PRIVATE HARRY NOEL LEA
14TH OCTOBER 1917 AGE 21
BURIED: YPRES RESERVOIR CEMETERY, BELGIUM
I have a friend whose father was killed in the Second World War and this is the inscription his mother put on her husband's grave. My friend has always hated it, feeling that his mother had insulted father's memory by describing him as a gung-ho, trigger-happy soldier. He had no idea that the term 'happy warrior' derived from a poem by William Wordsworth and that it described a soldier of quite different qualities.
Wordsworth asks the question, in his 1807 poem, "Who is the happy warrior? Who is he, that every man in arms would wish to be?". He then gives the answer: a man who is brave, modest, faithful, resolute, diligent and magnanimous, an honourable man, a man of high endeavour guided by reason and duty, a home loving man and thus "more brave for this, that he hath much to love".
The term gained in stature throughout the nineteenth century, enhanced by G.F. Watts painting titled 'The Happy Warrior', which shows a young knight on the point of death being embraced/greeted by an ethereal figure, presumably welcoming him to heaven. By the beginning of the twentieth century the phrase had become a universal term of approval for someone who had led a good, productive life serving the state.
Having told him all this, my friend realised that he had done his mother - and his father - a disservice.
Harry Noel Lea, a bank clerk from Sydney, enlisted on 15 January 1917, served with the 17th Australian Infantry, part of the 2nd Australian Division, and died of wounds received on 9 October when the Division were in action at Poelcapelle.