D.G.C. 5.4.16



11TH OCTOBER 1918 AGE 19


The initials at the bottom of the inscription are D.G.C. They are the initials of the casualty, David Geoffrey Collins, and since Collins' parents described him as a 'poet, botanist, mathematician and peace lover', this would suggest that Collins wrote the words himself - on 5 April 1916. I haven't been able to find anything else Collins wrote but his name is included on the Forgotten Poets of the First World War website.
Collins had an unusual upbringing. His father, Edwin Hyman Simeon Henry Collins, was a highly erudite man who spoke several languages and had a very original mind. Although his name is now unknown, he was quite well known at one time as the man who befriended the exiled Chinese nationalist leader, Sun Yatsen, and tried to help him get his work published in the English language. Edward Collins was even better known, however, as a radical educational thinker who believed fervently that children shouldn't begin formal edcation before they were nine or ten, that they should never be taught to read but should learn to read themselves when they were ready, and that all their lessons should be held outside at all times.
To Collins, the real object of education was not the acquisition of knowledge but the preparation of the mind to receive, assimilate and use knowledge. By this means children would acquire the ability to think and the power to express their thoughts and feelings in appropriate language, either spoken or written. Collins brought his children up according to these beliefs. He refused to let them go to school, which caused him to be prosecuted for child neglect. But Collins used the witness box to gain publicity for his ideas, claiming that his methods would make his children "more useful, more independent, more robust in character, better in physique and with greater powers of assimilating knowledge" than other children.
David was obviously something of a prodigy and by his late teens was teaching in a prep school. He was called up when he was 18 and sent to France in August 1918, just after his nineteenth birthday. He served with the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards and died three months later of wounds received in the capture of Delsaux Farm, a German strong point.
David Collins' headstone is inscribed with the Star of David. His father, who had been born a Jew, and had trained and practised as a rabbi, had then preached for some time as a Christian Unitarian minister before returning fully to the Jewish faith. It was Edwin Collins who chose his son's inscription, using his son's own words to express his belief that death is not the end:

And after the sunset
In the unknown night
Joy cannot cease

[Much of the information for this post comes from Patrick Anderson's 'The Lost Book of Sun Yatsen and Edward Collins' Routledge 2017.