PRIVATE E.HAROLD POOL
6TH JULY 1916 AGE 23
BURIED: OVILLERS MILITARY CEMETERY, SOMME, FRANCE
In 'The Great War and Modern Memory', Paul Fussell remarked on the persistence of Victorian 'high' diction in First World War writing, where a horse became 'a steed', danger became 'peril' and the dead 'perished'. To him, this 'raised' language distanced and glamourised war, lending it a false romance. We could agree with him, better to use the word bravery than valour, soldier than warrior, enemy than foe.
But there is something infinitely touching about Mrs E. Pool of 193 Lavender Hill, Battersea, SW11, addressing her dead son Harold as 'thee' rather than you. The word is formal and archaic with religious overtones - and no doubt, as far as she was concerned, it was exactly the right word.
Harold Pool, serving with the 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, was killed in the 36th Brigade's attack on Ovillers. The weather was bad, the German trenches were defended by the Prussian Guard, "worthy foemen", and fumes from the gas shells lingered in the shell holes creating a death trap for anyone who fell into them. Casualties were high: in 'The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War' (1922), the author H.C. O'Neill pronounced that "few more costly actions were fought in the whole of the battle of the Somme". Other regiments would no doubt disagree but certainly 163 men from the 9th Battalion, and 162 from the 8th, were killed on that day, 7 July 1916.