WE FIND IN OUR DULL ROAD
THEIR SHINING TRACK
IN EVERY NOBLER MOOD
The poetry and songs of the American Civil War are the source of several original personal inscriptions. This one comes from 'Ode Recited at the Harvard Commemoration July 21 1865' by James Russell Lowell (1819-1891). On 21 July 1865, Harvard held a commemoration service to honour their 590 alumni who had served in the Civil War, 1861-1865, and in particular the 99 who had died. It was a huge, solemn and emotional occasion and Lowell's Ode made a deep and lasting impression.
Lowell , who was the Smith Professor of Modern Languages at the university, acknowledged that,
"We sit here in the Promised Land
That flows with Freedom's honey and milk;
But 'twas they who won it, sword in hand,
Making the nettle danger soft for us as silk."
"In these brave ranks, I only see the gaps,
Thinking of dear ones whom the dumb turf wraps,
Dark to the triumph which they died to gain:"
It was from the following section that Lewis Whitfield's father chose his inscription:
We rather seem the dead that stayed behind.
Blow, trumpets, all your exultations blow!
For never shall their aureoled presence lack:
I see them muster in a gleaming row,
With ever-youthful brows that nobler show;
We find in our dull road their shining track;
In every nobler mood
We feel the orient of their spirit glow,
Part of our life's unalterable good,
Of all our saintlier aspiration;
They come transfigured back,
Secure from change in their high-hearted ways,
Beautiful evermore, and with the rays
Of morn on their white Shields of Expectation!
Just as in Shelley's 'Adonais' and Binyon's 'For the Fallen', these youthful dead are now 'secure from change', and 'beautiful evermore'. The comfort such words offer the bereaved is obvious.
I can find out very little about Lewis Hayes Whitfield. He was born in Fulham in October 1898, his father Lewis Lincoln Whitfield, was a solicitor and he had one sibling, a brother who was four years younger than him. Educated at Clayesmore School, then in Middlesex, he joined the Royal Flying Corps and died of wounds in a Casualty Clearing Station on 30 October 1917 aged 19.
THE PUNKAH STOPS
AND FALLS THE NIGHT
FOR YOU OR ME
What's a punkah and what did Major Stratton's widow see in these words to think they made a suitable inscription? A punkah is large piece of cloth, like a short curtain, suspended from the ceiling on a frame and moved forwards and backwards across the ceiling by a cord to cool the air (a punkah wallah was the man who pulled the cord). The words come from Kipling's poem The Last Department; however well you've done in the world, to whichever department you've been promoted, the last department is always death and you can be 'promoted' there on a whim without any warning:
"A breath of wind, a Border bullet's flight,
A draught of water, or a horse's fright - "
In India, any of these could be the cause of sudden death, at which point, "ceases, the punkah stops, and falls the night for you or me".
Why did Mrs Stratton think this was a suitable inscription? Major Stratton served with the 10th Battalion Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, a pioneer battalion. On the night of the 10/11 August 1917 he was asleep in the battalion headquarters near Dunkirk, some considerable distance behind the front line, when it was hit by two shells and he, the colonel and the adjutant were all killed. Not exactly 'a Border bullet's flight' but certainly unexpected.
SURRENDERED SELF TO DUTY
TO HIS OLD HOME
AND ENGLAND HIS COUNTRY
Just in case you thought that all these young men nipped off merrily to do their duty as some contemporary writers would like to have us think, Harold Shepherd's father indicates that his son had made a positive, unselfish decision when he decided to enlist. It's interesting that we have an earlier version of the inscription, which has been crossed out and replaced with the one above. This is the earlier inscription:
He gave of his all to duty
England, his country
And his home
It looks pretty much the same - it could even be said that the original version is slightly more elegant - but can you see that the emphasis is different? In his father's opinion - father signed for the inscription - Harold Shepherd didn't just give his all for duty, he surrendered himself to it, had there been a bit of a struggle? Then there is the change from 'England, his country and his home' to 'his old home and England his country'. Harold Shepherd had emigrated to Australia, or at least was working as a stockman in Australia when he enlisted in March 1915, but England was still 'his country', just in case you thought that he'd only done his duty by England but that Australia was now his country and his home.
I can't see when Harold emigrated to Australia but he left behind in Bexhill-on-Sea a mother and father, and four brothers and sisters, three older than him and one younger. The younger one, James Harper Shepherd, was a territorial soldier and had been serving in the 1st/5th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment since the outbreak of war. James was killed in action on 5 May 1915, two months after Harold had enlisted in Australia.
Shepherd served with the 2nd Brigade Australian Field Artillery. In August 1917 it was 'In the Field' near Ypres. The war diary makes no specific mention of Gunner Shepherd but reports that following an enemy air raid on the guns on 15 August the casualties included "12 ORs wounded, 9 horses killed, 16 wounded".
A BOY WITH
A TRUE SENSE OF DUTY
AND A BRAVE MAN'S
SCORN OF FEAR
Thomas McDowell's father, Peter, chose his inscription; his mother was dead. The couple had seven children but Thomas was their only son. Young enough to have been conscripted rather than to have volunteered, McDowell was only 16 when the war broke out; his father nevertheless makes it clear that his son was fully prepared to do his duty. However, father wanted to emphasise that although his son was only a boy his courage was that of a man. Courage is the ability to face fear and overcome it, not to have no sense of it.
Thomas McDowell served with B Battery 295th Brigade Royal Field Artillery. He died from the effects of gas in a Casualty Clearing Station at Dozinghem.
HIS MOTHER'S JOY
HIS FATHER'S BOY
Is there any difference between inscriptions that are chosen by mothers and those chosen by fathers? As a generality, women (mothers and wives) chose more affectionate, loving inscriptions than men. Men were more likely to express their pride. Young Benjamin Howard's inscription seems to represent exactly this point, emphasised by the way his parents asked for it to be carved.
However, it's difficult to generalise about inscriptions; yes someone signed the form which confirmed the choice but were they the person who actually chose it. The person who signed for it could just have been the more literate or the one with the better handwriting rather than the one who made the decision.
Mothers do seem to be the privileged mourner in many inscriptions; Private Snooks died on 4 April 1916 for 'Mother, King & Country', the form signed by his father. Corporal Savage, who died on 3 October 1918 was, 'A mother's darling'. Mrs Savage signed the form but it appears that Mr Savage was still alive. Mr Robinson was definitely alive when his wife confirmed the inscription, 'My darling' for their son Private David Robinson killed on 22 September 1917. Mr Robinson died in 1950 and was described on his headstone as the 'beloved father of David' so it's not as if there was any estrangement. Yet fathers could be affectionate too as shown by this inscription, which Rifleman Henry Herbert's father, a widower, chose: 'Farewell my son, your life is past loved by your dear father until the last'. And Mr Ride risked offending his other sons when he chose this for his son's inscription: 'Dad's best pal'. He risked offending his wife too as she was still alive and doesn't get a mention.
Mr and Mrs Howard had two sons, Benjamin and his younger brother, Thomas. Benjamin attested on 6 June 1916 when he was 18 and 4 months. It was a year before he joined his unit in France on 3 June 1917. He was killed in action ten weeks later. Thomas Howard was too young to serve in the war, he was still only 14 when it ended.
A MOST AMIABLE & DEVOTED BOY
WHO NEVER GAVE
FATHER OR MOTHER
A WRONG WORD. SORELY MISSED
This is a lovely tribute from a widowed father to his grown-up son. John was the fourth of his seven children and the third of his five sons, all of whom apart from John survived the war. Their mother had died when John was 13 and the youngest, Percy, was 6.
John was a bank clerk in Hull when the war broke out. His medal rolls index card shows that he was entitled to the War and Victory medals but not the 1914-15 Star so he was not a volunteer, or if he was he was a late volunteer.
Laverack served with the 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers. From the position of the cemetery where he is buried, he was probably killed in a minor operation involving the 12th Division which is famous for being the first time the Royal Flying Corps was used to strafe enemy position as the troops left their trenches for the attack.
AN ONLY BOY
HIS PARENTS PRIDE AND JOY
Frank and Ann Hazzledine had two children, Annie Eliza and Francis, also known as Frank. Frank senior was an assistant engineman in Beeston Colliery; at the time of the 1911 census, Frank junior was an errand boy in a lace factory. He was only 16 when he enlisted in September 1914 but became ill and spent some time in hospital before being sent to the Front in June 1916. Sent home again early in 1917 with shell shock, he had only recently returned to the Front when his gun received a direct hit and he was killed.
Exploring Beeston's History has more information on Hazzledine together with a photograph which shows a very youthful, gentle-faced boy - his parents' pride and joy.
A BRAVE SOLDIER
A PERFECT SON
Jersey Evening Post
Wednesday 21 October 1914
"Though there were very few passengers on the Mail Boat this morning animated scenes were witnessed on the quay. Lieutenant S Le G Cutler of D Company 3rd Battalion RMIJ was a passenger for England where he is joining the Army Service Corps and the men of the Company were determined not to let him leave the Island without showing him in what high regard he is held by them."
As part of this splendid early morning send off, his old Company marched down to Albert Pier where the Battalion's drum and fife band played 'Tipperary and other now world famous tunes'.
"As the vessel slipped her mooring the strains of Auld Lang Syne were just heard above the cheers of the Company. There were renewed when the Sarnia passed out of the pier heads, the band playing and the cheers being raised until the vessel was well out of the harbour."
Jersey Evening Post
Friday 10 August 1917
We deeply regret having to announce that another gallant Jerseyman has just been added to the list of victims of the War. A telegram was received this afternoon bearing the sad news that Captain S Le G Cutler, son of Major Cutler of Queen Street, had been killed in action. ... The deceased officer, who was only 23, joined up in August 1914 and got his Captaincy some 12 months ago. He had a narrow escape from death only a week ago, his machine being riddled with bullets and brought down in flames.
Jersey Evening Post
Monday 13 August 1917
As we stated on Friday last Captain S Le G Cutler was killed ina ction on 9 August. The late officer who was the son of Major & Mrs J.F. Cutler and grandson of Mr Philip Le Guyt of St Lukes, was an Old Victorian and at the outbreak of war served in the 3rd RMIJ. ... Only a few weeks ago he was on leave with his fiancee, Miss Katy de Faye of the VAD, who is nursing at a war hospital in Wales. To Major and Mrs Cutler, who are both on war service, and the other relatives we again tender our sincerest condolences.
AS UNKNOWN YET WELL KNOWN
AS DYING, BEHOLD HE LIVETH
As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live
2 Corinthians 6:9
Unknown and yet well known, dying and behold we live
Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, Westminster Abbey
As unknown yet well known
As dying, behold he liveth
Personal inscription Lance Corporal F Elphick
The changes are subtle but they are there: in Corinthians, St Paul informs his fellow Christians that although they may be of insignificant parentage, 'unknown', their conduct has made them well known, and that whilst they are in constant danger of being put to death, whilst it's constantly reported that they have been put to death, they are still alive.
On the tomb of the unknown warrior the reference to unknown is literal - the man underneath this marble slab is totally unknown, yet, because he is Britain's unknown warrior, buried with full ceremonial in Westminster Abbey on 11 November 1920, he is well known. And by his death, by the fact that the unknown warrior sacrificed his life for us, we are all able to live.'
As unknown yet well known' in Elphick's inscription probably has the same meaning as in Corinthians, Elphick was a 'domestic garden boy' in the 1911 census, and a gardener when he joined up in November 1915, an unknown. But his death has made him well known: the death reported in the newspaper, his name carved onto the East Grinstead war memorial. But the very last three words of Elphick's inscription - 'behold he liveth' - refer to the resurrection. Just as the strangers at Jesus' tomb told the women, 'He is not here, he has risen', so Elphick's mother is expressing her belief in the resurrection - 'behold he liveth'.
Elphick's parents' lived at The Lodge, Barton St Mary, East Ginstead. This raises interesting possibilities. Elphick joined up in November 1915, giving his occupation as 'gardener'. Barton St Mary was a house designed by Edwin Lutyens in 1907, the gardens designed by Gertrude Jeykll; it looks as though Elphick could have been the gardener here.
HE IS QUIETLY CALLING US
FROM PARALYSING GRIEF
TO HIGH ENDEAVOUR
Many, many families must have struggled with 'paralysing grief'; how could they possibly come to terms with their loss, how could thy make sense of it? Lieutenant Edmondstone's family were among those whose solution was to make themselves worthy of the sacrifice. In this they were following the advice of the popular poet John Oxenham (William Arthur Dunkerley 1852-1941), whose 1915 poem 'Epilogue 1914', asks what will happen when the war is over:
God grant the sacrifice be not in vain!
Those valiant souls who set themselves with pride
To hold the way .... and fought ... and died, -
They rest with Thee.
But to the end of time,
The virtue of their valiance shall remain,
To pulse a nobler life through every vein
Of our humanity.
And who was the 'he' of the inscription, who was quietly calling? You might think it was Christ but it wasn't, it was the dead man, Norman Edmondstone. What makes me thing this? The family have quoted from Sir Oliver Lodge's book, 'Raymond or Life and Death', in which Lodge presents evidence to prove that his dead son, Raymond, who was killed in action in 1915, is in communication with them from the spirit world:
"Let us think of him, then, not as lying near Ypres with all his work ended, but rather, after due rest and refreshment, continuing his noble and useful career in most peaceful surroundings, and quietly calling us his family from paralysing grief to resolute and high endeavour."
So, how did families come to terms with their paralysing grief - by believing that their dead were still alive in the spirit world, still in communication with them, urging them to 'resolute and high endeavour'.
Norman Edmonstone, a Lieutenant in the Queen's Westminster Rifles, was hit in the stomach by a shrapnel bullet while waiting with his company for the order to attack the Ottoman defensive systems at Kauwukah and Rushdi during the battle for Hareira and Sheria, part of the Southern Palestine Campaign . He died the following day. His Colonel told his parents:
"He is a very serious loss to me and to the battalion, as he was an untiring and dependable officer with a very good knowledge of a soldier's duty .... He was universally beloved by men and officers, and this I mean literally, for he had a very lovable disposition."
DEEDS NOT WORDS
LET US DO, OR DIE
FOR OUR COUNTRY
'Deeds not words' is the maxim George Washington attempted to live by, based on the words of St Matthew 7:20, 'By their fruits ye shall know them'. 'Deeds not words' was also the motto of the Women's Social and Political Union, the Suffragettes. Fed up with the slow progress of the negotiations to get them the vote, they decided that direct action would be more effective.
'Let us do or die', quotes the final verse of Robert Burns' poem, 'Scots Wha Hae' (1793) in which Robert Bruce addresses his soldiers on the eve of the Battle of Bannockburn:
Lay the proud Usurpers low
Tyrants fall in every foe
Liberty's in every blow
Let us Do or Die.
'Let us do or die' also comes from a poem by Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), 'Gertrude of Wyoming'. Here the speaker is less confident of victory but still prepared to risk death.
Obed Oldfield Dale, Frank's father, chose his son's inscription. I do not imagine for a moment that he had the Suffragettes in mind when he chose it but rather that was by his son's deeds, being prepared to die for his country, that we should judge him.
Dale served in the 6th Battalion Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry and died of wounds in a base hospital at Etaples. The battalion had taken part in a costly attack at Gelncorse Wood and Inverness Copse on 22 - 24 August losing seven officers and 55 Other Ranks killed, eight officers and 252 Other Ranks wounded, with 28 Other Ranks missing.
Before the war, Frank Dale had been an assistant in his father's pawnbroking business.
I HAVE LEARNED
THAT GOD DOES NOT WANT
MEN TO LIVE
EACH FOR HIMSELF
This is a quotation from a short story by Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), 'What Men Live By', written in 1885. An angel, punished for failing to obey God's order, was forced to live as a man until he could answer three questions: 'What dwells in man', 'What is not given to man' and 'What do men live by'. After six years on earth the angel has the answers. What dwells in man is love, what is not given to man is to know his own needs, and what men live by is love: 'I have learnt that all men live not by care for themselves but by love'. In explaining his answer to the man who has given him shelter, the angel says:
'I understood that God does not wish men to live apart, and therefore he does not reveal to them what each one needs for himself; but he wishes them to live united, and therefore reveals to each of them what is necessary for all. I have now understood that though it seems to men that they live by care for themselves, in truth it is love alone by which they live. He who has love, is in God, and God in him, for God is love.'
Reginald John Perry Cuff, a junior shipping clerk in the 1911 census, joined the army in 1916, served with the 286th Brigade Royal Field Artillery and died of wounds in one of the four Casualty Clearing Stations at Proven. His father, John Pitman Cuff a cabinet maker in Toxteth, Liverpool, chose his inscription. I have not come across it before. It makes a subtle criticism, or perhaps not such a subtle criticism, of mankind for allowing itself to descend into savage warfare.
"THAT, SETTING DUTY FIRST
HE WENT AT ONCE
AS TO A SACRAMENT
Edward Blackburn volunteered in May 1915 when he was 18. He was keen, his elder brother Joseph, who was 21, didn't volunteer until that November. Edward's keenness can be sensed in the inscription his parents chose. It comes from The Empty Chair by John Oxenham, a prolific poet whose poems were very popular during the war and feature in many inscriptions.
The Empty Chair belonged to the dead volunteer, "that heroical great heart that sprang to duty's call". Oxenham's comfort to the bereaved is to ask:
Think! Would you wish that he had stayed
When all the rest The Call obeyed?
- That thought of self had held in thrall
His soul, and shrunk it mean and small?
Surely not, you should be glad: " - That setting duty first, he went at once, as to a sacrament".
Edward Blackburn served with the 12th Battalion Royal Fusiliers and died of wounds, judging from the war diary most probably caused by gas or HE shells, on 12 September 1917. His brother, Joseph Blackburn, who served with the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, survived the war.
A NOTABLE EXAMPLE
TO SUCH AS BE YOUNG
TO DIE WILLINGLY
This sounds as though it's a rather stilted extract from a letter of condolence, but it isn't, it's a quote from the Old Testament book of Maccabees. Eleazor, an old man in his eighties, is a supporter of the Maccabees, defenders of the Jewish faith. He refuses to obey an order from the Seleucids, who are trying to suppress Judaism, despite the fact that he knows this means he will be put to death. Eleazor even refuses to pretend to comply with the order as well-meaning friends suggest he does. No, he says:
I will shew myself such an one as mine age requireth, and leave a notable example to such as be young to die willingly and courageously for the honourable and holy laws.
2 Maccabees 6.27-8
Eleazor dies with the following tribute from the writer:
And thus this man died, leaving his death for an example of a noble courage and a memorial of virtue, not only unto young men, but unto all his nation.
Gunner Tomsett's wife chose his inscription. It's the dedication on the Douglas Head Memorial on the Isle of Man but otherwise, for all its appropriateness, it's quite rare. So is the address she gave: 2 Married Quarters, Detention Barracks, Windmill Hill, Gibraltar. I can only assume that Tomsett had been stationed on Gibraltar before being posted to France.
HE COUNTED HIS VERY LIFE
AS NOT TOO MUCH TO GIVE
This inscription piqued my curiosity, here was a Canadian soldier specifically dying for England, not the King, or the Empire, or Canada but England, why was this. Well the answer of course was not too difficult; Ernest Warden, born and educated in England, had only been in Canada for one year when the war broke out. He, or perhaps it was his mother who chose his inscription, still thought of England as his home. He left his job as an electrical engineer in Toronto in May 1915 and returned 'home' with the 2nd Canadian Contingent that September.
Warden originally served with the Brigade Ammunition Column but early in 1917 transferred to the Canadian Corps Signals Company as a despatch rider, carrying orders between Head Quarters and the front line. A keen motor cyclist he had won many test trials and races at Toronto Motor-cycle Club events. It was whilst carrying despatches on the night of the 15/16 September that his motorbike collided with a lorry. Seriously injured, he died later that day. A comrade in the Canadian Field Artillery told his parents:
"Everyone who came into contact with your son spoke well of him. His officers, and senior n.c.o.'s looked upon him as being a young man of more than average ability, careful of and anxious in the execution of his duties, and of manly bearing and address."
KILLED IN ACTION
FLYING OVER ENEMY LINES
Miles Wilkinson's inscription says no more than his parents knew about his death; it repeats the official information they received. No one knew exactly what happened to him. However, the fact that he was originally buried by the Germans indicates that he was probably shot down by German artillery. Pilots on both sides did their best to identify the planes they brought down in order that they could claim them as victories - even making contact with the enemy squadron for confirmation. No one claimed Wilkinson as a victory so presumably he wasn't brought down by a plane
Wilkinson originally served with the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry and at the time of his death was attached to the Royal Flying Corps, but the War Graves Commission doesn't have a squadron number for him. He was gazetted second lieutenant in April 1917, reported to have been wounded in June 1917, obviously recovered, and died in unknown circumstances on 10 October.
Wilkinson's elder brother, Alan Machin Wilkinson, was a Royal Flying Corps an ace with 19 victories to his credit. He finished the war as a Group Captain with a DSO and bar - he was 27. Their younger brother, John Graham Wilkinson, a lieutenant in the Hampshire Regiment, was a member of Dunsterforce. This early special forces unit hoped to organise local resistance to Ottoman advances into the Caucasus and Central Asia. The region was a powder keg of competing Bolshevik, nationalist, Ottoman and British interests. Wilkinson was killed when Jangalis, Iranian nationalists, attacked a small detachment of British forces in the town of Rasht. Originally buried in Rasht Armenian Cemetery, his name is now commemorated on the Tehran War Memorial. He was 23.
LAUGH, AND THE WORLD LAUGHS WITH YOU
AND YOU WEEP ALONE
Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has troubles enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air;
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.
This is the first verse of the popular American poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox's (1850-1917) most famous poem, Solitude, and Private Vassar's inscription is its most famous line. It's not just that people do 'not need your woe', so that you are forced to 'weep alone' and 'drink life's gall' alone, but the fact is that we must all die alone:
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.
Vassar enlisted in July 1915 when he was still only 18. He served in France from 23 February 1916 until he was wounded seven months later on 12 September. He didn't return to the front until 24 July 1917. There is no record of when he was wounded again but he died of these wounds two months later in a base hospital in Boulogne.
'Dad', Edward Alexander Collins, chose this inscription for his son. What can he have meant by it? I have to admit that I have no idea and can't even speculate. But I've included it in this epitaph collection as an example of one that presents an impenetrable enigma ... and was presumably meant to.
Horace Collins was the eldest of his parents' three sons. Educated at Felsted School in Essex, he was articled to his father, a solicitor in Edgware Road, London. He joined up on 8 September 1914, scarcely a month after the outbreak of war. He was 19. He served initially as a private in the Artists' Rifles before being gazetted Second Lieutenant in the South Staffordshire Regiment on 9 November 1914. Promoted lieutenant in March 1917, he was appointed Divisional Signalling Officer and attached to the 246th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. He was killed in action at Kemmel Hill on 9 September 1917.
"Yes dad", in inverted commas - what can it mean?
THE MUSIC OF HIS LIFE
IS NOWISE STILLED
OUR EARS NO LONGER HEAR IT
The blank line after 'Of Crewe' was specially requested by Frank Tipping's father, making a distinction between the factual detail of his son's address and the quotation from Frances Ridley Havergil's (1836-1879) poem, The Message of the Aeolian Harp:
For I know
That he who is not lost, but gone before,
Is only waiting till I come; for death
Has only parted us a little while,
And has not severed e'en the finest strand
In the eternal cable of our love:
The music of his life
Is nowise stilled, but blended so with songs
Around the throne of God, that our poor ears
No longer hear it.
Just as you can't see the beam of a torch in broad daylight so you no longer make out the voice of someone who has died because it is drowned in the clamour round God's throne.
It's an appropriate choice of inscription for Frank Tipping who had a precocious musical talent. He took up playing the violin at the age of 9 and, aged 10, was playing for the Crewe Philharmonic Orchestra. Aged 13 he won a scholarship to the Royal Manchester College of Music, and aged 15 joined the Halle Orchestra.
Aged 19 in the summer of 1915 he graduated with distinction from the College of Music and in September joined the army. Tipping served originally with the Royal Garrison Artillery before joining the Royal Flying Corps. Aged 21, he was killed 'while flying over enemy lines'.
SLEEP THAT KNITS UP
THE RAVELL'D SLEAVE
Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast -
Sleep has the ability to sort out the tangled threads of our lives, it provides us with relief from our troubles, it soothes our minds - as of course does death, although with death the 'solution' is permanent. The quotation comes from Shakespeare's Macbeth Act 2 Sc. 2. The words are spoken by Macbeth who, by murdering Duncan, fears he has murdered his ability to sleep and so will no longer be able to benefit from its soothing balm. The balm that Trooper Norris has achieved.
I can tell you very little about Trooper Norris. The War Graves Commission do not appear to have an age for him nor the details of his parents, neither their name nor their address. His inscription was chosen by a Miss MJ Norris of 76 Chapter Road, Cricklewood NW2 - a sister or an aunt perhaps. However, his medal rolls index card tell us enough - he was entitled to the 1914 Star having arrived in France on 6 October 1914, and he died on 11 September. The cause of death? "Suicide whilst temporarily insane". His inscription was well chosen.
" ... THE SHEEP ARE IN THE FAULD
AND THE KYE ARE A' AT HAME"
The instructions to the stone carver are very specific: "Stone No. 2452 - three stops and inverted commas to be engraved as shown", which is strange as this is the first line of the song so there is nothing that comes before these words. I wonder what Private Mathison's parents meant to convey by their instructions?
The words come from 'Auld Robin Gray', a Scottish ballad by Lady Anne Lindsay (1750-1825). In the song, a young woman laments the fact that she has married Robin Gray at her parents' urging, an elderly man with money. Jamie, the young man she hoped to marry has gone away and was thought to have died when his ship was wrecked. But he returns soon after the wedding. Robin Gray is a good man but he is not Jamie.
When the sheep are in the fauld, and the kye a' at hame,
And a' the warld to rest are gane,
The waes o' my heart fa' in showers frae my e'e,
While my gudeman lies sound by me.
The words of the ballad are not relevant to Mr and Mrs Mathison's situation, but the feeling of despair, of life having no meaning could well have influenced their choice. The young woman dare not think of Jamie, she can't rouse herself to do what she ought: 'I wish that I were dead, but I'm no like to dee'; 'I gang like a ghaist, and I carena to spin'.
Thomas Mathison, a gardener in civilian life, joined up in November 1915. He served as a Lewis gunner with the 1/4th Battalion Royal Scots in Palestine and was killed in action on 2 November 1917 in the strong Ottoman fight back following the fall of Beersheba on the 1st.
"He was killed instantaneously by a bullet on Friday morning, 2/11/17, while making a gallant attempt to bring his Lewis gun into action. He was a good soldier, and his cheery nature made him very popular with his comrades."
Quoted from County of Peebles Book of Remembrance.
WHOSE DISTANT FOOTSTEPS ECHO
THROUGH THE CORRIDORS
In reply to your letter of Nov: 26th re: illness and Death of Pte E.T. Kennedy. He was admitted to this Hospital on 6-7-17, suffering from Bronchitis. On 17.7.17 his diagnosis was changed to Tubercle of Lung. Everything possible was done for him, but he did not improve at all, gradually grew worse, & died on 7-8-17 to our great regret.
He is buried in Tidworth Military Cemetery. Grave no.313 Plot C. The funeral took place on 18-8-17.
The Sister-in-Charge of the ward has written to his relatives.
This letter to the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau would have been in answer to an enquiry from them. The Bureau did the most amazing work and I hope that someday, someone does justice to Vera Deakin, the twenty-four-year-old Australian woman who founded the Bureau in Egypt in October 1915 in order to help people find out what had happened to their relations. Her efforts were not exactly welcomed by the authorities, but she kept it going until the end of the war. The Bureau's digitised files on the Australian War Memorial site provide details about the deaths of thousands of Australian soldiers - like Even Thomas Kennedy.
Kennedy's inscription comes from 'The Day is Done' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1808-1882). There is a fine, elegiac quality to the words, which were chosen by Private Kennedy's mother. She is saying that her son's presence, his footsteps, continue to reverberate around her down through the years, which is not what Longfellow was saying. Longfellow, in search of some words of consolation for his melancholic mood, was rejecting the words of the 'grand masters' and 'bards sublime, whose distant footsteps echo through the corridors of time', in favour of 'some humbler poet, whose songs gushed from his heart'.
Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.
FIVE YEARS HAVE PASSED
AND STILL TO MEMORY DEAR
WE BREATHE YOUR LOVING NAME
AND WIPE AWAY A TEAR
There's some interesting information in the first line of this inscription - it was five years after their son's death before the War Graves Commission asked Harry Jenks' parents to confirm the details for his headstone and to choose an inscription. Jenks was killed in 1917 so the year was 1922. This is one reason why so many headstones don't have inscriptions, families no longer lived at their old addresses. This and the fact that the Commission charged 3 1/2d per letter, which it is assumed many families were not able to afford.
However, there's another interesting fact about this inscription - it runs to 78 letters and the Commission's limit was 66. But some official has simply added up the letters, multiplied them by 3 1/2d and written 22s 9d in the margin. The Jenks family were not rich. In the 1901 census the father, Alwyn Jenks, was a general labourer. In the 1891 census he was an inmate in a boys' reformatory.
Although charging the bereaved for a headstone inscription, when their relation had died serving their country, seems rather outrageous to us today, the State was burying the dead and choosing their headstone so paying for an inscription was seen as a way for families to feel that they had had a part to play in the commemoration of their dead. And the fact that there was no fuss over the length of this inscription shows that you didn't have to be a person of influence to exceed the stipulated length - you just had to be prepared to pay.
Jenks served with the 1st/4th Battalion South Lancashire Regiment, part of the 55th West Lancashire Division. The Division took part in the attack on the Menin Road Ridge, 20-23 September. Jenks died in a Casualty Clearing Station at Mendinghem on the 21st.
WAS FOLLOWED BY
HIS BROKEN HEARTED MOTHER'S
FIVE WEEKS LATER
Abraham Ferner's parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland who arrived sometime between 1888, when their daughter Rachel was born in Poland, and 1891 when their son David was born in London. Father, Hyman Ferner, set up as a boot mender in Stepney where the family lived above the shop. In 1911 Abraham and three of his siblings were all working in the tailoring trade.
Ferner served with the 6th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment and died of wounds received on 14/15 August in the attack at Langemarck. The following month it was announced that, for his actions on that day, Ferner had been awarded the DCM, the Distinguished Conduct Medal introduced in March 1916 for exceptional acts of bravery. The citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During the advance, he moved the line in the open under machine gun fire, directing and encouraging his platoon, and later when ordered with his machine gun section to outflank a strong point, he moved up his gun, and though all his men were disabled, and he himself was wounded, continued to fire it until it was put out of action. His pluck and coolness were deserving of the highest praise.
A week after the attack, Ferner died in a base hospital in Etaples. His mother died five weeks later. Although his father was alive, it was Abraham's brother, David, who chose his inscription.
O MONSTROUS WORLD
TO BE DIRECT AND HONEST
IS NOT SAFE
Alfred Dunne's father, Frederick, chose his inscription. Alfred was the fourth of his seven sons to die during the war and a fifth was to die in February 1918. There is no evidence that the first, William Oscar Dunne, was a soldier when he died in Kingston, Surrey, but the other four were. Arthur was killed in action on 13 May 1915, Walter Edwin died of pneumonia on 18 October 1915, Alfred died of wounds in October 1917 and Montague died of wounds in February 1918. Frederick Dunne was entitled to call it a 'monstrous' world.
The inscription comes from Shakespeare's Othello, Act 3 Sc. 3, where it is spoken by Iago who, far from being direct and honest, is a scheming liar. So what can Major Frederick Dunne, a long-serving soldier who was promoted from the ranks at the outbreak of war, have meant by his choice? Is he questioning his reward for being a loyal subject? And does the fact that Alfred was only 17 when he died have anything to do with what sounds very much like bitterness?
The Surrey Advertiser, 27 October 1917 suggests further evidence for this view: in reporting Alfred's death it mentions that two of Major and Mrs Dunne's son-in-laws have also been killed in the war.
O monstrous world! Take note, take note, O world,
To be direct and honest is not safe.
I thank you for this profit, and from hence
I'll love no friend, sith love breeds such offence.
LIVE PURE, SPEAK TRUE
RIGHT WRONG, FOLLOW THE KING
Tennyson's words, spoken by Gareth in 'Idylls of the King', summarise the knights code; the King is Christ.
Henry Bowd was a solicitors articled clerk in Inverell New South Wales before he enlisted as private in July 1915. Sent to Egypt in March 1916 - arriving in June - he began aerial observation instruction in August before qualifying as a pilot in April 1917.
He was killed near Heliopolis when test flying a modified Martinsyde G.102 A 1607. At a height of 4000 ft the plane seemed to stall and began to dive. Bowd seemed to be successfully pulling it out of the dive when it began to break up, caught fire, broke into pieces and crashed.
His father chose his inscription.
DAD'S BEST PAL
A lovely tribute from 'Dad' but nevertheless rather a strange inscription. 'Dad', George Ride, had nine children, of whom Michael was the fourth. Eight of them were still living in the family home at the time of the 1911 census, the three eldest boys all working in a wallpaper factory, as was their father. The three included Michael who was 14.
Michael enlisted within ten days of the outbreak of war and was in France with the 7th Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps by the end of May 1915. He was killed on 30 September. George Ride signed for his son's inscription. It seems strangely partisan; the children's mother was still alive, so were his other eight children. Perhaps we just have to accept it - Michael was his favourite child.
NEC PROPTER VITAM VIVENDI
Robert Gilson was one of the four members of the TSCB, the Tea Shop and Barrovian Society, a quartet of school friends of whom the other members were JRR Tolkien, Geoffrey Smith and Christopher Wiseman. Tolkien and Wiseman were the only ones to survive the war, Gilson was the first to die, killed leading his men into action on 1 July 1916.
The four were all pupils at King Edward's School, Birmingham where Gilson's father, Robert Cary Gilson, was the headmaster. He chose his son's inscription, a quotation from the Roman poet, Juvenal (c.55 BC-127 AD) which translates as, 'No, not for life lose that for which I live'. The meaning being that it is not worth saving my own life only to lose that which makes life worth living. And what was it that made life worth living? Robert Gilson probably explained this in his reply to Tolkien's letter of condolence when he wrote: 'you are going to win and restore righteousness and mercy to the councils of mankind I am certain'.
King Edward's have used Gilson's letters as the basis for a moving forty-minute documentary: Robert Quilter Gibson: Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, which is beautifully made and well worth watching. And there is more information about the four friends in Connie Ruzich's blogpost, The First Fellowship, in which she examines a poem Geoffrey Smith wrote in Gilson's memory, Let Us Tell Quiet Stories of Kind Eyes:
Let us tell quiet stories of kind eyes
And placid brows where peace and learning sate;
Of misty gardens under evening skies
Where four would walk of old, with quiet steps sedate.
HIS LAST WORDS
I'M GLAD I DONE MY BIT
Walter Scott Telford died of wounds in a military hospital in Britain. Although the War Graves Commission's records have him serving with the 3rd Battalion Scots Guards, his medal rolls index card indicates that on 4 October 1915, when he qualified for the award of the 1914-15 Star by entering a theatre of war, he was in the 1st Battalion. The 3rd Battalion was in any case a home battalion and never went abroad during the war. None of this helps us discover when Telford was wounded but it is obvious that his wound was serious enough for him to be returned to a hospital in Britain - that he had that much yearned for 'Blighty' wound. Not that soldiers wanted it to be serious enough to kill them but just serious enough to keep them out of the war for a long time, preferably until it was over.
Telford was one of thirteen children, five of whom died before him, none of them in the war. His military service number indicates that he joined up between 3 September and 1 October 1914, making him if not actually one of the first one hundred thousand volunteers certainly an early volunteer, all of them prepared to 'do their bit' as the recruiting posters encouraged them to do.
Telford is commemorated on the war memorial in Livingston. Originally this was the memorial for employees of the Dean Oil Works in the town, indicating that Telford, like his father, was employed there in the shale mining industry.
His mother having died in 1910, it was his father who chose his inscription.
HE WOULD GIVE HIS DINNER
TO A HUNGRY DOG
AND GO WITHOUT HIMSELF
Charles Moore sounds like real character and full marks to his mother, Sarah Moore, who chose his inscription, for conveying this to us so vividly. Born in Bethnal Green London in 1888, Moore was one of her eight children. Her husband, Joseph, was a self-employed cabinet maker, and she worked with him as a French polisher.
Aged 14 in 1901, Charles Moore was living at home and working as a van guard lad. By the time of the 1911 census he had emigrated to Canada. He enlisted on the outbreak of war and signed his attestation form in Valcartier, Quebec on 22 September 1914.
His complete military file has been digitised by the Canadian Government. It reveals that he was 5'4" tall, with a 37" chest, dark hair, hazel eyes and with 'slight scars on index, ring and little finger left hand', and on his right hand too.
His record sheet shows him to have been no angel. On the 28 August 1916, he was sentenced to fourteen days Field Punishment No. 1 for, 'failing to comply with an order and insubordinate language to an N.C.O.'. And on 18 March 1917 to Field Punishment No.2 for 'when on active service failing to comply with an order of an N.C.O.'. His medical record shows him being hospitalised in October 1915 with 'V.D.S.' Venereal Disease Syphilis.
Moore served with the Canadian Anti-Aircraft Battery and was killed on 19 September 1917. The war diary's entry for the day records:
'Allied planes seen 52, hostile 25, engaged 21, over 12, weather clear, visibility fair, right centre section in front of Souchez shelled.'
Moore was presumably in the right centre section.
[I am grateful to the staff at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for drawing my attention to this inscription.]
I ONCE HAD A COMRADE ...
Ragnhild Torp married Cyril Newman whilst he was home on a brief leave in March 1917. The following month he was killed in action during the Battle of Arras. Ragnhild chose his inscription. I have a feeling that she assumed we'd recognise the phrase, 'I once had a comrade', because it comes from a traditional European military lament, a lament for a comrade killed in battle.
The words were written in 1809 and set to a Swiss folk tune in 1825. It originally had no affiliation to any country but after 1871 it became a fixed part of German military funerals, the equivalent of Last Post at British military funerals.You can hear it here.
I once had a comrade,
You will find no better.
The drum called to battle,
He walked by my side,
In the same pace and step.
A bullet came a-flying, ...
The man who walked by Ragnhild Torp's side, 'in the same pace and step', was her husband of one month, Cyril Newman. She died in 1976 - It appears that she never remarried.
"THE WORLD SHALL END
WHEN I FORGET"
This declaration of eternal grief comes from Swinburne's Itylus, based on the Greek legend of Aedon who accidentally kills her young daughter, Itylus, and is stricken with grief and remorse. The gods take pity on her and turn her into a nightingale. In Swinburne's poem, a nightingale sorrowfully contrasts a swallow's carefree existence, its ability to carry on its life as if nothing has happened, with its own unending heartbreak.
Many of the bereaved must have felt the same - how could the world carry on as though nothing had happened. John Oxenham (William Arthur Dunckerley 1852-1941) touched on it in his poem, To You Who Have Lost:
I know! I know!
The ceaseless ache, the emptiness, the woe, -
The pang of loss, -
The strength that sinks beneath so sore a cross,
" - Heedless and careless, still the world wags on,
And leaves me broken ... Oh, my son! my son!"
Oxenham's comfort was to tell relations:
He died the noblest death a man may die,
Fighting for God and Right and Liberty; -
And such a death is immortality.
Swinburne's nightingale received no comfort.
Douglas Farrier, the son of a sea captain, had been a Bank Clerk in civilian life. In December 1915 he married Netta Jemima Beale, it was she who chose his inscription.
BUT THE VERY HAIRS
OF YOUR HEAD
ARE ALL NUMBERED
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
Fear not therefore, ye are of more value than than many sparrows
St Matthew 10: 29-31
Driver Davies' father chose this inscription, deriving comfort from the message being that as God concerns himself with the smallest details about each and every one of us, he cares about the death of every man and the grief of all who mourn.
Davies came from Abercynon in Wales, a coal mining community based round a railway junction. He was a volunteer, his medal card showing his qualifying date for the 1914-15 Star was the 20 July 1915. He served as a driver in the Royal Field Artillery and was with the 20th Divisional Ammunition Column when he died of wounds at the dressing station at Canada Farm during the Third Ypres Campaign.
WOULD SOME THOUGHTFUL HAND
IN THIS DISTANT LAND
SOME FLOWERS FOR ME
Mrs Grant's plea does not go unheeded. People often drop a flower on her husband's grave, and this is quite apart from the flowers that permanently fill the beds in front of all the graves. Far away in Vancouver, British Columbia one doubts that Bella Grant would ever have been able to make the journey herself - few did.
Her husband, Edwin Grant, had been born in Aberdeen. He worked there as an engineers' labourer before emigrating to Canada where he became a steel worker. He enlisted in February 1916 and served with the 47th Battalion Canadian Infantry. He was killed sometime between the 26th and the 28th October 1917, the War Graves Commission does not have a firm date. The battalion were in 'close support' at Abraham Heights:
26 October: B Coy moved forward to the NE side of Passchendaele Rd. Lt Hinckesman, 2nd in command of B Coy was killed by a machine gun bullet late in the evening.
27 October: During the day the enemy shelled our new line. At night the whole battalion, in conjunction with the 44th was ordered to advance & occupy the ridge in front and throw outposts.
28 October: Terrific and intense bombardments of our lines by guns of all calibres marked this day. ... Enemy aeroplanes travelled over our lines throughout the day & directed the enemy's artillery.
After the war, Grant's was one of the thousands of bodies gathered up from the surrounding battlefields and buried in Tyne Cot Cemetery. Of the 11,961 soldiers buried here 8,373 were never identified - some of them, no doubt among the 35,000 missing dead named on the surrounding walls.
Seven years after Edwin Grant's death, Bella married his brother, James.
DEATH OPENS UNKNOWN DOORS
IT IS MOST GRAND TO DIE
These lines come from John Masefield's play, The Tragedy of Pompey the Great (1910). They form part of a brief mediation on death over the body of Pompey's youthful commander, Valerius Flaccus. The 1st Centurion, looking at the body, remarks: "Man is a sacred city, built of marvellous earth", to which the 2nd replies, "Life was lived nobly here to give this body birth". The 4th Centurian brings the conversation to the end a few lines later with the comment: "Death opens unknown doors. It is most grand to die".
Impressed by the conversation, Ivor Gurney set it to music in a six-line song called 'By a Bierside'. Gurney was serving in the front line at the time and wrote to tell a friend that, "events yesterday gave one full opportunity to reflect on one's chances of doing that grand thing".
Bauman was the son of the Punch cartoonist and book illustrator, Lewis Bauman. Educated at Winchester College, Bauman won a Classical Scholarship to New College, Oxford but instead of going up in 1914 on leaving school, he joined up. He was still only 17 so it was January 1916, just after his nineteenth birthday, before he was sent to France. He served with the 86th Battery Royal Field Artillery and was killed near Langemarck when the battery came under fire.
According to the Winchester College website, Baumer was "running to the assistance of some of his men who had been buried by the burst of a shell" when he was wounded and died a few hours later. His commanding officer told his parents that this was typical behaviour of a man who had become "one of my best subalterns and an officer of the very best type". What made him of "the very best type"? "Under fire he was always cool".
SA MORT A LAISSE
DANS NOS COEURS
UNE PLAIE PROFONDE
The French translates as, "His death has left a deep wound in our hearts". Sometimes relatives composed inscriptions in French because they wanted local people to be able to understand what they said. Others wrote in French because that was the language they spoke. Albert Lariviere's family were French speakers who came from Sainte Rosa du Lac, a French settlement in Manitoba.
Recruitment figures show that French-speaking Canadians were less likely to volunteer in what they saw as Britain's war than those who spoke English. This despite the fact that parts of France were actually occupied by the Germans. Some French-speaking Canadians had been in the country for more than a century; they were Canadians whose connection to France was in the distant past. The war in Europe was nothing to them - and nor was the British Empire. Many English speakers however were more recent arrivals. To them the Empire was worth fighting for, the motherland was in danger and that danger threatened them all.
Lariviere enlisted and served in the 16th Canadian Infantry Battalion, known as the Canadian Scottish. The war diary described events on 6 November:
In Billets. Working parties of 50 men furnished. No parades. 1st Brigade attacked this morning and carried all objectives. Weather wet. Enemy shelling area occasionally. Casualties: - 3 O.R's killed; 11 wounded; 1 accidentally wounded; 1 missing.
Albert Lariviere is buried in Track X Cemetery with two other members of the 16th Battalion, both also killed on 6 November 1917. Although not mentioned by name, he must have been one of the '3 O.R's killed' mentioned in the diary and perhaps they were part of the working party.
ON HONOUR'S SCROLL
HIS NAME SHALL BE
THOUGH ALL UNKNOWN
Wilfred Payne's brother chose his inscription; it might surprise him to learn how much his brother is not unknown to history. This is the result of the Internet and the digitization of records.
Payne's full names, rank, age, previous service with the Royal Garrison Artillery, parents - Charles and Anna Lucy Payne of British Guiana - Military Cross and place of burial are all recorded on the front page of his Commonwealth War Graves Commission website entry. Further CWGC documents show that he was attached to No. 7 Squadron whilst still a member of the Royal Garrison Artillery and that it was his brother, Mr RH Payne, Plantation Wales, West Bank Demerara River, British Guiana, who chose his inscription.
The digitized London Gazette records that he was gazetted a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery on 11 September 1915, and the 3 March 1917 edition published the citation for his Military Cross:
For conspicuous gallantry in action: he displayed great courage and skill when employed as Observation Officer. Later he rescued six men who had been buried in a dug-out.
Put Payne's full name into the Internet and a table in Wikipedia shows that he was the 14th 'kill' of the German flying ace, Rudolf Berthold, that Payne was the observer in an RE. 8 piloted by Thomas Ernest Wray and that they were shot down at 08:25 hours somewhere north of Ypres. Berthold, who went on to have 44 victories, 16 of them after his right arm had been paralysed by a bullet, was killed by Spartakists in March 1920.
A search for No. 7 Squadron RFC brought up theaerodrome, an online forum which provided the information that No. 7, was based at Proven. The UK Incoming Passenger Lists show that Payne sailed from Valparaiso, Chile and arrived in Liverpool on 5 September 1915, six days before he was gazetted Second Lieutenant.
Payne and nineteen-year-old Wray, are buried in adjacent graves in Mendinghem British Cemetery
THE PIPERS PLAYED
THE GATHERING OF THE CLANS
Born in Crieff, Perthshire, Archie Stuart Thom had only been in Australia for three years before he enlisted and returned to Britain as a member of the 47th Battalion Australian Infantry. His wife chose his inscription, hinting at his continuing loyalty to the land of his birth.
The Gathering of the Clans is a traditional piece of music for bagpipes, it is also a term for an event where members of various clans gather, and it's the title of a poem by Sir Walter Scott, a call to arms.
Awake on your hills, on your islands awake,
Brave sons of the mountain, the firth, and the lake!
'Tis the bugle - but not for the chase or the call,
'Tis the pibroch's* shrill summons - but not to the hall.
'Tis the summons of heroes for conquest or death,
When the banners are blazing on mountain and heath;
They call to the dirk, the claymore, and the targe,
To the march, and the muster, the line, and the charge.
The pibroch's, the piper's, summons "to the march, and the muster, the line, and the charge".
Thom was killed in the assault on Passchendaele Ridge. According to the war diary, "Weather conditions horrible & going very slow. Men bogged, country in a very bad state & much churned by shell fire. No cover for men all ranks cheery". At 5.45 on the morning of the 12th, "enemy heavily shelled Battn H.Qrs shell fire killing 24 and wounding 10 men ... Nearly all signallers, runners & scouts casualties ... many valuable lives lost, that will be hard to replace".
BUT THE THOUSANDTH MAN
WILL STAND YOUR FRIEND
WITH THE WHOLE ROUND
WORLD AGIN YOU
Herbert Rosa's wife chose his inscription. It comes from Rudyard Kipling's poem, 'The Thousandth Man" . The thousandth man is a very special person, more close than a brother he believes in you, sees you for what you are, always stands by you and is utterly trustworthy.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine depend
On what the world sees in you,
But the Thousandth Man will stand your friend
With the whole round world agin you.
To Marie Rosa, her husband was 'the thousandth man'.
Rosa was born in Hammersmith, London three years before his father, Carl Rosa, "a natural born subject of the Empire of Germany", became a naturalised British citizen. Educated at Clifton College, on leaving school he became a tea merchant in London and a member of the Honourable Artillery Company. When the war broke out Rosa was living in Ireland but rejoined the HAC and served with them in Egypt, returning to take a commission in the Royal Field Artillery in 1916.
He served with the 8th Division Ammunition Column. Wounded in action near Wytschaete, he died in a field ambulance dressing station in Poperinghe.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine can't bide
The shame or mocking laughter,
But the Thousandth Man will stand by your side
To the gallows-foot - and after!
ALL THAT HE HAS LEFT
AND IRREMEDIABLY BEREFT
Other relations have quoted from this poem, In Memoriam A.H. by Maurice Baring, but unlike Frederic Young's father, few have chosen these bleak lines preferring the comfort of the last ones:
It is well with you
Among the chosen few,
Among the very brave, the very true.
Baring wrote the poem in memory of great friend Auberon Herbert who was shot down and killed on 3 November 1916. Baring cannot believe that he will never see him again, never talk to him again:
... The desolated space
Of life shall nevermore
Be what it was before.
No one shall take your place.
No other face
Can fill that empty frame.
There is no answer when we call your name.
We cannot hear your step upon the stair.
We turn to speak and find a vacant chair.
Something is broken which we cannot mend.
God has done more than take away a friend
In taking you; for all that we have left
Is irremediably bereft.
There is none like you.
'Irremediably bereft', not possible to restore, gone for ever.
Young who came from Jesmond, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, originally served as a member of the Tynemouth Battery, a territorial battery, used to guard the coast in the early days of the war. However, once it became obvious that an invasion of Britain was unlikely, these trained batteries were sent overseas. It was 26 July 1917 before Young reached the war zone. He was killed eleven days later.
CAPTAIN OF MY SOUL
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
This is the first and last verse of Invictus, a four-verse poem by W.E. Henley (1849-1903), which many people felt epitomised the British spirit of fortitude in adversity.
Private Carew's mother chose her son's inscription and I would suggest that it was to her unconquerable soul that she was referring, that it was her head that was "bloody but unbowed" (verse 2). Five weeks after her son, Francis James, died of wounds received in action at Passchendaele Ridge, her husband, Francis Joseph, was killed when the SS Mont-Blanc, loaded with high explosives, collided with the SS Nimo in Halifax harbour, caught fire and exploded causing the largest explosion then know to man. Almost 2,000 people were killed and in the region of 9,000 injured. Francis Joseph Carew, a foreman stevedore, appears as number 844 in the Halifax Book of Remembrance.
HE LOOKED AHEAD AND SMILED
MY HEART SHALL KEEP
HIS MEMORY FOR EVER
It won't surprise you to learn that it was Lance Corporal Plowright's mother who chose his inscription. This must be her memory of her last good-bye - 'he looked ahead and smiled'. There is something very moving about this kind of personal memory. Look at these two other last goodbyes:
I could not speak
That last good-bye
But kissed him o'er and o'er
Private William Carr Epitaph 793
With aching hearts
We shook his hand
It was our last good-bye
Private John McKay Epitaph 880
Alfred Plowright had been a railway clerk before the war, as was his father. Born in Enfield, in 1911 he was living with his parents in Wood Green. He enlisted in May 1915 and embarked for France with the 20th Battalion Middlesex Regiment on 17 November 1915. He "died of wounds received in an enemy air raid" according to the extra information his mother added to the War Graves Commission record.
IN A DEATHLESS ARMY
A deathless army is one made up of the old, dead soldiers of the past who march with their living comrades, swelling their ranks. It's an ancient idea that gave rise to numerous First World War legends, including that of the Crecy archers helping the soldiers at Mons.
John Gusthat's widow chose his inscription, quite possibly inspired by an old Imperial marching song called 'The Deathless Army', written in 1891 with music by H. Trotere and words by F.E.Weatherly. Whilst the soldiers sleep in a city square on the night before an attack a phantom army gathers:
Solemnly, silently, through the night,
Grim set faces and eyes so bright,
As heroes look when they march to fight
At the head of a mighty army.
And then I knew, in the still night-tide,
What men were must'ring side by side,
They were the men who had fought and died
In the ranks of our brave old army.
And their gallant swords may broken lie,
Their bones may bleach 'neath an alien sky,
But their souls, I know, will never die, -
They march in a deathless army.
The idea of 'deathless' also implies immortality, soldiers whose memory and reputations will never die. It's not the same as the Christian concept of eternal life, which comes from the resurrection of the body. To the ancient world you gained an everlasting name by dying for your country in battle - as John Gusthart had done.
Gusthart served with the 28th Battalion Canadian Infantry and was killed on 20 May 1917.
28th Battalion Canadian Infantry War Diary
Battalion in Support along BAILLEUL - RIAMONT - LOOS Line. Headquarters at T.27.d.4.5. During day enemy shelled our "A" Company front (Right Coy.) causing two Officer casualties. Lieuts. R.D'A STRICKLAND and D.J.CLARKE. Intermittent shelling throughout the whole day along the whole of B - R - L Line resulting in several O.R. casualties. Work parties carrying wire and consolidating B. - R. - L. Line at night. Weather fair.
WHY SEEK YE THE LIVING
AMONG THE DEAD
HE IS NOT HERE
Two days after the crucifixion, on what we now call Easter Sunday, some of the women in Jesus's group, Mary Magdalen, Joanna and Mary the mother of James, brought spices and ointments to where they had seen him buried. They wanted to anoint his body as was the custom. However, when they arrived at the grave they saw that the stone in front of it had been rolled away and the body of Jesus had gone.
"And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: and as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen:"
Christians believe that Christ's death and resurrection secured eternal life for all mankind so that no one should seek the living among the dead because they are not there.
'LIVERPOOL OFFICERS DIE SIDE BY SIDE'
Liverpool Daily Post 4 October 1915
... Captain Finlay Dun (also of the Liverpool Scottish), of Hoylake. Educated at the Leas School, Hoylake, and Loretto School, he was a member of Trinity College, Oxford. A well-know golfer, he was a life member of the Royal Liverpool Club. On the outbreak of war he enlisted in the Liverpool Scottish, went out to France with the 1st Battalion in November as a corporal, and was invalided home in December owing to an injury to the knee. On recovery he obtained a commission in the 2nd Battalion, and returned to the front after the heavy losses sustained by the 1st Battalion on June 16. He was recently promoted to be temporary captain. On the morning of September 28, after the grand attack on the enemy, Captain Macleod and Captain Leslie Dun went together to inspect the guards. While they were standing talking to two of the men on guard a German shell suddenly fell amongst them, and bursting, killed all four instantly. All were buried in the soldiers' cemetery.
HODIE MIHI CRAS TIBI
Hodie mihi cras tibi - today it's me, tomorrow it could be you. This is an ancient inscription, used since medieval times to warn people that death is ever present: we know neither the day nor the hour. The inscription often has the additional words, 'sic transit gloria mundi', thus passes the glory of the world.
Private Conroy's sister, Elizabeth Watson, chose her brother's inscription. It was to her that he had willed his effects, £4 12s 3d, probably in gratitude for the fact that she took the family under her wing following their mother's death sometime between 1901 and 1911. In the 1911 census, Elizabeth and her husband George were living in a three-roomed house with their own four children, aged from 7 to 11 months, and with her father, Thomas 52, and two of her brothers, Thomas 22 and William 20. Jacob Conroy was boarding with a family in Fife where he was working as a coal miner.
Conroy joined up on the outbreak of war. His qualifying date for the 1914-15 Star is 21 May 1915, the date the battalion arrived in France. He survived the liquid fire attack at Hooge at the end of July and was killed in action at Loos on 25 September.
After her brother's death, Elizabeth had another son whom she named in his memory Jacob Conroy Watson.
IF THIS CUP
MAY NOT PASS AWAY
EXCEPT I DRINK IT
THY WILL BE DONE
It's the words "except I drink it" that are the most chilling - these are Christ's words in the Garden of Gethsemane, St Matthew 26:42. Christ knows that the only way the terrible future that is in store for him can be overcome, can 'pass away', is by going through with it, through with his betrayal, his flogging and his crucifixion. There is no other way. In the same way that soldiers had no alternative but to stand and face whatever was in store for them, and the next-of-kin were forced to 'drink' the bitter cup that was given to them.
Robert Yaxley, a railway platelayer, served with the 45th Battery, 42nd Brigade Royal Field Artillery and died of wounds in a Casualty Clearing Station at Duisans. His mother, Anne Yaxley, a widow, chose his inscription.
WATCH AND PRAY
On the night before his crucifixion, Christ went with his disciples to Gethsemane. He asked Peter, James and John to watch whilst he went to pray. But when he came back he was dismayed to see that they they had fallen asleep:
What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
St Matthew 26:41
Malcolm Mitchell's mother signed for his inscription, 'Watch and pray'. It's the refrain of the hymn, 'Christian, seek not yet repose' . Watch and pray because you are in the midst of foes who lie in wait to ambush you, watch and pray because that is what Christ asked you to do:
Watch, as if on that alone
Hung the issue of the day;
Pray that help may be sent down:
Watch and pray.
Mitchell, in 1911 a plumber's boy, joined the 8th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers, a territorial battalion, on the outbreak of war. It was immediately sent to Egypt to defend the Suez Canal. However, Mitchell cannot have been with them. His medals came up for sale recently and they included the 1914-15 Star, not the 1914 Star. He was with the battalion when it landed in Gallipoli on 5 May 1915 and was killed in action two months later in the Battle of Krithia.
"THESE BE THE GLORIOUS ENDS
WHERETO WE PASS"
This inscription does not mean what it looks as though it means. It has nothing to do with death and glory, quite the opposite in fact. What Kipling is saying is - we all must die, much of what we do on earth is pointless, death can come from anywhere, any time, the dead are soon forgotten and we are all replaceable.
These be the glorious ends whereto we pass -
Let Him who Is, go call on Him who Was;
And He shall see the mallie* steals the slab
For currie-grinder, and for goats the grass.
A breath of wind, a Border bullet's flight,
A draught of water, or a horse's fright -
The droning of the fat Sheristadar**
Ceases, the punkah stops, and falls the night
For you or Me. Do those who live decline
The step that offers, or their work resign?
Trust me, Today's Most Indispensables,
Five hundred men can take your place or mine.
* the cemetery gardener
** the court clerk
The Last Department, 1899 (verses 7-9)
This is a very different sentiment from Kipling's 'If' in which he claimed that:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - what is more - you'll be a Man, my son!
Michael Stanton's father chose his inscription. Did he know how Kipling meant it? I think he did, and that he meant us to know too otherwise he wouldn't have shown so clearly that it was a quotation, nor identified the author as he did. This is a very disillusioned father who does not think his son's death was worthwhile.
Nineteen-year-old Michael served with the 3rd Company Canadian Machine Gun Corps and was killed in action in the attack on Vimy Ridge.
War Diary 3rd Company Canadian Machine Gun Corps
Trenches Roslincourt Sector
April 9 1917
At 3 am, in accordance with attached Operation Orders and with Brigade Operation Orders our 12 mobile guns Commanded by Major E. H. Houghton proceeded through Douai and Bentata tunnels to the Assembly trench. ... At zero hour, 5.30 am. Artillery opened up Barrage on Enemy front line and at zero plus 3 minutes our Infantry advanced. All our 12 mobile guns going forward with the second wave. The infantry reached and captured the Black line at about zero plus 36 minutes ...
[At the end of the day] Total casualties 4 killed, 13 wounded, 4 missing.
LOVED AND WAS LOVED
Is this just an ordinary gravestone inscription or are we meant to hear an echo of the words of the second verse of Canada's most famous war poem?
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
[In Flanders Fields John McCrae 1915]
I hear an echo of the poem; loved and was loved rather than loved and were loved because we're only talking about one man not all the dead.
Eighteen-year-old Phillips Welch - some sources spell his first name without the 's', others spell his surname Welsh not Welch - enlisted on 3 January 1916. Born on 11 March 1899, he was two months short of his seventeenth birthday. This means that when he was killed in action on 10 April, he was eighteen and one month. He probably didn't confess to being so young when he joined up as he would have been too young to serve abroad. No doubt he could convince the authorities he was older since he was 5' 9'' , tall for those days, with a 38" chest and a 4" chest expansion. All this information is contained in a soldier's attestation form.
Welch served with the 7th Company Canadian Machine Gun Corps and was killed in action on the second day of the fighting at Vimy Ridge.
ALAS! WHAT LINKS
OF LOVE THAT MORN
HAS WAR'S RUDE HAND
Alas! what links of love that morn
Has War's rude hand asunder torn!
For ne'er was field so sternly fought,
And ne'er was conquest dearer bought.
Here piled in common slaughter sleep
Those whom affection long shall weep:
Here rests the sire, that ne'er shall strain
His orphans to his heart again;
The son, whom, on his native shore,
The parent's voice shall bless no more;
The bridegroom, who has hardly press'd
His blushing consort to his breast;
The husband, whom through many a year
Long love and mutual faith endear.
Thou canst not name one tender tie,
But here dissolved its relics lie!
Stanza XX The Field of Waterloo
Sir Walter Scott 1815
As with the field of Waterloo on 18 June 1815 so with Vimy Ridge, on 9 April 1917; the bodies of fathers, sons, husbands and new bridegrooms lay scattered everywhere, the cause of heartbreak in homes across the world. The War Graves Commission site records that 6,851 men died in France on 9 April 1917, the first day of the Second Battle of Arras, of which Vimy Ridge was a part. British and Prussian casualties (allies in 1815) on 18 June 1815 were in the region of 42,000. I haven't been able to discover how many of these were dead.
Private Chapman was an undertaker from Paris, Ontario. Born in Glasgow, he and his family emigrated to Canada before the 1911 census. He served with the 8th Company Canadian Machine Gun Corps and was killed in action on 9 April 1917, his body found in a shall hole four days after the battle with three other members of his gun crew. The nature and extent of the injuries indicated that they had all been hit by a shell.
KILLED IN ACTION
War Diary 54th Battalion Canadian Infantry
Vimy Ridge 9 April 1917
Weather, snow & rainstorms. 5.30 am. Bn. attacked, - 350 all ranks in four waves behind 102nd Bn. Frontage LA SALLE to OLD BOOT SAP. Distance about 500 yards. Objective BEER and BLUE trenches. ... Strenuous opposition encountered on our extreme left flank from enemy strong post at OLD BOOT SAP & slight opposition from strong point near BROADMARSH CRATER. All objectives were reached and communication with 42nd Bn. stabilised. ... Our casualties approximately 4 officers & 20 O.R. killed, 5 officers & 100 O.R. wounded - 100 O.R. missing ... "
This was just one episode, for one battalion on one day of the four-day battle for Vimy Ridge, part of the five-week 2nd Battle of Arras. At the end of the four days the Canadians had lost 3,598 killed and 7,004 wounded - but they had captured Vimy Ridge, the high ground that dominated the plain of Douai and had been an Allied objective since the earliest days of the war.
Frank Lewis Portmore, originally one of the 100 missing other ranks, was killed by shell fire in the attack on the ridge. His mother chose his inscription.