PRIVATE JAMES CLOUSTON
31ST JULY 1917 AGE 21
BURIED: GWALIA CEMETERY, ELVERDINGE, BELGIUM
On 31 July 1917 the British launched an attack along the whole of the Ypres front, from Boesinghe in the north to Wytschaete in the south. The 6th Battalion Black Watch, with which Clouston served, was part of the 51st Highland Division. Their divisional history records:
"Of the battalions engaged on the Divisional front, the 6th Black Watch sustained most casualties, 9 officers and 292 other ranks. This battalion had suffered considerably in the half hour before zero while lying assembled immediately in rear of the old British front line, and again while waiting for the barrage to move forward from in front of the Black outpost line. In this position the men were swept by a machine-gun firing from Gournier Farm."
Clouston's father, a bank teller from Glasgow, chose his inscription. It may seem highly inappropriate to us for someone to describe fighting as playing the game, but that's not what it meant. Playing the game means doing what is expected of you, as a member of a team, enthusiastically and to the best of your abilities. It's what the schoolboy meant in Newbolt's much derided poem, Vitai Lampada, when it was his voice that rallied the ranks with the cry of 'Play up, play up and play the game'.
However, Clouston's inscription does not come from Newbolt's poem but from The Lost Master by the Anglo-Canadian poet, Robert Service (1874-1958). The 'master', who I read as an officer, tells his men that when he dies he doesn't want any elaborate rituals or praise, "But just the line ye grave for me: 'He played the game'"
So when his glorious task was done,
It was not of the fame we thought;
It was not of his battles won,
But of the pride with which he fought;
But of his zest, his ringing laugh,
His trenchant scorn of praise or blame:
And so we graved his epitaph,
"He played the game."