16TH OCTOBER 1917 AGE 21


I can give you the literal translation of these Latin words - footsteps do not go backwards - but I can't tell you exactly what Cyril Beattie, Malcolm Beattie's father, meant by them. To the 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, whose motto it is, the words mean 'we do not retreat'. To the Earls of Buckingham, whose motto it also is, the words mean, 'we never go backwards'. To some it means that you've taken a step you can't go back on, to others, rather more romantically, that you can't call back time. Looking at Cyril Beattie's family history, I rather wonder whether he meant don't look backwards.
Cyril Robert Beattie was born in Britain but in 1871, aged 7, he and his elder brother Malcolm Hamilton Beattie, 8, were boarders at a school in Kingston, Surrey. This suggests to me that their parents lived abroard, I would guess India. Nine years later Cyril began four years indentured service with the Merchant Navy. In 1893, he emigrated to New Zealand and in 1901 founded Beattie, Lang and Co, dairy and general produce merchants which did a huge trade with Britain. His brother Malcolm went to India where he served with the Bengal Pilot Service on the Hooghly River. Both brothers married and both had sons who they each called after the other.
Malcolm Bartlett Beattie, born in New Zealand in 1896, was educated at Wanganui Collegiate School, which he left in 1914. He sailed for England in February 1915 with the intention of studying medicine but he joined up instead. Commissioned second lieutenant in the 5th Royal Berkshire Regiment on 5 September 1916, he went with it to France the following month. Awarded the Order of the Crown of Belgium and the Belgian Croix de Guerre in August 1917 for rescuing a soldier from the German lines, he was wounded two months later on 15 October and died the next day.
There is another possible explanation for Cyril Beattie's choice of inscription, perhaps he had in mind a poem by the Scottish born, Australian poet William Gay (1865-1897) called Vestigia Nulla Restorum. If so, Cyril Beattie meant that however dark the road you can only keep going forward:

O steep and rugged Life, whose harsh ascent
Slopes blindly upward through the bitter night!
They say that on thy summit, high in light,
Sweet rest awaits the climber, travel-spent;
But I, alas, with dusty garments rent,
With fainting heart and failing limbs and sight,
Can see no glimmer of the shining height,
And vainly list with body forward bent,
To catch athwart the gloom one wandering note
Of those glad anthems which (they say) are sung
When one emerges from the mists below:
But though, O Life, thy summit be remote
And all thy stony path with darkness hung,
Yet ever upward through the night I go.