15TH AUGUST 1917 AGE 27


There is a memorial in Loos British Cemetery that reads:

"To the memory of these 16 Dominion soldiers killed in action 1917 and buried at the time in Lens Canadian Cemetery No. 3, which was destroyed by the enemy". "Their glory shall not be blotted out."

Oliver Bilton was one of these sixteen soldiers, consequently he has what is called a Kipling Memorial. Kipling Memorials are headstones that look like normal headstones but for the superscription, chosen by Rudyard Kipling from the Apocrypha, Ecclesiastes 44:13, "Their glory shall not be blotted out". It was used to mark the graves of casualties who were known to have been buried in a particular cemetery but whose graves were subsequently destroyed in the fighting and couldn't be located. Bilton was originally buried in Lens Canadian Cemetery No. 3 but when the time came to consolidate the cemetery into Loos British Cemetery there was no trace of his body.
However, he was allowed to have a headstone in the new cemetery and therefore his wife was able to choose an inscription. It comes from The Prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and it introduces Chaucer's most admired character, the knight:

A knyght ther was, and that a worthy man, [There was a knight, a most distinguished man]
That fro the tyme that he first began [Who from the day on which he first began]
To riden out, he loved chivalrie, [To ride abroad had followed chivalry]
Truth and honour, fredom and curteisie. [Truth, honour, generousness and courtesy]

Chivalry, a series of religious, moral and social codes associated with medieval knights, was much glamourised in the late nineteenth century both in art and literature. Not surprisingly therefore, Oliver Bilton's is not the only inscription that references the code.
Bilton was born in Barrow-on-Humber, Lincolnshire, the youngest of his parents eight children. He emigrated to Canada and then enlisted in Aldershot, Nova Scotia on 10 August 1915 and served with the 24th Battalion Canadian Infantry. He went home on leave to Barrow in July 1917 when he married Miss Elsie Martin. He was killed in action the following month when the battalion attacked at Cite St Laurent close to the Lens-Bassee Road.
The Hull Daily Mail reported his death on 1 September, quoting from the letter his Commanding Officer wrote to his wife telling her that, "He [Bilton] was always held in the highest esteem by his fellows, he having such high ideals, which drew all the men to him". "Such high ideals" - it sounds as though his inscription may have been well chosen:

He loved chivalry
Truth and honour
Freedom and courtesy