LAURENCE BINYON


LAUGHED AND FOUGHT
STAUNCH TO THE END
FELL OPEN-EYED AND UNAFRAID

BOMBARDIER THOMAS EUGENE HUNTER


Thomas Hunter's inscription comes from a verse that Laurence Binyon wrote specially for Sir Edward Elgar's choral work Spirit of England (1917), his requiem for the war dead based on three of Binyon's poems: Fourth of August, For the Fallen and To Women. The verse is similar to one in For the Fallen:

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

This is the specially written verse:

They fought, they were terrible, nought could tame them,
Hunger nor legions, nor shattering cannonade.
They laughed, they sang their melodies of England,
They fell open-eyed and unafraid.

Thomas Hunter was a soldier before the First World War. In the 1911 census he is serving with R Battery Royal Horse Artillery in Meerut, India. However, I think he had left the army and was on the reserve when the war broke out. He served with 113th Battery Royal Garrison Artillery, which went to France on 12 June 1916. This was two weeks after he'd married Beatrice Alice King in St Paul's Gloucester. He was killed three months later.
From the burial evidence, it looks as though Hunter's gun received a direct hit. He and four members of the 113th were buried at map reference 62c.A.14.b.5.4., their graves discovered, registered, exhumed and reburied in February 1920.


TO BREAK BUT NOT TO FAIL

GUNNER HARRY HANDLEY


Gunner Handley's inscription comes from the last line of a little-known poem, 'To Women', by Laurence Binyon, author of the spectacularly well-known verse from his poem, 'For the Fallen':

They shall grown not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Published in The Times just two weeks after the outbreak of war, 'To Women' acknowledges the front-line role women will play in the war, not that they will actually be present on the front line but every bullet, sword or lance wound suffered by a soldier will be suffered by them too.

For you, you too to battle go
Not with the marching drums and cheers
But in the watch of solitude
And in the boundless night of fears.

But, despite their fears and and their suffering, Binyon acknowledges that the women of Britain are prepared " to bleed, to bear, to break, but not to fail".

The War Graves Commission records don't show who chose Handley's inscription but I would suggest that the quality of endurance, the person who might break but won't fail, is in this case the soldier. Born in Yorkshire the son of an agricultural labourer, at the age of 17 Harry Handley was living with a farmer in Hull and described in the census as 'Lad among the horses'. He served with the Royal Horse Artillery and was killed on 23 April 1917 during the Battle of Arras.


STRAIGHT OF LIMB
TRUE OF EYE
STEADY AND AGLOW

SECOND LIEUTENANT GEORGE FREDERICK WHITBY HARRISON


I think that few people will be able to identify the poem this inscription comes from and yet this is the next verse:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

This is Laurence Binyon's 'For the Fallen', published on 21 September 1914, just two months after the outbreak of war. The verse resonated with people at the time and still resonates with people today.
George Harrison's parents however chose to quote from the previous verse:

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their face to the foe.

There is such a terrible splendour in this - "straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow", "staunch to the end", "odds uncounted" ... too terrible.
George Harrison was the eldest child of Ernest Harrison, a commercial traveller in cigars. The family lived in Leicester. In the 1911 census George gave his occupation as a cutter in the tailoring trade. He served with the 3rd Battalion the Wiltshire Regiment but was among fourteen officers who were attached to the 6th Battalion on 26 September 1917. Harrison was killed four days later but the transcript of the war diary only refers to a "working party of 50 as on previous night".


STAUNCH TO THE END
AGAINST ODDS UNCOUNTED

LANCE CORPORAL WILLIAM TUNNAGE ABBOTT


This is a line from the third verse of Laurence Binyon's famous poem 'For the Fallen'. Published in The Times on 21 September 1914 the fourth verse has become as well known as any lines associated with the war:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn,
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Verse three reads:
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their face to the foe.

Before the war, William Abbott worked as a clerk in the accounts office of the Great Eastern Railway. He joined up in January 1916 and was promoted Lance Corporal on 5 February 1917. He was killed in an attack on the heavily defended German trenches at Bucquoy a month later.

"At 11 am the following morning [15 March 1917] Col. Ward received orders to send two strong patrols forward into Bucquoy, and expostulated with the Brigade-Major, telling him that it was hopeless, and that the position was held in considerable strength, as the enemy had been seen moving about outside their trenches in the early morning. This was repeated to the Brigade Commander on the telephone, but the answer was that strong patrols must be sent. A platoon from "A" and "B" Companies was therefore sent forward in extended order at two o'clock in the afternoon. Before they had advanced some hundred yards they came under heavy fire, and of course lost heavily. This was reported to Headquarters and orders were received to move the Battalion towards Bucquoy, but no sooner did "D" Company show up in the open than they were heavily shelled. ...
It is difficult to speak too highly of the gallantry and dash with which "A" and "B" Companies advanced, though it seemed to everyone that men were being thrown away on a very hopeless undertaking."
The Honourable Artillery Company in the Great War 1914-1919 pp 304-5
Edited by Major G. Goold Walker DSO, MC
Published London 1930

I don't imagine that William Abbott's father, who chose his son's inscription, can have had any idea how well his choice of inscription matched the circumstances of his son's death: Staunch to the end against odds uncounted.