26TH AUGUST 1918 AGE 20


This is an inscription of unknown origin about which there has been a certain amount of curiosity on the Internet. The words appear on several memorials in the North East of England and although it is not unknown elsewhere it is more commonly found here. And 'here' is where William Charlton came from. His father, John Charlton, was the head teacher at the Council School in Seaton Delaval, a village in Northumberland, eleven miles north of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
In November 1917 an article appeared in the journal, The United Methodist, written by the Rev. Ernest FH Capey, a Methodist minister. He told of going for a walk one Sunday afternoon to the church in Ford, which overlooks Flodden Field. The church was locked but,

"On the inner door was suspended an artistic card 'in memoriam' of the brave boys of the village who had lost their lives in the war. It was headed:
Fought and died for Freedom
Sleep lightly, Lad,
Thou art for King's Guard at daybreak;
With spotless kit turn out,
And take a place of honour."

In other words, prepare yourself, for tomorrow, as a reward for dying for your country, you will part of the honour guard around God.
Searching the newspaper archive I came across an earlier mention of the inscription in an article in the Newcastle Journal of 9 October 1916. Reporting on the dedication of a memorial plaque in St Luke's Chapel, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, it mentioned an accompanying Roll of Honour, 'delicately executed, the gift of an anonymous friend'. The inscription on the Roll of Honour read: 'Pro Patria: Freely they served and died', followed by the same inscription as that on the door of Ford Church. The article finished with the information that, 'The roll is the work of Mr J.H. Binks of Ford, and is chastely and ably done'.
That certainly doesn't mean that Mr JH Binks composed the inscription, although he may well have done, but it does link the two locations. I don't imagine that it was the card in Ford Church that popularised the lines however, rather I should image it was its use by the Royal Infirmary, and the mention in the local paper. The North East War Memorial Project records several places where the inscription has been used on a war memorial. None of these places are more than 12 miles from Newcastle, except for Ford which is over 50 miles away.
John and Ann Charlton had four children, two sons and two daughters. William was the youngest. Before being commissioned into the Durham Light Infantry in January 1916, he was a pupil barrister at the Inns of Court in London. Serving with the 15th Battalion London Regiment, he went to France in July 1916 where he was severely wounded on the 7th. It was June 1918 before he returned to the front. He was killed two months later.
'Sleep lightly, Lad' is not the inscription on the Seaton Delaval war memorial. This carries the dedication 'To the Motherland', followed by the words on the next-of-kin memorial scroll. The memorial was unveiled on 2 September 1922 by Mr John Charlton "whose two sons were killed in the war"
And what is the personal inscription on the headstone of Captain George Fenwick Hedley Charlton, South Wales Borderers, killed in action on 6 October 1916?

Sleep lightly, Lad
Thou art King's Guard
At daybreak.