23RD APRIL 1915 AGE 27


This is a translation of the Greek epitaph inscribed on the back of the wooden cross that at one time marked Brooke's grave on the Aegean island of Skyros. Brooke died from blood poisoning on 23 April 1915, at 4.46 pm whilst on board the French hospital ship the Duguay-Trouin. Those who died on board ship were customarily buried at sea but Brooke's friends were sure he wouldn't have wanted this - and they didn't want it for him either. They decided to bury him on Skyros but had to do so quickly as their ship was to sail for Gallipoli at dawn.
Despite the need for speed the event was planned and carried out with great dignity, ceremony and affection. Brooke's school friend, William Denis Browne, later described the event in a letter to Edward Marsh:

"We buried him the same evening in an olive-grove where he had sat with us on Tuesday - one of the loveliest places on this earth, with grey-green olives round him, one weeping above his head; the ground covered with flowering sage, bluish-grey, and smelling more delicious than any flower I know. The path up to it from the sea is very difficult and very stony; it runs by the bed of a dried up torrent. We had to post men with lamps every twenty yards to guide the bearers. ... The journey of a mile took two hours. It was not till 11 that I saw them coming ... First came one of his men carrying a great white wooden cross with his name painted on it in black; then the firing party, commanded by Patrick; and then the coffin, followed by our officers and General Paris and one or two others of the Brigade. Think of it all under a clouded moon, with the three mountains around and behind us, and those divine scents everywhere. We lined the grave with all the flowers we could find, and Quilter set a wreath of olive on the coffin. The funeral was very simply said by the Chaplain, and after the Last Post the little lamp-lit procession went once again down the narrow path to the sea.
Freybourg, Oc and I, Charles and Cleg stayed behind and covered the grave with great pieces of white marble which were lying everywhere about. Of the cross at the head ... on the back of it our Greek interpreter wrote in pencil ... "

Until recently this cross used to stand in the Brooke family burial plot in Clifton Road Cemetery, Rugby along with a smaller one from his brother's grave. Like many other original grave markers they were returned to his family after the war, in this case to his widowed mother, Mary Brooke. However, unlike the bodies of other soldiers who had been buried in isolated graves, Brooke's was not exhumed and reburied in a War Graves Commission cemetery, nor was the wooden cross ever replaced by one of the Commission's headstones. Brooke's death and burial had become part of his legend and the Commission agreed to leave the grave in situ. However, the cairn of marble boulders that had been heaped over his grave to keep the wild animals away, was replaced in the 1920s by a marble tombstone surmounted by a horizontal cross, the whole surrounded by iron railings.
The wooden cross has now been moved to the Chapel at Rugby School, where Brooke was a pupil. It's not what Mrs Brooke had wanted but after 100 years it would not have survived in the open air for much longer and it's a very special relic, a direct link with one of the most famous casualties of the war who wrote what was certainly at one time the most famous poem of the war:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. That there shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England's breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
The Soldier - Rupert Brooke