CIRCUMSTANCES OF DEATH
ONE OF HIS MEN INTO SAFETY
Mrs Frances May Sames, Second Lieutenant Gilbert Sames' mother, chose his inscription? How did she know what had happened to her son? There are three letters still in the family's possession that describe how he was wounded. The letters don't all agree about the manner of his wounding - sniper, shell, machine gun - but at least one tells of how he was trying to bring in twenty-five-year-old Lance Corporal John Benstead, a member of his tank crew, when he was shot in the chest. It was 5 am. Sames died in a Casualty Clearing Station the next day. Benstead had died of his wounds the previous day. Both men are buried in Premont British Cemetery.
Sames was twenty, he had been commissioned into the Tank Corps on 3 February 1918 and arrived in France on 13 August to serve with the 10th Battalion. On 23 October the battalion took part in an action at Bousies. The war diary notes the various successes and otherwise of its tanks. This one sounds as though it could have been Sames' tank; he would have been the OIC, the officer in charge:
9172 OIC and 4 men wounded. Fired 53 rounds 6 pdr, 275 SAA
Tank left Sp. at 01.30 and proceeded along laid down route. On reaching the sunken road in k36d.9.2 the driver was wounded and the engine stopped. The enemy threw 2 bunches of bombs at the stationary tank, the tank was restarted but one track was found to be broken. The tank was abandoned at k36d.9.2; the OIC and 4 crew were wounded whilst evacuating.
IN MEMORY OF MY SON
KILLED WHILST RESCUING
A WOUNDED COMRADE
"I met Boyle in Egypt; he and I were in the same Squadron. He came from Nundle or Trundle. He was slim and athletic - standing about 5'9", fair, clean-shaved. He played football well. On 28th March 1918 C & D Troop were lining a ridge at Amman in support of "B" Squadron. Lying in front of our position, 30 yards away, was a wounded B Squadron man. Boyle walked from D Troop to C Troop to get a better look at the wounded man; as he was walking over he said "There should be a good chance of getting him in" - just then he was shot through the head and was killed instantaneously. I recovered all his personal property from his body, including a little round bone identification disc - on it was "Mother-Hundle" (or Trundle). Six months later we came back to Amman and found Boyle's body lying where it had fallen. Sergeant McNair and I buried the body, McNair painted Boyle's name on the cross over the grave. Boyle was a very good fellow."
Informant: No. 571 Corporal NJ Ausburn
Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau Files 2869 Trooper Edward Boyle 6th Light Horse
The 6th Light Horse had been ordered to make an attack on Amman but were met by stubborn Turkish resistance. On the 28 March they took up positions on the extreme left flank of the brigade:
"At 14.00 A and B Squadrons made a dismounted attack on Amman from the North with 7th LH Regt on their right. At 1530 they were forced to withdraw owing to the great strength of the enemy on this flank. Casualties 6 officers, 50 O/Ranks killed & missing."
War Diary 6th Australian Light Horse
Edward Boyle was the son of George and Caroline Boyle of Waterloo, New South Wales. He enlisted on 1 February 1916 and embarked from Australia on the 19 September the same year.
DIED A PRISONER OF WAR
FROM WOUNDS RECEIVED
IN ACTION AT CAMBRAI
The day Neville Elliott-Cooper was taken prisoner was the day he earned his Victoria Cross and the day he received the wound from which he died just over two months later. Two days before his VC was announced in the London Gazette.
Elliott-Cooper, a regular soldier who passed out of Sandhurst in 1908, was a lieutenant at the outbreak of war. On 14 May 1916 he was awarded a Military Cross for successfully taking and holding a section of the Hohenzollern Redoubt at Chord. He was promoted to Captain.
On 17 July 1917 he earned a DSO for rallying his battalion and leading a patrol that captured vital information and twenty German prisoners. He was promoted to Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel. On 30 November 1917, his VC citation records how on "hearing that the enemy had broken through our outpost line, he rushed out of his dug-out, and on seeing them advancing across the open he mounted the parapet and dashed forward calling on the Reserve Company and details of the Battalion Headquarters to follow".
Although unarmed he made straight for the enemy and under his direction they were driven back. However, before long he was badly wounded and realising that his men were seriously out numbered he ordered them to withdraw - and to leave him behind. His action delayed the enemy advance long enough for reserves to move in and hold the line.
Elliott-Cooper was held in a prisoner-of-war camp in Munster. A fellow prisoner, Frank Vans Agnew, wrote in his memoir:
We had Colonel N.B. Elliott-Cooper with us, badly wounded in the hip joint. He suffered pains of the the damned, but never whimpered once. His language was very bad but a joy to hear, and, when at his worst, he hurled things about ... the poor chap died in Hanover Hospital a month later. If he had gone to Hanover from Le Cateau he would be alive today in my opinion.
Elliott-Cooper died in hospital No. 1 at the prisoner-of-war camp at Lazaret in Hanover on 11 February.
Neville Bowes Elliott-Cooper was the third son and sixth child of Sir Robert Elliott- Cooper and his wife, Fanny. Sir Robert was a wealthy and successful Civil Engineer; his son's were educated at Eton where, more than five years after Neville's death, Sir Robert erected a memorial plaque that reads:
In loving memory of
Gilbert D'Arcy Elliott-Cooper
Major Royal Fusiliers
Died on March 7th 1922 from the result of
Wounds received in action on Aug. 13th 1915
Aged 42 years
At Eton 1893-1897
Also of Neville Bowes Elliott-Cooper VC DSO MC
Lieut-Col. Royal Fusiliers Died a prisoner of
War at Hanover on Feb. 11th 1918 of wounds
Received at Cambrai on Nov. 30th 1917
At Eton 1901-1907
Etonam nacti exornaverunt
Of all the things Sir Robert could have chosen to say about his son, Neville, it was the fact of his dying of wounds whilst a prisoner-of-war that he most wanted to record for posterity - both on this plaque and on his headstone. Neville may have been a lieutenant colonel with a VC, a DSO and an MC but to his father he was his twenty-eight-year-old son who died of wounds far from home as a prisoner of war.
DIED TO SAVE AN ENEMY
Samuel Brew's brother, Captain Henry Brew, chose his inscription, and confirmed this statment when he filled in the circular for the Roll of Honour of Australia by saying: "Killed while succoring [sic] wounded enemy". Interested to see if I could find out any further details, I looked up 16 August 1918 in the 6th Field Ambulance's war diary and this is what it said:
15th August: ... At about 12 noon the driver of a Ford Car stationed at Quarry X.4.s.8.3. (No. 2294 Dvr F Connolly No. 2 A.M.T. Coy att. 6th Field Amb.) and the orderly No. 9806 Pte. S Brew 6th Field Amb. were just about to commence their midday meal when an enemy shell exploded 5 yards from the car. The driver was standing just in front of the car & the orderly had stepped into the car to get his mess utensils when the shell exploded, the driver was killed instantly & the orderly severely wounded (sh.wd avulsed right arm sh. wd right knee, right foot). He died at No. 55 CCS on 16th & was buried at Daours Communal Cemetery Extension."
On 12 August, the 6th Field Ambulance moved forward from St Achuel. By the end of the 13th it had established itself in its new location and at 8.30 pm received its first patient. There would definitely have been German soldiers among those treated by the 6th Field Ambulance, those it succoured, but Brew's inscription does give a slightly misleading idea of the exact circumstances of his death.
Samuel Brew was born in Britain, in Great Crosby near Liverpool. He emigrated to Australia in 1899 when he was 23. His brother, Henry, also went to Australia, as did another brother, John. John served with the 38th Battalion Australian Infantry and was killed in action on 8 June 1917. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate. The death of two brothers, and also of a cousin - Lieutenant Thomas Brew was killed in action on 4 October 1917 - could explain why Henry Brew, from the comments he makes about his brother's death, sounds like a bitter man.
I'd like to make two comments about the diary entry before I finish, firstly it's interesting that a Field Ambulance diary names and describes the death of other ranks in this way, other units tend only to name officers. And secondly, as a Field Ambulance, the diary writer has given very specific details about the wounds Brew suffered. I had to look up 'avulsed'. It means a partial or complete tearing away of skin and tissue.
HE GAVE HIS LIFE
TO BRING IN
A WOUNDED COMRADE
Leslie McMurdo was underage when he was killed by a sniper - born in April 1900, he was only seventeen. But he had been determined to fight, so determined that when his attempt to join up in South Africa at the age of 16 failed he stowed away to Australia where he added two years to his age and claimed that he'd already undergone 121 days military training. The Australians accepted him on 21 September 1916, he embarked from Sydney on 23 December 1916, arrived in France via Britain on 4 August 1917, joined the 12th Rifle Company, 31st Battalion Australian Infantry on 24 August and was killed in action one month and two days later in the Battle of Polygon Wood.
Leslie McMurdo was the eldest of his parents' seven children. He was born in Stockton-on-Tees, Durham. The family emigrated to South Africa sometime between 1909 and 1911. His father, Thomas McMurdo, died in November 1914 so it was his mother who was his next of kin. She filled in the circular for the Roll of Honour of Australia and interestingly, she backs up her son's story claiming that he was 18 when he died. But the British records don't lie and they show that he was born in the second quarter of 1900. She also states that he came to Australia when he was 16 - that bit is true - "to go farming with Mr F.A. Sheppard ... but I do not know if he would have any other information to give you". I can't tell whether that is true or not but the speed with which he gets into the Australian army would indicate that he didn't have much time to do much farming. It's Mrs McMurdo who tells us of the manner of his death"
"After the Battle at "Polygon Wood", whilst attending a wounded comrade, 200 yards out in "No Man's Land, was shot though heart and left eye."
His body was found in an unmarked grave in March 1920.
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.
[Mr W.H. Davison, Mayor of Kensington, writes: - "I have just received the enclosed poem, written at the front by a brother officer in memory of Captain Allan MacDougall, of the Royal Fusiliers, who was recently killed in action. He had just written the message in his pocket-book: - 'O.C. - - Royal Fusiliers - Relief complete,' but was killed before he was able to sign the memorandum. Captain MacDougall was born in North Uist, in the Hebrides. From there he went to New Zealand, whence he came to New College, Oxford, as a Rhodes scholar, obtaining a First in History. He was gazetted as a subaltern in the - Royal Fusiliers in October 1914."] (N.B. censorship meant that The Times couldn't print the number of the battalion, which was the 22nd.)
Not where in grey surges of unnumbered miles
Rises the Coronach of the Hebrides;
Nor far away where molten sunlight smiles
On Southern Seas;
Not from the cloistered strife of Academe,
Spent with its subtle warfare, bowed with years
Of honoured labour, did'st thou pass supreme
Amongst thy peers:
But in the blasting hurricane of the Fray,
Deaf to its roar, unheeding of its toll,
Humbly before the Altar did'st thou lay
Thy splendid Soul.
So thou art gone, but who that lives can mourn
The promise of thy manhood, who by fire
Tried and accepted, did'st endure to scorn
The world's desire?
Rather we pray that we who hold the fort
May with an equal courage pace our beat,
Till, unashamed, we can at last report
August 3, 1916 P.H.Y.
The above was printed in The Times on 18 August 1916, ten days later the newspaper printed another tribute, from "an Oxford correspondent" who wrote that, having taken a First in English (not history), MacDougall,
"was appointed successively Assistant Lecturer in English at University College, Nottingham, Assistant Lecturer at the University of Belfast, and Lecturer at Bedford College, London. On the outbreak of war he enlisted, soon received a commission in the Royal Fusiliers, and became a first-rate officer. His high spirits and sense of humour and his union of courage and resource made him a leader of men. He was a faithful friend and a most loveable character."
KILLED IN ACTION
The epitaph 'Killed in action' is a statement of fact, and can be a matter of some pride, as well, of course, of regret. It was not an unusual inscription for a soldier but it was for a chaplain.
Chaplains did not take part in attacks but this didn't mean they were never seen in the front line. Initially the Army Chaplains Department had forbidden them from going any further forward than the advanced dressing stations. But many went up into the trenches knowing that the soldiers appreciated their presence, and knowing that they could make themselves useful: helping with the wounded, staying with the dying, talking to the men. One of the most famous of all war-time chaplains, the Revd Geoffrey Studdart Kennedy, had this advice to give:
"Live with the men, go everywhere they go. Make up your mind you will share all their risks, and more, if you can do any good. The line is the key to the whole business. Work in the very front and they will listen to you; but if you stay behind, you're wasting your time. Men will forgive you anything but lack of courage and devotion."
When asked what spiritual work could be done Studdart Kennedy replied:
"There is very little; it is all muddled and mixed. Take a box of fags in your haversack, and a great deal of love in your heart and go up to them; laugh with them, joke with them. You can pray with them sometimes; but pray for them always."
According to The Times' announcement of his death, Ruck Keene was killed "by a shell in the regimental aid post". Further forward than the advanced dressing stations, regimental aid posts were usually just metres from the front line trenches.
The son of the vicar of St Michael and All Angels, Copford, Essex, Ruck Keene had been a curate at St James the Great in Bethnal Green prior to beginning his service with the Army Chaplains Department in January 1917. The use of the phrase 'Jesu mercy', a shorthand prayer for the deceased to be spared the pains of hell, would suggest that both father and son had been High Church Anglicans.
Ruck Keene's eldest brother, Ralph, a lieutenant in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, was killed in January 1916. His inscription too gives an accurate description of the circumstances of his death:
Killed in a bombing accident
On active service
M.B. CH. B.EDIN.
KILLED WHILE ATTENDING
WOUNDED UNDER FIRE
George Lunan had only been out of medical school a year when the war broke out. He joined up immediately and served with the Royal Army Medical Corps attached as a medical officer to the 9th Queens Royal Lancers. He was killed in the trenches at Frezenberg Ridge on 13 May 1915 during the Second Battle of Ypres.
Two weeks later the Dundee Evening Telegraph carried a report of his death as related to Lunan's father by a fellow medic:
"He was in the trenches with A Squadron of the 9th Lancers, and he heard that there were wounded in C Squadron trenches. To reach the latter trenches he had to go over some open and very dangerous ground. He never hesitated, but, accompanied by his dresser, Corporal Steadman, RAMC, he ventured on this journey. He reached the parapet of C trenches, and there was shot through the heart by a bullet from a German rifle. His death was instantaneous. His whole regiment grieved for the loss of their 'young doctor officer'.
Another letter described how Lunan had already dressed the wounds of more than 60 men on the day he was killed. Although the letters are full of conventional platitudes - including one suspects the business of Lunan having been shot through the heart and dying instantaneously - one still gets the impression that he was both an able and a brave man. Front-line doctors working in the trenches at regimental aid posts were frequently told that they must wait for the casualties to be brought to them by the stretcher bearers, rather than expose themselves to greater danger by going out to the casualty. But doctors found it difficult to obey and many, like Lunan, consequently lost their lives in this way.
GLOS. R.F.A. (T) 1912
HE DIED IN A GALLANT EFFORT
TO SAVE HIS COMRADES
"It is impossible for me to say how much I sympathise with you in your great grief. Your son was attached to my battery when he met his death. A better officer I could not desire. He was always cheerful and intensely keen on his work: he was deservedly popular with all who knew him, officers and men. He died in a most gallent attempt to save the lives of others, and he suffered no pain. His death is a great loss to the brigade, but we are proud of the way he died.
I do not know if you have already heard how your son was killed; in case you have not, I will tell you as nearly as I can. The evening before a bomb store nearby was hit by the enemy, and two explosions occurred. At about midnight on the 23rd your son was on duty at the battery and noticed a fire amongst a large pile of bombs and other ammunition. He called out to a gunner, 'Come on, we must put this out,' and together they went up to it with buckets of water. The gunner was returning with an empty bucket and passed your son on the way up to the fire with a second bucket. A few seconds afterwards the explosion occurred."
Letter to Lieutenant Gedye's father from the brigade major written on 26 August and printed in the Western Daily Press, Bristol on 31 August 1916.
ON ACTIVE SERVICE
Gedye - In loving memory of Edward Leonard Gedye, Lieut. Gloucestershire R.F.A. (T) 1st South Midland Brigade, who "passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty and self-sacrifice" at midnight, Aug. 23 1916, near Albert-sur-Somme.
The Times August 23 1934
KILLED WHILE RUSHING
TO HIS FRIEND'S ASSISTANCE
Unfortunately this is all I have been able to discover about the death of Gunner Smith. I don't know what the incident was nor what happened to the friend. Godfrey Smith appears to have been the only gunner from 187th Brigade to have died on the 9th September 1916 but Heilly Station Cemetery was a Casualty Clearing Station cemetery so the incident could have happened some days earlier.
Smith's mother, Mrs Annie Smith, chose his inscription. Someone, a friend or her son's officer, must have written to tell her about the event. It is a real example of the much used quotation from St John 15:13, which so many memorial committees and bereaved families chose for an inscription:
Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.
FELL IN THE ATTACK
ON ST JULIEN
LEADING HIS MEN
On 25 April 1915 the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers, after a long forced march the previous day, launched an attack at St Julien in support of the Canadians. Three days earlier the Canadians had been the victims of the German's first gas attack, which had been used on them on the 24th too. The attack on the 25th was a desperate, scrambled affair where, according to the Official History, the Fusiliers "were now called on to do the impossible".
Nineteen-year-old Lieutenant Lynden-Bell, described by his captain as "a brave lad", died in the attack. Seventy-five members of the Royal Irish Fusiliers died that day, the bodies of all but ten of them never recovered; they are commemorated on the Menin Gate.
Tadley and District History Society have published some valuable research on Donald Lynden-Bell, including the facts that the Lynden-Bells were a distinguished military family, and that Donald's younger brother, Lachlan, who survived the war, called his son Donald after his dead brother.
FELL WHILST LEADING
On 16 June 1916 Ronald Grundy wrote to his father, sending the letter home with a friend going on leave so as to avoid the censor and telling him him that the British were on the verge of a big attack. The letter gave John Grundy far more military details than it should have done, including the fact that Ronald was "glad to say I shall be one of the first over the top". At the end of the letter he warned his father that, "As it is information that would be useful to the enemy keep it to yourself at least until the show as started".
Two weeks later he wrote to both his parents concluding with these words:
And mother, please always look on the bright side. Only 5% of the Army are killed and there are lots of fellows over here who have been out 20 months & in all the big scraps. So cheer up & don't worry for I can't always write as frequently as I have done.
Goodbye and best to you all,
P.S. A very happy birthday to you
The next day, 1 July 1916, Ronald led his men (his platoon of about fifty men) 'over the top', according to his batman carrying no more than his officer's swagger stick, and was shot through the neck and killed in the very first minutes of the attack. It appears that his family received his 30 June letter on 4 July and the telegram notifying them of his death on the 5th - his mother's birthday.
Statistics vary but however you look at it Ronald's percentage of Army deaths was way out. Twelve percent is usually the number given for soldiers and seventeen percent for officers.
Ronald and his brothers were all pupils at Emanuel School in London. His elder brother Cecil died of wounds on 16 November 1915, his younger brother, Jack, became headmaster in 1953.
In his book, 'The Great War and Modern Memory', Paul Fussell scorned the use of 'high diction', euphemisms, that disguise the reality of war and glamourize and romanticise it. The use of the word 'fell' instead of died or was killed is one that receives special mention. However, I have seen enough reports from soldiers describing the death of the man beside them to know that they used the word literally - the man fell - without any intention of glamourising what happened. He 'fell', the 'fallen', did become the way to describe the war dead, and it did give their deaths some sort of romantic distance but it was also a literal description of what happened when you were shot or hit by a shell. Ronald's father used the word in his inscription, Ronald's manservant having told them that he had just "crumpled without a sound".
For Cecil's inscription, John Grundy appears to pay tribute to both his sons:
And for such sons as these
Be praise to God
I have made extensive use of an article by Daniel Kirmatzis for this post. He is the co-author of 'Emanuel School at War' and can be heard talking about the Grundy bothers here.
HE DIED WITH HIS MEN
HE LIVES WITH THOSE
HE LEFT BEHIND
Lieutenant Colonel Bircham's widow chose his inscription, highlighting the fact that he, the officer commanding the Second Battalion the King's Royal Rifle Corps, had been with his men when he was killed during their attack on the German trenches near High Wood. As Dr Peter Hodgkinson remarks in 'British Infantry Battalion Commanders in the First World War' (2015), being with your men as they went into battle was a much respected - though very dangerous - activity for senior officers.
Bircham was thought by his men to be 'a great chap', accessible, thoughtful for their well-being and always prepared to be where there was danger. Although on 23 July his adjutant had protested that it was much too dangerous for him to be in the front line, Bircham was not to be dissuaded, 'You know very well ... where a Colonel of the Rifles should be on such occasions'. Unfortunately the adjutant was right. Bircham was hit by a shell and died later the same day. And the battalion attack failed in the face of a fierce German counter attack.
Bircham, an Old Etonian, was a regular soldier. He joined the army in 1896 and served during the South African War where he was seriously wounded and won the DSO. In 1908 he married Gladys Violet Willes but neither in the 1911 census nor in any of his obituaries are children mentioned. So, 'those he left behind' meant his wife, his father and mother, who died in 1922 and 1941 respectively and his three siblings. Gladys died in Cheltenham in 1963.
WHILE TRYING TO BRING IN
A WOUNDED COMRADE
The 2nd Battalion of the Honourable Artillery Company's war diary casts no light on this incident. It merely comments that, having gone into the front line on 5 December, on the 6th the, "enemy shelled front line severely. Inter company relief very difficult to effect. Pts. Levy PS. - Ebsworth HE. - Heely HF. killed. 6 wounded."
SHOT WHILE LEADING HIS MEN
OVER THE TOP
HE WAS LOVED
BY ALL WHO KNEW HIM
A BRAVE SOLDIER
AND A GALLANT GENTLEMAN
OF NEVER FAILING CHEERFULNESS
& CONTEMPTUOUS OF DANGER"
"PEACE, PEACE, HE IS NOT DEAD
HE DOTH NOT SLEEP
HE HATH AWAKENED
FROM THE DREAM OF LIFE"
There are well over 66 characters in the above inscription, the number permitted by the War Graves Commission, and more than the 140 characters, which is Twitter's (old) limit. In fact it has a grand total of 204 characters. Why did the War Graves Commission allow it? It seems that the Commission used its discretion, if a family insisted - and could pay for it - it was allowed. It was more important that next-of-kin accepted the non-repatriation of bodies, and the uniform headstone than they limited their inscription to 66 characters.
Colin Bale in his ebook A Crowd of Witnesses: Epitaphs on First World War Australian War Graves mentions the case of Lieutenant Hugh McColl whose inscription ran to 124 characters. Bale explains this preferential treatment by the fact that Hugh McColl's father was a prominent Australian politician. This could be the reason, even though there's no documentation to support it. However, plenty of prominent people had dead sons, including the former British Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith and King George V's aunt, Princess Beatrice of Battenberg, and they didn't claim any special concessions from the Commission. In any case, Captain Guy Willock's relations don't appear to have been particularly prominent people anyway. His father, Charles Johnstone Willock, came from a military family in India and was a London barrister who died in March 1919, too early to have had any influence on his son's headstone inscription. Guy's mother, Maud, had died before the war.
The online Masonic Roll of Honour explains the War Graves Commission's preferential treatment by claiming that Guy Willock was Queen Victoria's nephew, but there doesn't appear to be any supporting evidence for this.
Guy Willock died leading his men over the top in an attack on the German trenches on the first day of the battle of Loos, 25 September 1915. Ten months later, the East Surrey Regiment famously kicked footballs across No Man's Land in their attack on the German trenches on the first day of the battle of the Somme, I July 1916. In this they were only doing what the Irish Rifles, Guy Willock's regiment, had done on 25 September. One of these footballs has survived and is among the regiment's most precious relics. In 2011, photographer Michael St Maur Sheil was given permission to take the football back to the battlefield where he photographed it on Captain Guy Willock's grave.
Several senior officers wrote letter of condolence to Charles Willock and an amalgam of these letters provide the wording for much of his son's inscription. 'The senior major' wrote: "Guy was one of our most valued officers, loved by all who knew him, of never failing cheerfulness in the most trying circumstances, and contemptuous of danger". Brigadier-General Thwaites wrote of how he had to "deplore the loss of a brave soldier and a gallant English gentleman".
The quotation that follows comes from Shelley's Adonais, his elegy on the death of John Keats - a not uncommon inscription.
With both parents dead, who composed Guy Willock's inscription? It appears to have been his step-mother, Edith Mary Willock, mother of Guy's half sister, Joan Mary Boileau Willock, who was 6 when her half-brother was killed.
KILLED IN AERIAL COMBAT
IL Y A DONC QUELQUE CHOSE
DE PLUS PRECIEUX QUE LA VIE
PUISQUE NOUS SOMMES ICI
Captain Mond and his observer, Lieutenant Edgar Meath Martyn, were shot down and killed on 15 May 1918. Although their bodies were recovered they were then misidentified and buried as Captain JV Aspinall and his observer Lieutenant Paul Dornonville de la Cours, see the previous inscription epitaph 352.
Thanks to Mond's mother's persistence (as described in the previous inscription) the mistake was eventually discovered, the bodies exhumed and correctly identified and new headstones erected. For personal inscriptions, Edgar Martyn's widow chose 'Greater love hath no man than this', and Francis Mond's mother a quotation from Georges Duhamel's 'The New Book of Martyrs'. Writing about his wartime experiences, Duhamel, a French surgeon, describes coming across a burial ground:
Mais le cimetiere que voici ne doit rien la vieillesse et a la maladie. C'est un cimetiere d'hommes jeunes et forts.
On peut lire leurs noms sur les cent petites croix pressees qui repetent tout le jour, en un choeur silencieux: "Il y a donc quelque chose de plus precieux que la vie, il y a donc quelque chose de plus necessaire que la vie ... puisque nous sommes ici."
[But this burial ground owes nothing to old age or sickness. It is the burial ground of young, strong men.
We may read their names on the hundreds of little crosses which repeat daily in speechless unison: "There must therefore be something more precious than life, more necessary than life ... since we are here."]
Mrs Mond shortened the quotation to: 'There must therefore be something more precious than life since we are here'. The meaning is that our country is more precious than life since we have given our lives to defend it.
Francis Mond joined the Territorial Artillery in July 1914 and volunteered for foreign service on the outbreak of war. He joined the Royal Flying Corps in February 1915 and was invalided home with shell shock that autumn. He returned to the front in 1916 but in September that year was posted to the Air Board in London. At his own request, he returned to active flying in March 1918 and was shot down on 15 May.
The Western Front Association relates the story of the discovery of the true identity of the bodies. After the war, Francis Mond's parents endowed the Chair of Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Cambridge in his memory.
The Monds were originally a German family. Francis's father, Emile Moritz Schweich Mond, was born in Cologne in 1865. Emile's uncle, Ludwig Mond, came to England in 1862 and set up Brunner Mond in Northwich, Cheshire and the Mond Nickel Works in Swansea. Ludwig's son, Alfred Mond who became the first Lord Melchett, was the inspiration behind the establishment of the Imperial War Museum in March 1917, and oversaw the establishment ICI. Francis Leopold Mond was his wife's nephew and his cousin's son.
ABIDE WITH ME
HE FELL A CONQUEROR
LEADING THE ASSAULT
SUNDAY 16TH MAY 1915
Lieutenant Colonel Harry Bottomley, commanding the 2nd Battalion The Queen's West Surrey Regiment, died on 18 May of wounds he'd received two days earlier leading an assault on the German salient at Festubert. His inscription begins with the opening words of Henry Lyte's hymn, a prayer asking for God's supporting presence through all life's trails and especially when facing death. The first and last verses read:
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
DIED OF WOUNDS
RECEIVED IN THE BATTLE
Laurence Fisher-Rowe was the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards when he was wounded by a bullet on 12 March 1915 during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. He died in a Casualty Clearing Station in Estaires the next day. The Imperial War Museum has a collection of his private papers containing letters and diaries, which record, among other things, the Christmas Truce of 1914. There is also a collection of letters from his wife describing the difficult journey she made across France in March 1919 to visit her husband's grave. Laurence Fisher-Rowe was always known as 'The Old Friend', which is how he is described on his memorial in Sherborne Abbey.
DIED AT BETHUNE
FROM WOUNDS RECEIVED
IN ACTION NEAR VERMELLES
Father Gwynn volunteered on the outbreak of war to serve as a chaplain at the front. He was attached to the Irish Guards and went with them wherever they went: living with them in the trenches, helping at the Field Dressing Station when they were in action, comforting them, administering the last rites and burying them. On 11 October a shell landed at the entrance to his dugout and a fragment pierced his lung. He died the next day at a Casualty Clearing Station. His inscription is based on words taken from his temporary grave marker, which continued:
This monument has been erected by all ranks of
The 1st Bat. Irish Guards in grateful
Remembrance of their Beloved Chaplain
Who was with them on active service for nearly 12 months
From Nov. 1914 until his death
And shared with unfailing devotion all their trials and hardships.
SHOT AT DAWN
ONE OF THE FIRST TO ENLIST
A WORTHY SON OF HIS FATHER
There is no prevarication about this inscription. In order to spare his feelings, Private Ingham's father would have been informed that his son had 'died of wounds', and this is what it says in the cemetery register. However, when Mr Ingham discovered the truth he chose not to hide it but to state it defiantly on his son's headstone. He also pointed out that his son had been an early volunteer and that he, the father, was still proud of him.
Albert Ingham and a friend absconded from the front and were caught in civilan clothes trying to get back to England. They were tried and executed for desertion. Without Mr Ingham's choice of inscription there would be nothing to differentiate his son's grave from that of any other casualty of the war.
Interestingly, Mr Ingham's view of his son's actions was reflected in Parliament. On 30 July 1919, The Times reported Colonel Lambert Ward, Conservative MP for Kingston-upon-Hull, asking for an assurance from the Secretary of State that "no difference should be made between the graves of those men who in France and Flanders were killed in action or died of wounds or disease and the graves of those unfortunate men who were tried by Courts-martial and shot for cowardice or desertion in the face of the enemy. These men were not cowards. Many of them volunteered in the early days of the war. They tried - and they failed. Surely it is better to have tried and failed that never to have tried at all. (Hear, hear.)"
SHOT DOWN AT DAWN
OVER THE GERMAN LINES
FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH
This inscription had me worried for a moment but no it says 'shot down at dawn' not shot at dawn.
Richard Stone was a pilot with 203 Squadron who at midnight on 8 August 1918 was attached to 201 Squadron in a ground attack role. The next morning he took off in Sopwith Camel D6250 in support of the British troops attacking near Rosieres. Driven off once by German fighters he returned to the area where he was attacked again. This time his plane was hit and crashed. Stone was killed.
As was the custom with pilots, the cut down propeller of his plane formed the cross over his original grave. It now hangs in the church of St Nicholas, Piddington, Oxfordshire. There is another survival from this crash. In May 1919, Stone’s body was exhumed by the Australian Graves Detachment and reburied in Heath Cemetery. One of the Australians removed Stone’s and when he was passing through London he returned it to Stone’s father, John Morris Stone, a Lincolns Inn barrister. The ring is still worn by a member of the Stone family.
The last line of Stone’s inscription comes from the Book of Revelation 2:10. This quotes Jesus as having promised, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life”, a special reward for those who have met death in their efforts to fulfil God’s will. To the British, of course, God’s will was that they should defeat the Germans.
More details on Richard Stone can be found here on the Piddington Village website.
DIED AT THE GUNS
HEARTENING HIS MEN
AT ZILLEBEKE LAKE
There's something about this inscription that I find very moving. I'm not sure why, other than the fact that it epitomises the role of a junior officer during the war. One of his main duties was to look after his men, to maintain their morale. This was done both by winning their respect and by discipline. The little book, A General's Letters to His Son on Obtaining His Commission, published in 1917, offers the following advice:
"Your men will obey you because you are their officer, but you will succeed in getting infinitely more out of them if you can win their love and respect. Let your Platoon always be your first care. Put yourself in the position of your men, and never ask them to do what you would not be ready to do yourself in like circumstances.
In a disciplined company when the Captain has given the word to advance, the individual obeys, certain that whether he advances or not his comrades on either side will do so, and whatever his own feelings may be, he cannot but obey. Having done so, and believing himself a hero among a band of heroes, he acquires the courage which comes from discipline, and becomes a brave man though he was not born one."
Zillebeke was already an appalling and dangerous place to be in August 1917 before 34.9 mm of rain fell over the 26th and 27th of the month. Keeping the guns firing became a herculean task, not made any easier by the fact that the Germans had the range of the British guns and kept up a constant bombardment.
The Rochdale Observor announced Kelsall's death in their 5 September edition; his family were partners in the Rochdale firm of Kelsall and Kemp, big employers in the town, which did good business during the war making khaki cloth for the army. After recounting the details of his education and army service if finished its report with the words: "He was popular, loved and respected alike by officers and men". Kelsall had succeeded in fulfilling his duty to his men.
DIED OF WOUNDS
RECEIVED IN ACTION
Lieutenant Hudson's parents had already received a telegram telling them that their son had been dangerously wounded on 25 January. This was followed by another one on 8 February informing them that he had 'died of wounds'. Records at No 10 Casualty Clearing Station, Lijssenthoek describe the nature of his wounds - "bullet in the abdomen".
DIED AS A SOLDIER
AT HIS POST
To a soldier this is the ultimate accolade implying the faithful discharge of duty regardless of the cost. As a grenade thrower, Private Macpherson would have been one of two in a nine-man team often used for clearing captured trenches.
WHEN VISITING HIS MEN
FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH
The Graves Register states that the Reverend Armar Acton 'died of wounds (gas)' but this doesn't really tie in with the inscription on his headstone, which says he was 'fatally wounded'. Another account therefore seems to be more accurate. According to this, Acton was visiting the front line on 26 October when he was injured by shrapnel, which broke his knee. Initially this didn't seem a very serious wound but then infection set in, his leg had to be amputated and he died on 4 November.
KILLED BY SHELLFIRE
WHEN ERECTING CROSSES
ON THE YPRES-MENIN ROAD
Captain Macdonald was marking graves with wooden crosses, part of the work the Directorate of Graves Registration and Enquiries carried out to try to ensure that soldiers' graves were not lost but identifed and their position recorded.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
MY DEAR HUSBAND CHARLIE
DROWNED ON ACTIVE SERVICE
Lance Corporal Powell served with the Inland Water Transport section of the Royal Engineers. This operated barges transporting ammunition and provisions from the Base Supply Depots to the front. It also helped operate the ambulance barges carrying the wounded from the front to the base hospitals.
DIED FROM INJURIES RECEIVED
WHILST RESCUING A CHINAMAN
DURING AN AIR RAID
"GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN"
On the night of 19/20 May 1918 the Germans bombed the base camp at Etaples causing many casualties among soldiers, nurses and members of the Chinese Labour Corps. The Reverend William Spinks was severely injured and died of his wounds ten days later. It is estimated that there were nearly 100,000 Chinese Labourers working for the British Army in France by the time of the Armistice of whom about 2,000 died.
WHAT GREATER SACRIFICE
THAN HIS OWN LIFE
GIVEN TO SAVE A HORSE
Horses were valued and valuable members of gun crews. Each 18 pounder gun was pulled by a team of six horses with the Bombardier and Serjeant riding their own. It is said that 484,000 British Army horses died during the war.
OUR NOBLE HAROLD
DIED SAVING AN OFFICER
GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN
"Killed Mont St Quentin, France whilst voluntarily carrying a wounded officer back to dressing station." This is what Private Trembath's father wrote in the the section 'Place where killed or wounded' on the form for the Roll of Honour of Australia. Further down the form he explains how, influenced by the Principal of Ballarat College, Major Garbutt, his son was very keen to get to the Front, writing in one of his last letters, "Father, I intend to Play the Game". From the form it's difficult to tell whether Mr Trembath blames Major Garbutt for his son's military enthusiasm, but seeing how he describes his son in the inscription, "Our noble Harold", I feel father saw it that way too.
KILLED WHEN ATTENDING
THE WOUNDED ON THE FIELD
From his inscription, Lieutenant Mitchell must have been the Medical Officer at the Regimental Aid Post, which was usually situated in or very close to the front line. During their four days here in the trenches at Hooge, the Royal Sussex Regiment lost 7 officers and 134 men, including almost all the men of D Company who were buried alive on the 14th when the Germans exploded a mine under the trenches. Dr Francis Mitchell was a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin and the Royal City of Dublin Hospital.
IN PROUD MEMORY
KILLED WHILE LEADING A CHARGE
OF THE 2ND LEINSTERS
GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN
Mrs Conyers was a novelist, the author of 54, Irish based, romantic novels featuring horses and hunting. She describes her husband as having been killed leading a charge, as though the Leinsters were a cavalry regiment. In fact, Colonel Conyers was killed in the frantic melee of attacks and counter attacks that caused heavy casualties amongst the Leinsters that day.
KILLED LEADING HIS BRIGADE
BUT 5 DAYS LANDED
SOLDIER AND GREAT GENTLEMAN
Four days after the Germans launched their first gas attack on the Western Front the situation outside Ypres was desperate. Newly landed in France, 149 Brigade was rushed up to the front and ordered to make a frontal attack in broad daylight on the village of St Julien. About mid-afternoon General Riddell insisted on going forward to the firing line to see the situation for himself. He was seen conferring with his battalion commanders when he was shot through the head by a sniper. Obituaries spoke admiringly of his military career in India and South Africa and of his skill as a horseman both on the polo pitch and in the hunting field.
AN ONLY SON
KILLED IN ACTION
ON HIS WAY TO
LEAVE AND WEDDING
The Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau would make extensive enquiries when it needed to find out exactly what had happened to a casualty. Their records, now digitised, reveal that Private Gilkes "was about 19, fair, medium height, and fresh complexion. A fine little soldier. His name was Harry" (Lieutenant Hindmarsh). Information pieced together from other witnesses describe what happened: they were holding an advanced position and had been bothered by a sniper, at about mid-day Gilkes crawled out into the long grass to try and get him. When he didn't return his mates went out to look for him and found him shot through the head, "the bullet entered the top of his head, coming out at the back above his neck", "I helped carry him from the front line to the support line where they placed him on a stretcher", "he was working for leave to go to England to meet his father. He expected to get married".
KILLED IN ACTION
WHILST IN COMMAND OF
THE 141ST INFANTRY BRIGADE
The entry in the 141st Brigade War Diary reads: "7.40 am Brigadier General Nugent killed by a stray bullet". To those at the Brigade Headquarters this seemed impossible but as Private AR Read reported: "Our Brigadier General while inspecting the forward positions was killed by a sniper at Sidbury Mound. Strange to say but I myself had passed that spot a good many times, and it must have been the general's red hat band that caused his death". Read goes on to say that the General's body was brought back to Headquarters and "each of us in turn was allowed to have a last look at him. We went out and picked some wild flowers and the Pioneers made a wooden cross".
General Nugent's two sons, aged 24 and 20 at the time of their father's death, both survived the war.
KILLED IN ACTION
The words on the telegram received by the next of kin were blunt and unambiguous: "Deeply regret to inform you that ... was killed in action on ...". It seems rather a strange inscription for Mrs Briscoe to have chosen for her only son, but in fact it says more than you think. To have been killed in action means that you must have been on active service, somewhere on the front line. And to have been on active service means that you must have been judged Grade A at your medical. Mrs Briscoe, a widow, was proud of her son, a brave man and a fine physical specimen; the blunt inscription 'killed in action' tells us all we need to know about her hopes and dreams.
SERVED FR. AUG. 1914
SUCCESSFUL ATTACK SOMME
7 OCT. 1916, AGE 21
Lieutenant Grose survived the Battle of Mons to be killed two years later on the Somme