Reginald 20.
James, the middle of the three Gardner brothers, died a month after Alfred. He was a member of the 49th Battalion Training Reserve. So many men were called up following the introduction of conscription in January 1916 that the army couldn't cope with them. The reserve battalions of the various regiments couldn't incorporate them all either so a Training Reserve was created, which was not attached to any of the regiments. Men were trained up and then placed wherever they were needed, rather than as before waiting to be placed in the regiment they had joined. James died whilst with the Training Reserve, whether from illness or accident I haven't been able to find out. All I do know is that John and Annie Gardner lost all three of their sons between April and November 1917. They had five surviving daughters.
ALSO 8903 L/C ROBERT NEY
2ND CAMERON HIGHRS
KILLED HILL 60
23RD APRIL 1915
"Also ..."; it's a horribly ominous way to begin an inscription because it always means that another brother has been killed - and it usually means that the other brother has no known grave, which is why the parents commemorate him on the headstone of the one whose grave they do know.
Robert and John Ney were the two oldest sons of Robert and Mary Ney who lived in Overgate, a densely populated area of Dundee where Robert Ney senior was a street lamplighter. Both sons look as though they enlisted on the outbreak of war, although Robert's medal card gives 19 February 1914 as his date of entry into the war, which looks as though it's a mistake. John's says 10 January 1915.
Robert Ney, who served with the 2nd Battalion Cameron highlanders, was killed in action on 23 April 1915. The 2nd Battalion diary records that at "About 1.30 am the Battalion relieved the 1st Devon Regt in trenches 38 to 45" at Hill 60 just south of Ypres. All was fairly quiet until 10 am when, "enemy commenced firing minenwerfer & howitzer on right & centre of line. Many casualties, much damage ...". Among the 'many casualties' the diary lists 44 men killed, including Private R Ney. He was 24.
Eighteen days later his younger brother, John Ney, died of wounds in hospital in Boulogne. There isn't any documentary evidence as to when he was wounded but I would suggest it was on 9 May 1915 when the 1st Battalion Cameron Highlanders took part in the attack on Aubers Ridge. The fact that John Ney died of wounds two days later is circumstantial but persuasive. He was 19.
Mr and Mrs Robert Ney senior had four sons and five daughters. It looks as though their son Allan, born in 1907, chose his brother John's inscription. He would have been eight when his brothers were killed.
KING AND COUNTRY
WITH HIS BROTHER
There are several puzzling things here. Firstly, despite what his father put on his headstone, I don't think Roland Whitehorn was 17 when he died. In fact I'm sure he wasn't as his birth is recorded in the second quarter of 1898. This would mean he was 19 when he died in October 1917.
I came across a story on a family history site, which said that Whitehorn's wife brought their six-week-old daughter to visit him in hospital in France before he died. I thought this unlikely if he was only 17 when he died, even though you could legally be married at 16. The records show that he married Elizabeth Collins in the second quarter of 1916, at which time he would have been 18. It's not unlikely that his wife was allowed to visit him. It wouldn't have been possible if he had been in a Casualty Clearing Station closer to the front but Roland Whitehorn was in one of the base hospitals near Boulogne and the authorities did allow next-of-kin to visit. Perhaps the 'Age 17' on his headstone refers to how old Roland Whitehorn was when he enlisted.
His brother, Albert John Whitehorn, was also very young when went to war. His medal card shows that he qualified for the 1915 Star having entered France on 19 March 1915. He'd been born in the fourth quarter of 1896 so that means he was 18. Albert Whitehorn died of wounds two months later on 11 May. But there's something strange here too: Albert served under an alias, he called himself Albert Whitehall. Was this because at 18 he would have needed parental permission to serve abroad and he didn't believe his parents would grant it?
Albert Whitehorn's inscription in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery is identical to his brother's except for the age:
Age 18. Died for
His King and Country
With his brother
A MAN SHALL BE
AS AN HIDING PLACE
FROM THE WIND
It may not be immediately obvious but this inscription is one of the numerous ways that next-of-kin declared their trust in God. The words come from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, 32:2 and were chosen by Sergeant Wallace's fiancee, Ruth Wright.
"And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."
In other words, this man, who will be our shield from the wind, our shelter from storms, who will be like refreshing water on dry land or shade from the burning sun, will be the Messiah, Jesus Christ. And it is in Jesus that Sergeant Wallace's fiancee will find her 'hiding place from the wind', her comfort in her grief. It's a very beautiful image.
According to a letter in his Red Cross file, Wallace died from gas poisoning:
"His dug-out at Hill 40 was blown up by a gas-shell on the 19th. He not only got himself out but he managed to get his mate Serg. Murray out as well and this is what killed him; he had no business to do it when he was gassed. The flesh was blown off Murray's feet and Wallace dressed him and then noticed the gas; but it was too late then. He came over to my dug-out about 2 am. I had two tubes of ammonia and gave him that and some tea and kept his mask on (you get more gas from the clothes than from the air) and kept him there the rest of the night and then sent him to the D/S [dressing station] in the morning. He died in Hosp. on the 27th but I do not know what Hosp. and I was too sick myself with the gas to make much enquiry at the time.
He was a School-teacher at Greenbushes; his people live at Jarradale Junction. He was engaged to Miss R. Wright; I have just got her address (Kenilms, Shenton Road, Claremont, W Aus) from his brother and I will write to her myself. "Ronnie' Wallace was a 'white man'; he would have had a commission but got on too well with his men. He was thoughtful for everyone. He had said to me 'I would not call you up; you have done your bit and there are plenty of big Sergts to do the work!
I was a Rifleman at that time; now S/B. He was C Co.
Ronald Wallace's eldest brother, Corporal Stephen Hubert Christian Wallace, was killed in action at Bony on 29 September 1918. His body was never found and he is commemorated on the Villers Bretonneux Memorial.
I SWEAR HE IS TRUE-HEARTED
AND A SOUL NONE BETTER
IN MY KINGDOM
People often ask me if there's a difference between the inscriptions chosen by the families of officers and those chosen by the families of soldiers. In answer I say that it would be less usual for an officer's family to choose something like, "Too dearly loved to be forgotten", or "A silent thought a secret tear will keep his memory of ever dear" but that doesn't mean that the more literary inscriptions come from officers' families. Private Walls' is a case in point.
Mrs Mary Jane Walls chose her husband's inscription and it comes from Shakespeare's Life of King Henry VIII, Act 5 Sc. 1. The King says of Archibishop Cranmer, in his presence, that:
"He's honest, on mine honour. God's blest mother!
I swear he is true-hearted; and a soul
None better in my kingdom."
The context is not relevant to Private Wall's inscription, which doesn't alter the fact that the choice of this quotation is not only very appropriate but also very original.
William Walls was a coal miner, a hewer of coal, so someone who actually worked underground at the coal face. He volunteered when he was 37, before the introduction of conscription, and entered a theatre of war on 25 September 1915. He served with the 20th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers. This was originally a bantam battalion, one that was formed from men below the minimum height requirement for a soldier. This varied over the first few months of the war, originally being 5'3" before settling on 5'2". Many of Walls' fellow soldiers were also miners.
Walls was killed in action on 22 October 1917 in the British attack on Poelcapelle.
WHEN HIS COUNTRY NEEDED HIM
HE MADE NO APPEAL
William Taylor was proud of his brother. How can I tell? Look at the inscription he chose for him. Thomas Hugh Miller was 33 when the war broke out, a self-employed, married man whose household consisted not only of his wife and at least one child but his widowed mother too. His commitments prevented him from volunteering but once conscription was introduced in January 1916 "he made no appeal", meaning he didn't make an appeal to a tribunal to try to get himself excused military service but obeyed the call. He was "a man when his country needed him".
William Taylor himself was 45 when the war broke out. The upper age limit for conscription was 41 until April 1918 when it was extended to include men up to the age of 50. By this time William Taylor was 49; he would never have been expected to serve abroad.
Thomas Miller joined the 7th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment on their return from the Mediterranean theatre of war in July 1916. The battalion took part in the Somme Campaign before moving to Ypres. I can't be sure but he could have been wounded on 4th or 5th October when the battalion war diary recorded: "Attack carried out on enemy positions round Poelcapelle". On the 7th the diary summarised the casualties: 5 officers killed and 2 wounded; 41 other ranks killed and 169 wounded. Miller's name however isn't among the list of wounded. Instead, the Nominal Roll records his death (died of wounds) on the 21st, a day when all the war dairy says is:
Noeux-les-Mines. Battalion relieved 14th D.L.I. in reserve in the AUGUSTE sector. QM stores, 1st line Transport etc. proceeded to MAZINGARBE. 2/Lieut H.W. Ford joined the Battn for duty & posted to B.Coy.
TO HAVE LOVED AND LOST
TO HAVE LOVED AT ALL
6 November 1917
"A gloom was cast over the city this morning with the announcement of the death in action on October 18 of Wilfred Read Eidt, eldest son of Dr and Mrs E Eidt of Cambria Street. The young soldier was one of Stratford's popular young men, with a bright and promising career, but he sacrificed all in the cause of King and country ..."
The Eidt family originally came from Germany. Dr E Eidt, a dentist, was a well-known local politician, an Alderman of the city of Stratford, Ontario. Wilfred Eidt was training to be a teacher when the war broke out. He joined up in November 1916 and served with the 1st Canadian Siege Battery in France. On 18 October 1917 the battery's war diary recorded:
"Oct. 18th 3.50 pm 335007 Gr Eidt WR was killed by a stray shell of 4.2 calibre. Two other men who were alongside of him, at the time, were untouched.
Oct. 19th 3.00 pm The above mentioned was buried in Bully Cemetery where a service, attended by the reliefs off-duty, was held."
Further, rather gruesome, information comes from the diary of a fellow gunner in the battery, Gunner Frank Byron Ferguson, who reported that Eidt had been walking up to the guns at Philosophe with the preacher, a man called Wilson, when a shell hit him, leaving the preacher "with little other than a shrapnel helmet and a cloud of red mist".
Dr Eidt chose his son's inscription. It comes from Tennyson's 'In Memoriam A.H.H.', his extended meditation on life and death, which followed the death of his friend Arthur Hallam in 1833, when Hallam was 23. The relevant canto, no. 27, reads:
I hold it true, what'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most:
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
YOUR LAST FAINT WHISPER
WE THEN SHOULD HAVE HEARD
This is an inscription about the pain of not being present when the person you love dies. To begin with I couldn't imagine what one earth it meant but a search of the In Memoriam columns in early twentieth-century local newspapers provided the context:
Could we have been there at the hour of your death
To have caught the last sigh of your fleeting breath,
Your last faint whisper we then should have heard
And breathed in your ear just one loving word.
Only those who have lost are able to tell
The pain of the heart at not saying farewell.
Twenty-year-old John Haworth's wife, Sarah, chose his inscription; not only could she not be with him when he died but she may never have known how he died and she could neither attend his funeral nor visit his grave. 'The pain of the heart at not saying farewell' must have made 'closure' very difficult.
Haworth had been married in Padiham Parish Church during a leave in July 1917, three months before his death on 17 October. On the 31st, the following appeared in the Burnley Express:
Haworth: In loving memory of Pte. John Ed. Haworth, East Lancashire Regiment, killed Oct. 17th. aged 20 years.
He marched away so bravely
His young head proudly held
His footsteps never faltered
His courage never failed.
From his sorrowing wife and sister Betsy 6, Back Guy Fold, Padiham
John Haworth had been 17 and 6 months when 'he marched away so bravely' with the 1st/5th Battalion on 10 September 1914, not just young but too young to serve abroad. The battalion joined the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in Egypt, its initial task to guard the Suez Canal. In May 1915 it got drawn into the Gallipoli Campaign, was withdrawn in January 1916, returned to Egypt, and then in March 1917 was sent back to Europe. Frederick Gibbon, the author of the 42nd Division History, of which the 1st/5th were a part, noted that:
"The voyage westward across the Mediterranean was made under conditions widely different from those of the outward journey of September 1914, when "the glory of youth glowed in the soul," and the glamour of the East and the call of the unknown had made their appeal to adventurous spirits. Familiarity with war had destroyed illusion and had robbed it of most of its romance."
In September 1917 the battalion was at Nieuport, marking a waterlogged, 6 km line from Nieuport to the sea. The ground was too flooded for either side ever to attack but both sides' artillery kept up a constant bombardment. I don't know how Haworth met his death but an entry in the Marquis du Ruvigny's biographical register of the war dead, which ran out of steam after he'd recorded about 25,000 biographies, says Haworth was killed in action. It also says:
"A letter written on behalf of three of his friends stated: 'He was one of the most popular lads in the company for his cheerfulness and willingness in every work he undertook, and he will be greatly missed by his comrades'."
VESTIGIA NULLA RETRORSUM
I can give you the literal translation of these Latin words - footsteps do not go backwards - but I can't tell you exactly what Cyril Beattie, Malcolm Beattie's father, meant by them. To the 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, whose motto it is, the words mean 'we do not retreat'. To the Earls of Buckingham, whose motto it also is, the words mean, 'we never go backwards'. To some it means that you've taken a step you can't go back on, to others, rather more romantically, that you can't call back time. Looking at Cyril Beattie's family history, I rather wonder whether he meant don't look backwards.
Cyril Robert Beattie was born in Britain but in 1871, aged 7, he and his elder brother Malcolm Hamilton Beattie, 8, were boarders at a school in Kingston, Surrey. This suggests to me that their parents lived abroard, I would guess India. Nine years later Cyril began four years indentured service with the Merchant Navy. In 1893, he emigrated to New Zealand and in 1901 founded Beattie, Lang and Co, dairy and general produce merchants which did a huge trade with Britain. His brother Malcolm went to India where he served with the Bengal Pilot Service on the Hooghly River. Both brothers married and both had sons who they each called after the other.
Malcolm Bartlett Beattie, born in New Zealand in 1896, was educated at Wanganui Collegiate School, which he left in 1914. He sailed for England in February 1915 with the intention of studying medicine but he joined up instead. Commissioned second lieutenant in the 5th Royal Berkshire Regiment on 5 September 1916, he went with it to France the following month. Awarded the Order of the Crown of Belgium and the Belgian Croix de Guerre in August 1917 for rescuing a soldier from the German lines, he was wounded two months later on 15 October and died the next day.
There is another possible explanation for Cyril Beattie's choice of inscription, perhaps he had in mind a poem by the Scottish born, Australian poet William Gay (1865-1897) called Vestigia Nulla Restorum. If so, Cyril Beattie meant that however dark the road you can only keep going forward:
O steep and rugged Life, whose harsh ascent
Slopes blindly upward through the bitter night!
They say that on thy summit, high in light,
Sweet rest awaits the climber, travel-spent;
But I, alas, with dusty garments rent,
With fainting heart and failing limbs and sight,
Can see no glimmer of the shining height,
And vainly list with body forward bent,
To catch athwart the gloom one wandering note
Of those glad anthems which (they say) are sung
When one emerges from the mists below:
But though, O Life, thy summit be remote
And all thy stony path with darkness hung,
Yet ever upward through the night I go.
TO MEET SOON IN HEAVEN
IS THE DESIRE OF YOUR
FOND MOTHER, MARY MAGUIRE
Redmond Maguire was his mother's eldest son; she had two other sons and three daughters but you can see the effect Redmond's death had on her. The comforting belief that families would be reunited in heaven is obvious in many many inscriptions but somehow Mrs Maguire's is particularly affecting.
The family came from Co. Cork. The Irish census is interesting because, unlike the English one, it asks your religion - the Maguires were all Roman Catholic. It also asks whether you can read and write; Michael and Mary Maguire, Redmond's parents, could both read and write. And it asks what languages you speak; Michael and Mary both spoke English and Irish. All the children, those who were old enough to speak, only spoke English.
Redmond doesn't appear with the rest of the family in the 1911 census. Aged 15 he was away working somewhere. Three years later he joined the army on the outbreak of war - his army number, 6308, indicating that he joined before January 1915. He served with the newly formed 2nd Battalion Irish Guards and went with them to France on 17 August 1915. He died of wounds in 2 Canadian General Hospital, Le Treport on 15 October 1917. I would imagine that these were received during the 2nd Battalions's participation in the Third Ypres Campaign at Poelcapelle. When it came out of the front line on 13 October, having been there since the 9th, the Battalion had suffered one officer and 20 other ranks killed, and 89 other ranks wounded.
TONY AND LEILA'S
DARLING ONLY CHILD
LOVED AND MOURNED BY MANY
Well, this wasn't what I was expecting. From his personal inscription, which his mother chose, I had created an image of a cherished only child at the heart of a loving family. Instead of which I found that Leila Percival had divorced her husband (Tony) in 1909 for "adultery coupled with cruelty".
In 1901, at the age of 9, Percival was living - the census says nephew not visitor - with his uncle, Arthur Strauss, at 1 Kensington Palace Gardens, even then one of the best addresses in London. Arthur was married to Leila's sister Minna Cohen. 'Tony', a photographer, and Leila lived in Maida Vale. By the time of the 1911 census Anthony Percival had emigrated to Canada. At which time his mother, now a widow, was living alone in London. Hardly the happy family I'd envisaged from the inscription.
From Canada, where he worked in a bank, Percival enlisted on 24 October 1914. From information Leila Percival gave to the Imperial War Museum when she sent it a photograph of her son for their collection, she says that he served initially with the 28th Saaskatchewan Battalion, Canadian Infantry, then in August 1915 received a commission in the 14th Battalion Middlesex Regiment before transferring in March 1916 to the Machine Gun Corps. He went to France in August that year, served with the 95th Company and died of wounds in hospital in St Sever on 15 October 1917. There is no information as to where, when or how he was wounded.
"At the usual evening hour the chapel bell began to toll, and Thomas Newcome's hands outside the bed feebly beat a time. And just as the last bell struck, a peculiar sweet smile shone over his face, and he lifted up his head a little, and quickly said, "Adsum!" and fell back. It was the word we used at school, when names were called; and lo, he. whose heart was as that of a little child, had answered his name, and stood in the presence of The Master."
The Newcomes 1855
William Makepeace Thackeray 1811-1863
This is a very touching and many-layered inscription. The fictional Colonel Thomas Newcome, who died at The Charterhouse, was educated at Charterhouse School, just as Thackeray had been - and Cyril Beachcroft too. 'Adsum' is the word Carthusians answered and still answer to their names at registration. It means 'present', and on a gravestone it implies still living and present with Christ.
The name Colonel Newcome became a byword for a virtuous man, a gentle, even perhaps a literary, soldier. So much so that when in 1906 the playwright Michael Morton adapted The Newcomes for the stage under the title 'Colonel Newcome', there was much public speculation about which actor might be worthy enough to play the role - and much dubious criticism when Herbert Beerbohm-Tree was chosen. Some people thought his German ancestry made him unsuitable; the idea of his 'guttural accents' uttering the famous 'Adsum' was too much for them to contemplate. In the event, Tree was a triumph in the role. The play was even more popular when it was revived during the First World War. Tree, still in the title role, toured with it through the United States and Canada during the winter of 1916-17. The ostensible aim of the tour was to raise money for Britain's wounded soldiers, but presumably it was hoped it might also raise support for Britain's war.
In 1914, Cyril Beachcroft, a solicitor with the family firm of Beachcroft, Thompson, Hay and Ledward, was married with two daughters. Having been a member of the Inns of Court OTC between 1909 and 1912 he rejoined it immediately on the outbreak of war. By October 1914 he had been commissioned into the Dorset Yeomanry where he spent the three years on home service, training troops. In July 1917 he requested a transfer to the Household Battalion, an infantry battalion drawn from reserve units of the Household Cavalry, so that he could be sent to the front. Within six weeks of his arrival he was dead, killed leading his men into an attack at Poelcapelle, his body not recovered from the battlefield until December 1919.
It was his wife who chose his inscription, linking him through a single word with Charterhouse, the Resurrection and a fine, even though fictional, English gentleman.
Beachcroft, who had managed to survive for the junior officer's classic six weeks, also earned a classic tribute from one of his fellow officers:
"We all feel we have lost a man who can never be replaced ... Quite fearless, and always cheerful; he is an example of all one loves best in a man."
There you have it - fearless and cheerful, it's what soldiers most admired in each other.
Cyril Beachcroft's elder bother, Eric, served with the Dorset Yeomanry in Palestine where he was severely wounded in November 1917. Invalided home, he remained in hospital and then convalescent until discharged from the army in 1919.
"SECOND TO NONE"
Second to none, in other words, in a class of his own, unmatchable. It's a lovely inscription for a father to choose for his son. As it's in inverted commas, I thought it must have been a quote from something like a letter of condolence but then James Kerr (@JamesKerr125) pointed out to me that it is in fact a translation of the Coldstream Guards' motto 'Nulli Secundus'.
Ralph Babington was the youngest of five sons. One gets the feeling that he was not robust. In fact one of the reports following his death refers to the fact that "In that small body there was a giant heart". He seems to have been intended for a career in the navy but after spending some time as a cadet at the Royal Naval College, Osborne his health broke down when he was 14 and it was a year before he recovered enough to be sent to Eton. In 1916, when he was 17, he went to Sandhurst, all the time desperate that the war might be over before he'd had a chance to take a part in it. His chance came soon enough and unfortunately it was his life that was over before the war was.
Babington's medal card says that he first entered a theatre of war on 9 October 1917 and that he was killed in action on the 9 November but the 9 October was the date of his death so it's not really possible to say how long he'd been at the front. He was killed when the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards took part in an assault near Ypres between "Broembeke and Houlthoulet Forrest". According to a report in the Eton Chronicle: "He was leading his platoon to the forming-up area on the night of October 8-9, when a German shell burst close to him, killing him instantaneously, and many of his men".
Babington was one of the 5 officers and 35 other ranks killed that day.
WORTHY THE NAME
OF AN ENGLISHMAN
There are no quotation marks round this inscription, nevertheless it is a quotation. However, I think the saying must have had a life of its own separate from the book in which it appears as the context is humorous rather than noble. Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), in his book, Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879), describes how, losing patience with his donkey's slow pace, he decides to hit her. After the third attempt, the others having had no effect, he declares, "I am worthy the name of an Englishman, and it goes against my conscience to lay my hand rudely on a female". So feeling extremely guilty, especially as the donkey is exhibiting signs of distress, he stops beating her at which the donkey goes slower and slower. Eventually they are overtaken by a peasant who initially sympathises with Stevenson and then falls about laughing saying that the donkey has fooled him. The peasant picks up a stick and beats the donkey soundly whereupon it picks up its heels and trots along happily, showing no signs of distress and never slowing down. You can see why I think the quotation must have had a life of its own separate from Stevenson's book.
John Scholes' sister chose his inscription, both parents were dead. Scholes was a volunteer; his medal card shows that he entered a theatre of war on 5 May 1915, which would fit with him having enlisted in the 2nd/5th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers in September 1914. On the day Scholes died of wounds, the 2nd/5th had been out of the front line training and resting since 23 September when they came out of action on the Menin Road, which is probably when Scholes was wounded.
IN THAT RICH EARTH
A RICHER DUST CONTAINS
This may not be its most famous line but it certainly comes from one of the most famous poems of the First World War, Rupert Brooke's The Soldier, of which this is verse 1:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever 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,
A body of England's breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
Lines two and three are, not surprisingly, a popular inscription. Stanley Ede's father chose line four, changing the word 'conceals' to 'contains'. When relations change words it's difficult to know whether they've just misremembered the original or whether they meant it. I think Mr William Edward Ede meant it - the earth should be proud to contain his son's 'richer dust', whereas there could be something furtive about concealing it.
The poem is full of nostalgic melancholy:
And think this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
William Edward Ede emigrated to Australia with his wife and three children in 1912. Having been born and grown up in Devon, is there a longing for the old country and the old days concealed in his choice of inscription? The family are Australians now, that is why his son's grave cannot be 'forever England'.
And there could be a deeper regret too. When Stanley Ede joined up on 1 May 1915 he declared he was 18 and 3 months. A handwritten note beside this answer says, "Parents consent attached". However, according to the British records, Ede was born in the first quarter of 1898. He was therefore only 17 and 3 months. A fact confirmed by his father on the circular for the Roll of Honour of Australia when he gives his son's age at death as 19 and 9 months.
Ede, a plumber, served with the 12th Field Company Australian Engineers. Sturdy and of fresh complexion, Ede was, according to his comrades, "full of fun and almost invariably singing". A witness told the Australian Red Cross that he "was killed at Zonnebeke by a piece of shell which hit him in the neck and killed him outright".
TO GREET THE SUN
UPON THE UPLAND LAWN
Victor Woodcock's father chose a lovely image of death for his son's inscription. It makes it sound as though Woodcock just flew into the rising sun as it appeared above the grassland hills; an beautiful image for a Royal Flying Corps pilot. As it was, Woodcock and his observer crashed to the ground during a formation-flying training session, Woodcock having only joined the Squadron eight days earlier.
The inscription is based on a line from Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard; there's just one word different, Gray wrote to meet the sun, not greet the sun. Not that that makes any difference to the sense of the inscription. However, whatever sense Mr Woodcock intended was not what Gray meant by the words. To Gray they were just part of a description of an old countryman:
"Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn."
Victor Woodcock was the son of a Master Grocer from Leeds. Ultimately destined for the Methodist Ministry, he spent two years at Leeds University studying Engineering. In January 1916 he took a commission in the Northumberland Fusiliers and served with them throughout 1916. In January 1917 he got his aviator's certificate and a commission in the Royal Flying Corps. In September 1917 he joined 3 Squadron eight days before he was killed.
GREAT CLOISTER'S STILLNESS
WHOM WE CALL DEAD
The American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) is the author of a surprising number of headstone inscriptions of which this is one. It comes from his poem, Resignation, composed following the death of his daughter Fanny. Longfellow holds out the consolation that "oftentimes celestial benedictions / assume this dark disguise", and what seem to us "but sad, funereal tapers / may be heaven's distant lamps".
There is no Death! What seems so is transition;
This life of mortal breath
Is but a suburb of the life elysian,
Whose portal we call Death.
It is in the 'life elysian'
In that great cloister's stillness and seclusion,
By guardian angels led,
Safe from temptation, safe from sin's pollution,
She lives, whom we call dead.
Harry Richards was a gunner serving with the 46th Battery 12th Australian Field Artillery Brigade at Zillebeke when he was killed near the Menin Road. A witness told the Red Cross Enquiry Bureau:
"He was dark, cleanshaven, slim, about 5'6", and about 21 or 22. He was killed whilst mending our telephone wire on 1st Oct. on the Passchendaele front. I was told this by Sig. Norman Potts, who was with him at the Dickebusch and a cross put over his grave."
Richards' South Australian Division Red Cross file can be read here. Unusually, it not only names his mother as his next-of-kin, but also his fiancee, Miss Doris Baldwin.
THY WAY, NOT MINE, O LORD
HOWEVER DARK IT BE
Just six graves down from Ernest Hargraves's, Walter Pawson's mother chose 'Thy will be done' for her son's personal inscription. These words from the Lord's Prayer are those most frequently used on war-grave headstones. However, Ernest Hargrave's mother makes an even more emphatic statement of submission to God's will with her choice from the first verse of a mid-nineteenth-century hymn by Horatius Bonar:
Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
However dark it be;
Lead me by thine own hand,
Choose out the path for me.
Mrs Hargrave's was a widow who kept a boarding house in Clapham. Ernest was the eldest of her two children; Arthur, her other son, would have been 8 when Ernest died. God's 'way' must have felt very dark to her.
There are twenty war graves in East Boldre Churchyard, nineteen of them relate to accidents at the Flying Training School there. According to a newspaper report, Hargrave's was one of two fatal accidents within twenty-four hours of each other. In Hargrave's case:
"On Saturday, Second Lieutenant Ernest Hargrave ascended, but when at height of 200 ft his machine nose-dived and crashed to the earth, resulting in his death from fracture of the skull."
The verdict of a subsequent inquiry concluded that it had been 'death by mis-adventure'.
TODAY AND YESTERDAY
BUT LESS THAN TOMORROW
This inscription is a contraction of the best-known lines - I could say the only known lines - of the French poet Louis-Rose-Eiennette Gerard, known as Rosemonde Gerard (1871-1953). They come from L'Eternelle Chanson, (The Eternal Song), which she dedicated to her husband, Edmond Rostand (1868-1918):
Car, vois-tu, chaque jour je t'aime davantage,
Aujourd'hui plus qu' hier et biend moins que demain.
For, you see, each day I love you more,
Today more than yesterday and less than tomorrow.
Gerard intended it as a declaration of ever-growing love for her husband; Mrs Burgess as a declaration of undying love for hers.
Norman Algernon Burgess was born in Robertsbridge, Sussex in 1883 where his father ran a corn and seed merchant's business. At some point he emigrated to Canada from where he enlisted, in Winnipeg, on 17 December 1914.
Burgess served with the 2nd Canadian Division Ammunition Column and came back to England to be married to Joan Frances Hodson in Salehurst on 2 September 1915. Just over two years later, in the middle of a mass of adminstrative details the war diary reported:
22 September 1917: "4 OR on leave. No 367 Gnr Burgess, N.A. died. Medical Officers report obstruction of Glotles [glottis?]. 5 OR to First Army Rest Camp ... "
OF THE MARTYR'S BAND
SO EARLY PLUCKED
BY CRUEL HAND
Gunner Hawksworth's inscription comes from the first two lines of a hymn written by the Revd John Dykes (1823-1877).
Sweet flowerets of the martyr band,
So early plucked by cruel hand;
Like rosebuds by a tempest torn,
As breaks the light of summer morn;
The hymn is based on a line from a poem by the Roman poet Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (c.348 - c.413). Clemens' poem writes graphically about the slaughter of the children by King Herod's 'cruel hand' on Holy Innocents' Day, 28 December, describing the children as, 'salvete, flores martyrum', 'torn by the storm on earth but now flowers in heaven'.
Hawksworth's mother chose his inscription. Martyr isn't a word that relations often used, sacrifice, yes, martyrdom, no - perhaps it's too Catholic a concept for a Protestant nation. John Joseph was her only child. Born in Edensor, Derbyshire where his father farmed, mother was living in Walcot, Shropshire when she chose her son's inscription, just 10 miles from Dawley where she had been born.
Hawksworth, a volunteer, served with 81st Battery, Royal Field Artillery. According to his medal roll, he arrived in France on 16 March 1915, which means that he was a volunteer. He died of wounds in a base hospital in Etaples on 19 September 1917.
FORGIVE MY GRIEF
FOR ONE REMOVED
WHOM I FOUND SO FAIR
John Porteous Hill's inscription quotes the ninth stanza of Tennyson's In Memoriam, his extended lament on the death of his friend Arthur Hallam:
Forgive my grief for one removed,
Thy creature, whom I found so fair.
I trust he lives in thee, and there
I find him worthier to be loved.
John Hill's father, a commercial traveller, chose it for his eldest son who joined the army in Edinburgh on 10 July 1916 when he was 18 and 9 months. By June 1917 Hill was in France, serving with the 15th Battalion Royal Scots. On 28 August he received gun shot wounds in his back and arm and was admitted to No. 6 General Hospital , Rouen. On the 29th his condition was described as 'serious', two days later it was upgraded to 'dangerous'. He died that day.
LET THY WEALTH BE COUNTED
NOT IN GOLD, BUT SOULS
Ernest Rounce's father references 'Non Angli Sed Angeli', a poem by the Revd Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy published in More Rough Rhymes of a Padre (1919). An inspirational Church of England padre, Studdert-Kennedy was probably better known by his nickname, Woodbine Willie, which came from his habit of generously dishing out cigarettes (Woodbines) along with his religious homilies. During the war he ardently encouraged soldiers to battle, but afterwards he became an equally ardent pacifist and socialist. 'Non Angli Sed Angeli' hints as this.
The title refers to a story Bede (672/3 - 735) related in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. It dates from 590 when Pope Gregory the Great came across some faired-haired, fair-skinned people being sold in a slave market in Rome. When he asked what they were he was told they were Angles. He is reported to have replied, 'Non Angli sed angeli', not Angles but angels.
Studdert-Kennedy's poem is a plea that the men who died for freedom should not be betrayed by the new slavery of capitalism, "the minotaur of Mammon":
"Shall wealth still grow and woe increase to breed
In filthy slums the slaves of poverty?"
If this happens:
"Then blessed are the dead who die in war,
Their bodies shattered but their souls untouched
By slime of sin, unpoisoned by the snake.
For war is kinder than a Godless peace.
O England, let this message from the past
Ring down the ages like a trumpet call,
Not Angles these but angels, souls not slaves.
Let thy wealth be counted not in sov'reigns
But in souls .... "
What did Ernest Rounce's father, a Metropolitan police constable, mean by his choice of inscription? He hasn't quoted the poem exactly but it's definitely the source. I think he was at one with Studdert-Kennedy, make England a country fit for those who fought and died for it not just a rich country that benefitted the wealthy.
Rounce served with C Battery, 76th Brigade Royal Field Artillery. He is buried in a dressing station cemetery just outside the village of Vlamertinge not far from Ypres. My assumption would be that he died soon after he'd been wounded, on the same day - 23 August 1917.
A NATIVE OF MOSCOW, RUSSIA
ENLISTED IN NEWFOUNDLAND REGIMENT
There's a problem with the personal inscriptions belonging to members of the Newfoundland Regiment - every single one of them was signed for by Lt. Colonel T. Nangle, Director of Graves Registration and Enquiries, 39 Victoria St, London SW1. I have always assumed that Nangle simply dealt with the British end of the paper work, that families having chosen an inscription left it to him to see it through. However, now I'm not so sure, or certainly not sure that it was true in all cases.
The Newfoundland Regiment's records have been digitised and can be found online. From Foaley's attestation form we can see that he gave his full address as 1 Cave Street, Moscow, that in answer to the question "Are you a British subject?" he replied "No, Russian", and to the question, "Have you ever served in any Branch of His Majesty's Forces, naval or military, if so, which?" his answer was, "No (was in Russian Army)". The form was dated 24 November 1916, the date that appears on his headstone.
Foaley's Newfoundland draft arrived in France on 12 June 1917. His active service Casualty Form records that he was wounded in action a month later, on 10 July, in his left hand. Discharged to duty on 31 July, he rejoined his battalion on 4 August. Ten days later, on 14 August, he was wounded in action again. Admitted to No. 6 Casualty Clearing Station with shell wounds in his face and abdomen, he died nine days later.
Foaley named his brother, Stanisloff Foaley, 1 Cave Street, Moscow, as his next-of-kin. The word certainly looks like 'brother' anyway. However, when the time came to dispose of his estate, the Newfoundland authorities had a problem. As the Department of Justice wrote on 29 November 1918:
"I think an effort should be made to ascertain if his given next of kin, his brother, is still in Moscow. Owing to the unsettled condition of Russia at the present time, and the prospects that its condition will remain unsettled for a long time yet, it may be difficult to get in touch with the brother of the decesased."
The same problem arose over despatching Foaley's medals in 1922. Enquiries had been made at his last known address in Newfoundland where "his landlady and friend", Mrs William Hollett, 1 Duckworth Street, St John's, told them that Foaley's father died before Foaley came to Newfoundland, that his mother had died after they had been here about three months and that one brother had been killed fighting for the Russians. None of this helped with the disposal of his medals, which were returned to the War Office.
You can see why I wonder who chose Foaley's inscription, and why I doubt that it was his brother and think that it might have been composed by Lt Colonel T Nangle himself. If so, he did a good job of giving Dominic Foaley an identity.
LATE OF CEYLON
Yesterday's casualty came from Siberia to fight, today's returned from Ceylon. I don't know what he was doing in Ceylon but it's a fair guess that he was a tea planter.
Richard Powell - his name was Richard despite the fact that the War Graves Commission has him as Captain C Powell - was born in Munslow, Shropshire, the eldest son of the rector George Bather Powell whose family had held the living since 1776, and continued to hold it until Richard Powell's brother, Edward, resigned it in 1965.
It's a curious inscription for a rector to choose for his son - 'Late of Ceylon' - no mention of God, no quote from the bible, nor from a hymn. It crossed my mind that perhaps Richard Powell, his father's eldest son, had made it clear that the religious life of his ancestors was not for him. If he did it doesn't appear to have caused any lasting animosity since a brass plaque in St Michael's Church, Munslow, links him firmly to his home:
Richard Powell, Captain RFA
And of Ceylon, Eldest son of
Rev GB Powell, Rector of this Parish
Was wounded in Flanders 4th August 1917
And died in hospital at Le Trepot
France, 22nd August 1917
HE CAME FROM SIBERIA
I can't tell you what Leslie Desprez was doing in Siberia but I think I can guess. Both his father, Philip Victor Desprez, and his older brother, Rene Victor Desprez, were commercial travellers so the chances are that Leslie Adrian Desprez was one too. The opening up of Siberia, following the building of the Trans-Siberian railway, presented huge commercial opportunities to the industrialised nations. It was seen a region of 'vast promise', a 'land of limitless possibilities', Russia's Canada. The British had been slow into the field and not only the Americans but the Germans, Austrians and Swedes were well ahead of the game during the first decade of the 20th Century. However, this is probably why Desprez was in Siberia when the war broke out.
Some men saw the outbreak of war as a commercial opportunity for Britain since, they argued, the Russians were not likely to want to do business with an enemy country. However, Desprez obviously didn't feel he could remain in the region to exploit this opportunity; he came home "to fight". He served with "D" Company, 2nd Battalion Middlesex Regiment and died of wounds in a casualty clearing station at Lijssenthoek on 16 August 1916. It's not possible to tell exactly when he was wounded but the battalion war diary summarises its August casualties as, "3 killed, 7 wounded, all privates", whereas among its July casualties were, "1 officer killed and 5 ORs killed, 3 corporals wounded and one lance corporal". That one lance corporal was probably Leslie Desprez, wounded when "D" Company were in the front line near Blangy between 27/28th and 30/31st July.
OF UPRIGHT LIFE
AND STAINLESS PURITY
Arthur Eld was a very particular kind of Edwardian; not a subject of King Edward VII, although he had been one of those, but a former pupil of King Edward VI's Five-Ways Grammar School in Birmingham. He had been a star pupil, consistently coming among the top in his class, particularly in science. He left school in 1914 and began working as a chemist. Having attested on 11 December 1915, he was not called up until March 1917. He went to France on 25 May 1917.
On 14 July 1917, Eld was posted to No. 4 Special Company Royal Engineers. I would suggest that his skills as a chemist had been recognized since these special companies were gas warfare units; No. 4 was a gas mortar unit, firing gas shells from 4-inch Stokes mortars. Eld did not last very long. He was dead a month later.
His parents established the Eld Memorial Prize at King Edward's Five-Ways in their son's memory. First awarded in 1919, it was initially intended as a prize for science. However, by 1925 it had been divided into two prizes, one for science and one for sport. Both prizes are still awarded.
HOW I MISS THE SUNSHINE
OF YOUR SMILE
Frederick Miller's mother referenced a popular love song, The Sunshine of Your Smile, for her son's inscription. Written in 1913 with lyrics by Leonard Cooke and music by Lilian Ray, the song was recorded several times during the war years - you can hear this 1916 recording by John McCormack here.
Dear face that holds so sweet a smile for me,
Were you not mine, how dark the world would be!
I know no light above that could replace
Love's radiant sunshine in your dear, dear face.
Give me your smile, the love-light in your eyes,
Life could not hold a fairer Paradise!
Give me the right to love you all the while,
My world for ever, the sunshine of your smile!
Shadows may fall upon the land and sea,
Sunshine from all the world may hidden be;
But I shall see no cloud across the sun;
Your smile shall light my life, till life is done.
Frederick Miller was the eldest of his parents' seven surviving children - six boys and one girl. At the time of the 1911 census the family - parents, children and grandmother - lived in four rooms in Poplar where father, Henry, was a house and ship painter. Frederick served with the 21st Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps and died of wounds in a casualty clearing station on 14 August 1917. The battalion war diary records:
"On the morning of the 14th August a raid was attempted against enemy dugouts. The heavy condition of the ground and the heavy enemy machine gun fire prevented the party from reaching their objectives and they returned with slight casualties."
Was Miller one of the 'slight casualties'?
OF WHOM THE WORLD
WAS NOT WORTHY
George Smillie's mother chose his inscription. To begin with I thought it sounded rather defensively bitter - the world was not worthy of my son who was killed for you undeserving lot. Then I discovered it was a quote from the bible, Hebrews 11:38:
"And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth."
The meaning here is that these men, who suffered all these hardships, were good men who did not deserve it. They were not worthy of this fate because they were among the best of men, and yet this happened to them. I imagine that this is what Mrs Smillie meant to imply by her choice.
George Smillie's medal card shows that he was commissioned from the rank of Warrant Officer in May 1917. He had first entered a theatre of war on 12 December 1914, serving in both India and France, latterly with the 121st Brigade Royal Field Artillery. He died of wounds received near Ypres.
HAD HE ASKED US, WE WOULD CRY
OH SPARE HIM LORD
WE LOVE HIM
LET HIM STAY
'Had he asked us'; had who asked us? The answer is God. Had God asked Walter Melling's family they would have pleaded with Him to spare Walter, to let him stay because they loved him. This is not an unusual inscription, nor can it have been an uncommon sentiment, but it is far more usual to come across inscriptions that accept God's will - 'We cannot Lord Thy purpose see but all is well that's done by Thee'.
Walter Melling's mother, Elizabeth, chose the inscription. She would have been particularly keen for her eldest son to be allowed to live as her husband, Walter's father, had died at the age of 50 just a few months earlier and she still had a six-year-old son to look after.
Walter enlisted on 8 December 1915 when he was 19. He didn't go to France until 7 February 1917, when he was 20. He was wounded 'in the field' on 10 August 1917, the casualty form, which has unusually survived, baldly recording - gun shot wounds scrotum, forearm and leg. He died in a casualty clearing station the next day.
OF KILLARA, SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA
Corporal Alan Maschwitz was a long way from home when he died of 'penetrating' shrapnel wounds to his left thigh on 11 August 1917. He came from Killara, a leafy suburb of Sydney, where his parents had recently built themselves a house, Lyttleton, close to the golf course. I suspect that golf was an important part of the family's life; Alan is listed on the Killara Golf Club Roll of Honour, which at one time awarded a Maschwitz Cup - and perhaps still does - and Mr William Percy Maschwitz, Alan's father, served as both president and vice-president of the club.
Maschwitz left school in 1913 and went to work on a sheep station as a jackaroo, someone who was learning the business in order to become an owner, overseer or manager. He joined up in 1915 and sailed for Suez on 18 December 1915. In March 1916 he became a member of the newly-formed 104th Howitzer Battery, Australian Field Artillery and served with them from May 1916 until his death in August 1917.
Alan Maschwitz was his parents only child. Born on 24 November 1896, he was still only 20 when he died.
OF 52, POLLOK ST
There's something about this inscription: Mr James Freer, who chose it for his son, didn't give his son's Christian name (I got that from his medal card), didn't give his age (I worked that out from the census), didn't provide any of the usual family information for the War Graves Commission's records, but did give the family's address as his son's personal inscription. A precise inscription, but quite anonymous too as I can't be the only person not to know where Pollokshaws is. And why didn't Mr Freer provide any other information about his son? Pollokshaws, by the way, was once a separate community but is now a suburb of Glasgow.
Yesterday's casualty lived at 51 Evelyn Gardens, South Kensington, today's at 52 Pollok Street, Pollokshaws, two very different residencies although unfortunately I can't tell you exactly what Pollock Street was like since the whole area was redeveloped in the 1950s and very little of it remains. I know enough to be able to say that it was a tenement, a flat, probably built in the early 20th century. It won't have been grand since James Freer senior obviously made money where he could: in the 1881 census he was an umbrella maker, in 1891 a coal salesman and 1901 a wood merchant who sold firewood, whereas the owner of 51 Evelyn Gardens was the Senior General Manager of the National Provincial Bank. But the two fathers had the same instinct - in using the family address for their son's personal inscription they were bringing him back home where he belonged.
Freer served with the 1/6th Black Watch and was most likely wounded on 31 July / 1 August when the battalion took part in the opening attack of the Third Ypres campaign at Pilckem Ridge. I say most likely because the battalion had spent most of July in training for the attack and, having been relieved on 1 August, it spent the rest of August resting, cleaning kit and training again.
The 1901 census shows there to have been three Freer brothers: Hugh, Andrew and James. Andrew Freer, serving with Drake Battalion Royal Naval Division, was killed in action on 23 March 1918 in the German Spring Offensive. His body was never identified and he is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.
OF 51, EVELYN GARDENS
I have found it strange when families used their home address as a personal inscription. The casualty's address was automatically recorded by the War Graves Commission, there was no need to make it the inscription. But perhaps it was a way to bring the dead man home, to reclaim him from the battlefield. The repatriation of bodies having been forbidden, this was a way to tell the world, or at least any one who walked passed his grave, where he belonged, where he'd come from.
Number 51 Evelyn Gardens was quite a grand address; a large, eleven-roomed house in a very smart part of London where in 1911 Mr and Mrs Thomas Estall lived with their 20 year-old son, Arthur Cecil, and three members of staff - a cook and two parlour maids. Mr Thomas Estall was Senior General Manager of the National Provincial Bank, Arthur Cecil was a clerk at the Bank of England. Yet I don't think it was the status of the address that made his father chose it as the inscription, plenty of other relations chose very humble addresses as inscriptions, I do think it was a matter of bringing the dead man home to where he belonged.
Cecil, as he was known, had been a member of the Honourable Artillery Company since 1909. On the outbreak of war he volunteered for foreign service and went with the 1st Battalion to France in October 1914. He was invalided home on 29 December 1914. There is no information as to what happened to him but page 25 of 'The Honourable Artillery Company in the Great War' relates how appalling their conditions had been:
"Our trenches had been made by the French, and were nothing but ditches full of liquid mud; there was no wire in front, and no material of any kind, nor were there any communication trenches. The only way the front line could be approached was over the open through a sea of mud, and across a bullet-swept area. Bullets came though the parapets as though they had been butter. In some of the trenches, the parapet was only breast high, and in order to get cover the men had to sit in the mud on the floor of the trench, and very often a man would find himself sitting on the chest of a mutely protesting Frenchman who had been lying there for a month or six weeks."
By the end of December, "a great number of men were suffering from exhaustion, exposure and frostbite. It turned out afterwards that this turn in the trenches cost the Battalion 12 officers and 250 men".
In March 1915, Estall received a commission in the Army Service Corps and in August joined the newly formed HQ Company Guards Division Train, a unit of the Army Service Corps. On 15 February 1917, The Times announced the news of his engagement to Miss Brenda Perronet Sells and then on 11 August, almost exactly six months later, the news of his death:
ESTALL - On the 8th Aug. of wounds received in action on the 6th Aug. Captain Arthur Cecil Estall, 51 Evelyn Gardens, SW, aged 26.
Every 8 August for the next twenty-six years, Cecil's mother remembered his death in The Times:
ESTALL - In memory of my only son A.C. Estall, "Cecil", who was wounded at Ypres 6th August 1917, died on the 8th, 7th Stationary Hospital, Boulogne, and was buried at the Eastern Cemetery, Boulogne.
A SACRIFICE TO RIGHT
"They are members of a team playing together in the greatest game of all. Their common heroism, their common sufferings in a common cause binds them with a tie such as never before been forged.
We British are not fighting merely to defend our commerce or even our homes from aggression; you Americans have not crossed the Atlantic merely to protect your shores; it is a higher cause that has brought us into the field together.
It is to protect the weak, to insure the reign of freedom and justice among future generations.
It is to defend right against might.
These are the highest ideals that men can live for. Those men at the front are sacrificing themselves for this ideal and for the good of the coming generation.
So you younger citizens owe a pretty big debt to your fathers and brothers who are standing for you at the front today. It is up to you to make their sacrifice worth while by yourselves playing the game in turn."
'Playing the Game' by Lt General Robert Baden-Powell
published in Boys Life The Boys Scouts [of America] Magazine July 1918
This article may have been published in an American magazine but you can see how Mr and Mrs Wright got the idea that their son Bert had sacrificed himself for right against might. It wouldn't have been the first time such sentiments had been expressed; they must have been commonplace in the Boy Scout movement throughout Britain, the Empire and Commonwealth - and not only in the Boy Scout movement.
Herbert Wright served with the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards and was killed in action near Boesinghe on 14 September 1917. His body was found two years later, six months after the death of his father.
GOD GRANT THE SACRIFICE
BE NOT IN VAIN
This is another quotation from one of John Oxenham's poems. It comes from Epilogue 1914 published in All's Well Some Helpful Verse for these Dark Days of War. Oxenham blames the Kaiser for the war:
Thy slaughterings, - thy treacheries, - thy thefts, -
Thy broken pacts, - thy honour in the mire, -
Thy poor humanity cast off to sate thy pride; -
'Twere better thou hadst never lived, - or died
After several verses of accusation Oxenham asks, in capital letters, 'AND AFTER .......... WHAT?'
God grant the sacrifice be not in vain!
Those valiant souls who set themselves with pride
To hold Thy ways ... and fought ... and died, -
They rest with Thee.
So Mrs May, who chose her son's inscription, is taking comfort from Oxenham's assurance, that, 'no drop of hero's blood e'er runs to waste' because God, in His acknowledgeably obscure ways, will use it to ensure 'nobler doings', 'loftier hope' and 'all-embracing and enduring peace'.
Thomas May originally served as a private with the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps, a volunteer reserve regiment based in Kandy, Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, which was made up of European tea and rubber planters. As, apart from his birth in Chertsey in 1891, there is no mention of either him or his parents in any of the census records, I am assuming that he grew up in Ceylon. He served with the Planters, guarding the Suez Canal, from 7 November 1914 until they were then sent to Gallipoli the following summer. In July 1916 he was commissioned into the Machine Gun Corps and was serving with the 143rd Company when he was killed in action on the 6 August 1917.