MAJOR JOHN DE LUZE SIMONDS
ROYAL GARRISON ARTILLERY
22ND APRIL 1917 AGE 32
BURIED: MAZINGARBE COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION, FRANCE
If, as I believe, yesterday's casualty was a gardener at Audleys Wood, today's was his employer's son. Both John Pardey and John Simonds are listed on the war memorial in St Leonard's Church, Cliddesden, Hampshire. Major Simonds heading the list of six men as befits his rank and social position rather than alphabetic order.
Simonds was a professional soldier. Educated at Winchester, where he had been the top scholar, he went from there to the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, after which he joined the Royal Garrison Artillery. On the outbreak of war he was in India and arrived in France with an Indian Mountain Battery in December. When the Indians were relocated to warmer climes in 1915, Simonds took a staff appointment. In April 1917 he was in charge of a siege battery when he was killed by a shell.
All this information, and that on the house, Audleys Wood, comes from a website recently compiled by a member of the family. By chance, the website also provides the source of the inscription. As the initials indicate, the words were written by Simonds himself, not in a letter but in a poem.
After his death, his family privately published a collection of his poetry. This can be read on the above website where it has been uploaded as a flipping book. Most poems appear to have been written before the war, during his postings to Malta and the Far East. One was definitely written during the war: 'In Memoriam - W.H. Johnston VC, Killed in Action 7-vi-15'. The poem begins:
Very tall beside his grave the Flemish poplars grow,
Bearing the heart to Heaven, that rests in peace below,
The shrieking shell his requiem, the guns his funeral hymn,
A fitting harmony of death for us, whose eyes are dim.
There's an echo here of the opening lines of John McCrae's 'In Flanders Fields':
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row
That mark our dead, and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
And also of some of the imagery in Owen's 'Anthem for Doomed Youth':
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
- Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers or bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -
The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
Simonds could have known McCrae's poem, which was published in December 1915. However, it was only in August 1917 that Owen showed Siegfried Sassoon his as yet unpublished poem and Simonds was already dead.
Simonds' own epitaph comes from another of his poems, which appears not to have been included in the collection but was printed on a separate sheet of paper. It has no title. The reference to the opening line of Rupert Brooke's 'The Soldier' is totally intentional. Brooke wrote:
If I should die, think only this of me;
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England ...
Simonds' poem opens:
If I should die, be very full of pride
That I have died for England ...
and continues (I have written out the whole poem here as it is not easy to find other than on the linked website):
... shed no tears
Because unhallowed ground enshrines my bones.
Think of me rather in some orchard plot
At peace with God, where some tall poplar tree
Uplifts my soul to Heaven - my weary soul
That looks for ever star-wards, nor avails.
For France is hallowed by your English dead
Where blaze the poppies like a scarlet wound,
Sprung from the blood of heroes: yesteryear
They led their little lives in shop and mart,
Thinking no evil and content to live
At peace with all around, but this year
The poppy springs above their grave: a wound
Which they have died to salve. Be very proud,
To number me among the deathless dead.
Along the trench the cornflower shimmers blue*
Like eyes bestarred with tears: so long ago
We wore its bloom in pride of victory,
Where called the deep Cathedral chimes to prayer.
Oh the grey walls and warm red-tiled roofs,
The Itchen's purling stream and velvet meads,
Where we have played together - never more
To lie beneath the trees and drink the sun.
* The cornflower is Winchester's flower because it was said to be the favourite flower of the founder, William of Wykeham.