24TH OCTOBER 1918 AGE 21


This heroic statement comes from a song from the ballad opera Maritana, written in 1845 by William Vincent Wallace and Edward Fitzball.

Oh let me like a soldier fall
Upon some open plain -
This breast expanding for a ball
To blot out every stain.
Brave manly hearts confer my doom,
That gentler ones may tell;
Howe'er unknown forgot my tomb
He, like a soldier fell.
He, like a soldier fell.

You can hear it sung here in unmistakably martial tones.
There is no soldier in the opera but a roguish hero, Don Caesar, who is about to be hanged for duelling. At the last moment he is offered a soldier's death - by firing squad - rather than by public hanging. He chooses the firing squad so that it can be said of him that - he like a soldier fell.
George Horner's father chose his inscription. I doubt that he was aware of the plot of Maritana, to him the song represented a soldier offering himself for heroic martyrdom, as his son had done. Taken out of context, the song had become a patriotic rallying cry and was included in publications like The New Army Song Book of 1917. It also featured on one of Bamforth's postcard series where in a deeply romantic and unrealistic image, a group of soldiers pay their respects at a comrade's grave.
Born and brought up in Kilmarnock, George Horner was the son of John Horner, a forge labourer, and his wife Jeanie. He served with the 1st Battalion Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) and was killed on 24 October 1918 - although I wonder if this is correct. On 21 October the battalion had taken part in an attack on Dados Loop and Gloster Lane. It met with intense machine gun fire and was hampered by uncut wire resulting in a number of casualties. Relieved on the night of the 22/23rd, the battalion spent the 24th cleaning up and reorganizing. Whilst Horner could have died of wounds three days after the battle, his body was at found at map reference K.16. B.9.5. and later reburied in Highland Cemetery, which is more in keeping with a battle casualty that someone who died at a medical facility.