His Loving Parents Curse the Hun

Having originally announced that all inscriptions were to be subject to their “absolute power of rejection or acceptance”, the Commission then had to backtrack and reassure the public that it only intended to censor ones that were “plainly unsuitable”. What did they consider “plainly unsuitable?

They allowed Burns’,

Man’s inhumanity to man
makes countless thousands mourn


If this is victory, then
let God stop all wars
His Loving mother.

They also allowed

Was it in vain?

And can they really have been oblivious to the irony in,

Let brotherly love continue.

But they couldn’t allow,

His loving parents curse the Hun

In January 1922 the minutes record that the Vice-Chairman brought this inscription to the attention of the Commission at their monthly meeting, reporting that he had approached the parents to ask if they might modify it. They had sent back the following modification.

With every breath we draw
We curse the German more;
May the French and British paw
Keep the devils in their place
For evermore

As the minutes inscrutably record, the Vice-Chairman “proposed to decline to engrave the inscription. The Commission agreed.”

The following month the Commission turned down,

Set out to save England.
Result: England permanently damned


He left our home to fight the Hun
Little did we think he would never return

And in July of the same year,

He died the just
For the unjust.

The following February the Vice-Chairman told the Commission that if they had no objection he proposed to allow,

Just for a scrap of paper.

The Commission agreed, after all these were the words the German Chancellor Bethman-Hollweg had dismissively used to describe Britain’s 1839 treaty with Belgium, hardly able to believe that Britain would stand by her obligation and go to war with Germany. The ‘Scrap of Paper’ appears on a recruiting poster and is also the title of a poem by Herbert Kaufman so the inscription is more of a quotation than an accusation.

Not all decisions depended simply on the Vice-Chairman’s say-so . In November 1923 the Commission considered,

I am here as a result of uncivilised nations

This provoked some discussion but was eventually accepted as the inscription for Private John Collin Goodall. The acceptance of this inscription could have had something to do with the fact that the Victory Medal, awarded to everyone who had served in a theatre of war between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918, including women who had served as nurses or in the auxiliary forces, carried the words on the reverse – ‘The Great War for Civilisation 1914-1919.
However, the proposal by Private GT Jenkins’ parents that his inscription should read,

Against his will
A man to kill

was refused on the grounds that it might cause pain to other relatives visiting the cemetery.

So, it looks as though relatives were not allowed to call the enemy Huns, but even if they called them Germans they still weren’t allowed to insult them by referring to them as devils, or the unjust, although they could be referred to as uncivilised.  Whether it was the use of the word damned or the sentiment that condemned that inscription is unclear but it’s probably the use of the word ‘kill’ that the Commission felt was offensive to other relatives in the last example.  It is quite acceptable to die for your country but people don’t like to be reminded that you were also prepared to kill for it too.

There is more information on this subject on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s site 


  • Kathi Pearlmutter wrote:

    Are the minutes of this January 1922 Commission meeting on line? If so, can you please provide a link. Thanks.

  • I’d also love to know if there’s any moderately easy to way to view this kind of commission record-keeping. As a US grad student it’s not like I’ll have much of an opportunity to come do a deep dive through the physical archives, much as I would love to be able to afford that.

  • The Commission sent me brief extracts from seven of their meetings over three years – 1922-1925. There’s only a page each time and all references are to censorship. It’s not much but if you’d like me to scan and send them to you I will. You could send me a direct message via Twitter – @WWInscriptions – with your email address.

  • Edward Wild wrote:

    Visited Gordon Dump Cem. (Somme) this year and saw the epitaph “was it in Vain” on the grave of Edric James Couzens. It did not have a question mark but is this the same as the epitaph that was discussed by Commission that you mentioned above, or does it refer to another grave?

  • Unfortunately the Commission’s records only mention the inscription and not the person it applied to so I don’t know if this is the one they were referring to. I’ll see if I can find out more – but interesting that you found this one.

  • edward wild wrote:

    Thank you

  • I’ve come across the Family Verification Form – the form families filled in with their choice of inscription – belonging to Private Paul who was killed in action on 18 July 1916, it’s handwritten by his wife & reads – Did he die in vain? – with question mark.

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