BEYOND THE SEA OF DEATH
This beautiful inscription comes from the last verse of a love poem, One Day, by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894). The 'one day' is the day the lovers will be united when the second one dies.
When shall they meet? I cannot tell,
Indeed, when they shall meet again,
Except some day in Paradise:
For this they wait, one waits in pain,
Beyond the sea of death love lies
For ever, yesterday, to-day;
Angels shall ask them, 'Is it well?'
And they shall answer, 'Yea'.
In 1911 Horace Topps, aged 17, was living at home with his parents and six brothers and sisters, in Sutton Surrey: father, George Topps was a house painter, mother, Elizabeth was a charlady, Horace worked in a fishmonger's, sixteen-year-old Kate was a daily girl, Charlie, 14, Ethel, 10, twins Agnes and Helena 8, were at school, and three year old Ena was a 'baby at home'.
By 1918, three of the family were dead: George died in December 1917, Horace in January 1918 and Helena in December 1918. By the time Elizabeth chose Horace's inscription she had much to mourn.
The themes of undying love and meeting again are among the most popular of all personal inscriptions; Mrs Topps has chosen a particularly beautiful way of expressing this.
Horace Topps was a volunteer who entered France on active service on 27 August 1915. He served with the 21st Battalion Kings Royal Rifle Corps, which was sent to Italy in December 1917 to relieve the Italians on the Piave front. They were not involved in any particular military operations but in carrying out patrol work across the River Piave. Topps was the second battalion casualty of the tour.
THEIR MOUTHS ARE STOPT
This is an unusual quotation from Edward Fitzgerald's the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. When other families have quoted from this beautiful but fatalistic poem they have tended to choose passages that lament the fleeting nature of life. The quotation comes from the 26th quatrain. The 24th makes the point that we will soon all be dust so we may as well make the most of our lives whilst we can.
Ah make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie
Sans wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and sans End!
The 26th quatrain scoffs at those supposedly wise men who discuss the future, what do they know and what's more, what will anyone care when they're dead:
Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss'd
Of the Two worlds so wisely - they are thrust
Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
Are scattere'd, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust.
Horace Holton's father, William Henry Holton, signed for his inscription. The family lived in Leicester where William was a boot finisher and in 1911, fourteen-year-old Horace was working in a wholesale chemists. His medal card shows that he was entitled to the 1915 Star having entered a theatre of war on 28 July 1915. It looks therefore as though he volunteered on the outbreak of war when he was 18. His medal card says he served with the 9th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment. The War Graves Commission records say it was the 1st/5th. The 9th Battalion arrived in France on 29 July 1915, which would tie in with the date on Holton's medal card. However, neither of these battalion's war diaries give any indication of hostile activities on the day he was said to have been killed in action.
So, what could the Holton's have meant by their choice of inscription? Does it just mean that their son is dead - his mouth full of the dust of the earth he's buried in? That seems a bit literal. Did they mean that it is pointless listening to those who think they 'know' what they're talking about - politicians and opinion formers? It could. Or were they aware, as Fitzgerald must have been, that putting your mouth in the dust is an Oriental form of submission as when you prostrate yourself in obeisance before a superior being as a sign that you are prepared to accept their will? So is it just a superior way of saying, Thy will be done?
LOVE YOUR ENEMIES
But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
St Luke 6:27-8
It would appear to me that Mrs Sarah Ann Salt, Herbert Salt's mother, was making a statement against war when she chose her son's inscription. It was something she really wanted people to hear. The family were Welsh speakers. They filled in the census return in Welsh, yet Salt's inscription is in English. Many, many Welsh families composed Welsh inscriptions but filled the census up in English. With the Salts it was the other way around. The message was too important to limit to Welsh speakers.
The Salts lived in Cwm-y-Glo, a small slate-mining community in Caernarvonshire where father, Joseph Salt, was a quarryman. Herbert was his parents only son. He had three sisters, one was his twin, Hilda.
Salt served with the 19th Battalion Welsh Fusiliers and was killed in action on the 8 January 1918. At that time the battalion were in the trenches near Bullecourt. The war diary brackets the dates 5-9 January with the words: "Everything quiet during this tour. Fighting patrols were sent out each night".
Salt is buried in Mory Abbey Military Cemetery, as are four other soldiers of the 19th Battalion who were all killed on 8 January. It sounds to me as though some members failed to return from one of these fighting patrols. Nevertheless, in the terms of the diary writer everything was quiet during this tour. Relatively speaking, it probably was.
THOUGH COMPARATIVELY LITTLE
I DID MY BEST
Private Skipper was 5 ft 6 inches tall according to his medical records, not that little by the standards of the day. His brother, Michael John Skipper, his next of kin, chose his inscription. They sound like Thomas James' own words.
Thomas James Skipper was 43 when he enlisted in 1916 - comparatively old. His brother said he was an accountant, Skipper himself said he was a gold prospector. He had certainly been a prospector; there's a newspaper cutting from The Daily News, Perth, dated 21 September 1899, showing his claim to a parcel of land under the terms of The Goldfields Act 1895. There's no indication he made any money from it.
Skipper enlisted in February 1916 and embarked for France the following November. He served with the 51st Infantry Battalion and on 2 April 1917 was wounded in action with a gunshot wound in his knee. He was hospitalised in Britain he was never again fit for active service and in July 1917 was posted permanently to the No 3 Command Depot at Hurdcott, Wiltshire.
On 31 December 1917, he became seriously ill. Admitted to the military hospital at Fovant, he died on January 7th of phthisis, tuberculosis.
In his own words, he had done his best.
Much of this information comes from the Compton Chamberlayne War Graves site.
JESUS SAID TO HER
"THOUGH HE WERE DEAD
YET SHALL HE LIVE"
Army and Navy Gazette 19 January 1918
Lieut. A.N. Westlake MC RFC missing Jan 4. Will relatives of prisoners of war in Germany kindly ask for news of him?
Mrs Westlake, Wayside, Warham, Dorset
A week later Mrs Westlake, Lieutenant Westlake's mother, put another, identical notice in the Army and Navy Gazette. Nearly three months later, Flight magazine carried the following article:
4 April 1918
In the Hands of the Enemy
The following is an official list, published in Germany, of British machines which the Germans claim fell into their hands during the month of January 1918.
Among the planes listed was Bristol No B 1542 and beside it the comment Lieut AW (sic) Westlake dead.
Westlake served with 27 Squadron RFC and on the morning of 4 January he and 2nd Lieutenant Ewart took off at 09.50/10.50 from the airfield. It was reported that they were then seen "gliding down from 13,000 feet south-west of Denain in combat with EA (enemy aircraft) on return from bomb run to Denain". It's possible that B 1542 was shot down by German ace Wilhelm Reinhard who claimed his seventh victory that day in the area.
Both Ewart and Westlake were buried by the Germans at Niergnies - where they are still buried, the only two allied servicemen in the cemetery.
Albert Neave Westlake was the only son of Albert and Agnes Westlake of Wareham in Dorset. Educated at Shrewsbury School, he was the classic 'golden' schoolboy: head boy, a member of the 1st XI for both football and cricket and stroke in the 1st VIII. Not only this but he won a scholarship to New College Oxford, where he took a first at the end of the first part of his degree. However, he abandoned his degree to join the army.
Commissioned into the North Staffordshire Regiment, he was in France by August 1915. His Military Cross was awarded in the summer of 1917:
"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty as Battalion Intelligence Officer. When our attack was held up, he went forward under intense shell fire to the most advanced posts, and brought back accurate and valuable information. Later he passed through the enemy's barrage to obtain further information, and finally led a relieving company to the front line under heavy fire. His fearlessness and devotion to duty were beyond all praise."
This citation was published in the London Gazette four days after his death.
Mrs Agnes Westlake chose his inscription. It's a contraction of the words of St John Chapter 11 verse 25. Lazurus is dead and Jesus has just assured Martha that her brother he will rise again. She replies that she knows he will, in the resurrection at the last day:
And Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whoseoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.
AVE! MORITURI SALUTAMUS
Edgar Bell died in Queen Alexandra's Hospital, Millbank, London on 3 January 1918 of wounds he'd received in France in May 1917. The only indication as to the nature of his wounds comes from the letter his officer wrote to his parents: "You will be pleased to hear that he behaved splendidly, and did not so much as make a sign that he had been wounded until I turned and saw him".
The son of Alexander Brown Bell and his wife Agnes, Edgar Bell was born in Sheffield on 13 January 1894. His father was a journalist, at the time of his son's death on the Yorkshire Evening Post. On leaving school, Edgar began to train as an architect and in 1913 joined the Yorkshire Hussars as a territorial soldier. He volunteered for foreign service and went with the regiment to France in February 1915. In March the following year, he transferred to the 6th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment and was serving with them when he was wounded.
Alexander Bell signed for his son's inscription. At one time it was firmly believed to be the greeting gladiators gave to the emperor on entering the arena before a fight - Ave Impuratur , morituri te salutant, Hail Emperor, we who are about to die salute you. George Bernard Shaw, in his 1913 play Androcles and the Lion, gave the line to the Christians who were about to be fed to the lions: 'Hail, Caesar! Those about to die salute you'. However, it is now thought to have been at a one-off event when a crowd of condemned criminals, who were about to be forced to kill each other in a mock sea battle, hailed the Emperor Claudius with these words in the hope that he might pardon them. He didn't.
Why did Alexander Brown choose this inscription, what did he mean? It's possible that he had in mind the same sentiment as that implied by Simonides' famous inscription to the Spartan dead killed at the Battle of Thermopylae: "Go tell the Spartans, passer by, that obedient to their orders here we lie". Edgar Bell had done his duty by his country and had known the risks he was taking in so doing. Interestingly, it is the only instance of this inscription that I've come across. I could have imagined it being much more popular among a generation where the classics played such a large part in their education.
ALL THIS SAD WORLD NEEDS
IS JUST THE ART
OF BEING KIND
'Doll', Mrs Kate Thompson, Captain Thompson's widow, quotes the words of the extremely popular American poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919) for her husband's inscription:
So many gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind,
While just the art of being kind
Is all the sad world needs.
First published in June 1895 in The Century, a popular American quarterly magazine, it was later republished as the first verse of Wilcox's poem Voice of the Voiceless, which pleaded for kindness to animals.
Herbert Henry Thompson, born in Aldershot in 1884, was the son of Sergeant Major Herbert Henry Thomson and his wife Isabella. By 1901 Isabella was a widow running a fancy goods shop in Aldershot and Herbert was a grocer's assistant. She herself was an army daughter. Her father, John James Harvey, had been an army bandsman who had served in India where her younger sister was born.
I lost track of both Herbert Henry and Isabella in the 1911 census but wonder whether Herbert had gone to Africa. His military record notes that he served in the West African Frontier Force followed by the 2nd Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment. His medal card shows that he was entitled to the 1915 Star having arrived on active service in Alexandria in August 1915. At some point he was mentioned in despatches but by the time of his death, cause unspecified, he was working for the Army Pay Department in Aldershot.
Scorned as a lowbrow, popular poet as opposed to a literary one, Ella Wheeler Wilcox's poems regularly appear in anthologies of bad verse, but I have rather a soft spot for her insouciant words of wisdom:
Laugh and the world laughs with you,
Weep and you weep alone;
The good old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
One ship drives east and another drives west
With the selfsame wind that blows.
'Tis the set of the sails,
And not the gales,
That tell us the way to go.
[The Winds of Fate]
All love that has not friendship for its base,
Is like a mansion built upon the sand.
Love, to endure life's sorrow and earth's woe,
Needs friendship's solid masonwork below.
[Upon the Sand]
"ONE OF ENGLAND'S
'The Glorious Dead', these are the only words on the London cenotaph, the British Empire's memorial to its one and half million service dead of two world wars. Designed by Sir Edward Lutyens (1869-1944) in 1919, the cenotaph - an empty tomb to represent the absent dead - today receives universal approval. However, the inscription is often seen as 'problematic'. Why? Because we know there is absolutely nothing glorious about being killed in battle. It's a filthy, cruel, agonising and revolting business.
Yet, the word glorious is not meant to apply to the manner of death but to the dead themselves. The dead have acquired glory through their duty, courage and endurance. They have become glorious.
It's a clever choice of word combining Christian, classical and military associations. To the Christian, glory is associated with God; it's His magnificence, His majesty, in which the righteous all share at their own deaths. In the classical world, glory is renown, a good name acquired by noble actions. In Homer's Iliad, glory, kleos, is acquired on the battlefield, fighting bravely, risking death, dying. It's an intangible quality, something that only exists in the minds of others. It cannot be bought or awarded it can only be earned. And once a good name has been earned it bestows a form of immortality - their name liveth for evermore.
The Internet is confused as to who chose the words, some claim it was Rudyard Kipling, others Lloyd George but according to a document in the National Archives, it was Lutyens. In 1930 he wrote: "'The glorious dead', the words I put on my original sketch, also survived unchanged".
It's not an original phrase. The glorious dead had been used before to describe the illustrious dead. John Dryden, Pope, Shelley, Wordsworth all speak of the glorious dead, as did Laurence Binyon, whose poem The Fourth of August, published in The Winnowing Fan at the end of 1914, has the verse:
For us the glorious dead have striven,
They battled that we might be free.
We to their living cause are given;
We arm for men that are to be.
Albert Bethel's wife, Isabella, chose his inscription, no doubt influenced by the huge emotional attention the cenotaph attracted in the immediate post-war years. The couple had been married for four years and had two daughters. Albert, the son of Ralph and Hannah Bethel, was born and brought up in the town of Atherton, Lancashire. In 1911 he was a cotton piecer later becoming a spinner. He was still a spinner when his youngest daughter was baptised in June 1917.
Bethel served in the Mechanical Transport Company of the Army Service Corps. His company, attached to the 19th Siege Battery Royal Garrison Artillery, were responsible for hauling the heavy guns and keeping them supplied with ammunition. He died in a hospital in Rouen but it hasn't been possible to tell from what cause.
The initials I.H.S. are a sacred monogram based on the first three letters of the name Jesus in Greek.
ENLISTED SEPT. 2ND 1914
LOVE NEVER FAILETH
As William Hepton's inscription shows, he enlisted within a month of the outbreak the war and died two days before the end, serving for a total of four years, two months and eight days. Fate is cruel.
Hepton's medal card indicates that he was a serjeant in the Yorkshire Hussars in August 1914. This was a territorial regiment and its soldiers were under no obligation to serve abroad. However, within the first month many territorials volunteered for foreign service and it would appear that Hepton was one of them.
He served on the Western Front from his arrival in France on 15 April 1915 until he returned to England to take a commission in the Yorkshire Dragoons, remaining with them until February 1917. After this he was attached to the 5th Dragoon Guards and was serving with them when he died of pneumonia following influenza on 9 November.
The only son of Arthur Hepton and his wife Eliza, who died in 1914, William Hepton was born in Headingley in 1884. Educated at Shrewsbury School and Oriel College, Oxford, he joined the family firm of Hepton Bros. Mantle Manufacturers of Leeds. In 1914, the company were employing 1,996 workers in the manufacture of ladies' mantles (cloaks), costumes (suits), waterproofs and raincoats.
On 20 November 1918, the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer carried a report of Hepton's death. The paper recounted his war service, and relayed the praise of his senior officer: "he always did his duty to his country, as it was always his first thought, and the only course that such a gentleman as he could ever think of taking". But rather strangely, the passage is preceded by the comment, "It would be unkind of me" to tell you how well he always did his duty to his country, and is followed by the words: "Lieut. Hepton left a bed of sickness in response to an order to go forward, and being unable to ride on horse back, was wrapped up and travelled for over three hours in a lorry". It would appear to me that William Hepton, in "doing his duty to his country", responded to an order, to the detriment of his health, which contributed to his death. It would explain why he's buried in a small cemetery close to the front line.
Hepton's inscription closes with the words, 'Love never faileth'. The reference is to 1 Corinthians 13:8 and the words come from the 1881 Revised Version of the New Testament. Without love, whatever other qualities we have are as are nothing:
Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil; rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth.
Dinna forget, the words mean do not forget, or rather more poetically, forget me not, and despite the Scottish dialect their use is not restricted to Scotland. In fact they appears regularly on sentimental postcards of the Victorian and Edwardian era, part of their love affair with all things Scottish.
It's impossible to attribute the words to any one source, there are so many instances of the phrase in poems, books and on keepsakes and jewellery. During the First World War there were even little silver pendants with entwined enamel French and British flags and the words 'Dinna Forget' sold as sweetheart necklaces and bracelet charms. Often exchanged as the soldier went off to war, they were meant to ensure that the girlfriend didn't forget him and remained faithful. But if the soldier died then they became a pledge never to forget his memory.
This is how the words are used for Fred Watson's inscription. But the young woman who chose them was his older sister, Hilda, not a sweetheart. Fred served in the Scots Guards so I wondered if the family had Scottish connections but no. They were all born and brought up in England, most of them in Yorkshire, where they all worked in the cotton industry, including Fred who at the age of 12 was a spinner piecer.
Fred served in the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards and died of wounds three days before the end of the war in one of the hospitals in Rouen. There is no record of where or when he was wounded but the regiment had taken part in most of the last battles of the war from the 27 September onwards: the crossing of the Canal du Nord, the crossing of the Selle, the battle of Cambrai and the crossing of the Sambre on the 4 November.
The word kismet derives from the Turkish word 'qismet' or the Arabic 'qismat'. In these cultures it means the will of Allah. To the West it is a secular word meaning fate, chance, destiny. Archibald Hunter's inscription is not unique but its use definitely increases among the casualties of these last few weeks of the war. It's also the inscription on the grave of Lance Corporal Lenard, a veteran of the South African War and of the North West Frontier, who was killed in action on 23 August 1914, the day the British army first engaged with the enemy on the Western Front.
Archibald Hunter, the son of Archibald Hunter, a Grocery Manager, and his wife, Margaret Jane, was a schoolboy in Durham when the war broke out. He was only commissioned into the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry on 30 July 1918. He served with the 9th Battalion and was killed in action in the taking of the villages of Limont Fontaine and Eclaibes. These extracts from the war diary describe the day:
"08.45 hrs Success seemed certain, the weather was favourable - a heavy mist overhung the field of operations ... Despite this, however, the advance was held up, the objective could not be reached because of intense artillery and machine gun fire." Later that afternoon, at 15.50 hrs another attack was launched, led by the 9th K.O.Y.L.I. "From now onwards this Battalion, ably led, made excellent progress, and literally carried everything before it by sheer determination and will to win. A strong stand was made by the enemy, but all to no purpose. In the fierce fighting that took place in front and in the streets of the villages, men of the 9th K.O.Yorks. L.I. refused to be denied the victory, which they has set out to gain. Once again the enemy were entirely outmanoeuvred and outfought. By 21.30 hrs. so great had been the force of the assault, the villages of Limont Fontaine and Eclaibes - thoroughly cleared of the enemy, were added to the growing list of Allied gains."
The war had four days to run and Hunter, who had been at the front for only three months, was dead.
In 1911, Kismet, a very popular play written by Edward Knoblock appeared on the London stage, where it ran for two years and was then made into a film in 1914. It was only a very slight love story but it elevated the word in the public's consciousness, not as 'the will of Allah', and definitely not as the will of God, but as random chance.
JAMES HARGREAVES MORTON
James Hargreaves Morton lived with his four older sisters: Rachel, Sarah, Fanny and Alice, all unmarried, who worked in the cotton and linen mills of Darwen Lancashire and supported him in his career as an artist. They were proud of him, as the inscription Rachel chose makes clear. They had every reason to be.
Morton received his first training as an artist in Darwen School of Art before winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Art. After this he took a job teaching art at Darlington Technical School but decided before long that he couldn't concentrate on his painting whilst teaching. It was at this point that his mother and sisters decided he should come home and they would support him whilst he dedicate himself to his painting.
It seems he wasn't totally supported by his sisters. In the 1911 census Morton described himself as a decorative designer in wall paper, working on his own account. There were several wallpaper manufacturers in Darwen who would have bought his designs. But in the following years he became increasingly well known as an artist, exhibiting at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool and at the Royal Academy. One of his best-known paintings, Johanna, which shows a young Belgian refugee, was painted during the first years of the war, as was a rather haunting self portrait in which Morton seems to stare stoically but apprehensively into the future.
Morton was thirty-three when the war broke out. He did not enlist but in 1916 was conscripted. He served with the 5th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment and must have been a capable soldier since within two years he was a serjeant. He was killed in action on 6 November when the battalion launched an attack in the Forest of Mormal, which had to be withdrawn in the face of fierce machine gun fire and a threatened counter attack. The attack succeeded the next day.
After his death, the sisters kept all Morton's paintings, honouring his wish that they should be kept together. But after Alice's death in 1967 they were sold uncatalogued and with no record of the buyers. Recently there has been a revival of interest in his work and in 2013 James Hargreaves Morton A Short Colourful Life was published by the Friends of Darwen Library.
I LIE HERE MOTHER
BUT THE VICTORY IS OURS
Alexander Mack died of wounds in a Casualty Clearing Station six days before the end of the war. His mother chose his inscription. Is it a last message from her son, or are they words she has put into her son's mouth?
Lance Corporal Mack could well have known that victory was in sight. Although the Germans were still putting up fierce resistance, the Allies were daily pushing them further and further back towards Germany. Mack may not have known this but, Austria-Hungary had signed an armistice with the Italians on 3 November, a month after the Germans had approached President Wilson to see if they could negotiate a truce. Two days after Mack's death, General Hindenburg, head of the German army, opened peace negotiations with the Allies.
So Mack could well have known that military victory was in sight, but is this what the words mean? When Christians talk of victory they mean Christ's victory over death.
Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15: 54-56
This famous passage from the bible was the inspiration for a hymn by the Scottish-born presbyterian minister William H Drummond (1772-1865) of which this is the first verse:
Thanks be to God, the Lord,
The victory is ours;
And hell is overcome
By Christ's triumphant pow'rs!
The monster sin in chains is bound,
And death has felt his mortal wound.
It's not impossible to think that Mrs Mary Mack was conflating Christ's victory over death with the British victory over the Germans, and that to her the 'monster' was Germany.
Alexander Mack was the son of James and Mary Mack. Born in Edinburgh, as were both his parents, the family moved to London soon after Alexander's birth. James Mack was a printer's machine minder, as were at least two of his sons, including Alexander. This was the person who was responsible for the overall look of the printed sheet, for the flow of the ink and the pressure of the rollers. Mack served with the 6th Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment and from the position of the Casualty Clearing Station where he died, was wounded in the fighting for the Sambre-Oise Canal.
"SHALL LIFE RENEW
OF A TRUTH
ALL DEATH WILL HE ANNUL" W.O.
A hundred years after his death Wilfred Owen is one of the most famous casualties of the war, certainly the most famous poet to have been killed, even the most famous of all the war poets. However, at the time, few people had ever heard of him. Two weeks after his death, his parents inserted an announcement in The Times but there was no follow-up obituary. Whereas three days after Rupert Brooke's death a headline in The Times read, 'Death of Mr Rupert Brooke', the article accompanied by an appreciation written by Winston Churchill, then still First Lord of the Admiralty.
But as Brooke's reputation has diminished, somewhat unfairly as he died before his poetry could reflect the true nature of warfare, Owen's has soared. Yet Owen too could write like Brooke in the early days; his first poem of the war concluding with the verse:
O meet it is and passing sweet
To live in peace with others,
But sweeter still and far more meet
To die in war for brothers.
Owen's post-war fame was fostered by those members of the literary world who saw his quality, people like Harold Munro, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Edith Sitwell. Sitwell was the first person to publish a collection of Owen's work. The 1919 edition of Wheels, the magazine she edited with her brother, Osbert, not only carried seven of his poems but was dedicated to the memory of 'W.O.' By the late twentieth century his reputation had reached iconic status, where it remains. Owen is the anti-war poet of all anti-war poets, the man who portrayed war in its full repulsiveness.
Yet, when offered the ability to escape the war, as he was in the summer of 1918 following his treatment for shell shock at Craiglockhart, Owen decided he must return to the front. As he wrote in The Calls:
For leaning out last midnight on my sill,
I heard the sighs of men, that have no skill
To speak of their distress, no, nor the will!
A voice I know. And this time I must go.
Owen did not return to the front just so that he could give voice to the voiceless soldiery but to fight. The Military Cross he was awarded for his actions on 1st/2nd October 1918 was for not only assuming command when his company commander became a casualty but for personally manipulating a captured enemy machine gun and inflicting 'considerable losses on the enemy'. He was killed just over a month later, shot as he encouraged his men to face the German machine guns as they desperately tried to prevent the British army crossing the Sambe-Oise canal.
Wilfred was the eldest child of Tom Owen, Assistant Superintendent of the Joint Railways [the LNWR and GWR], and his wife, Susan. The news of his death reached the family home on 11 November, just as all the church bells were ringing to celebrate the Armistice.
When, some time later his parents were asked to choose an inscription, they chose a line from one of their son's own poems, The End. His father actually signed the form confirming the inscription although his mother is always blamed for curtailing the quotation and so giving it a meaning diametrically opposed to the one her son intended. The poem, which people have tried to see as a comment on the war, has to be a comment on the idea of resurrection, the Day of Judgement. Owen asks:
Shall Life renew these bodies? Of a truth
All death will he annul, all tears assuage?
There are two questions here. The inscription, as chosen by the parents, contains a question and an answer:
Shall life renew
Of a truth
All death will he annul.
Owen questions the resurrection, his parents assert it. Their action is no different from the many other families who took lines out of context and in so doing altered their meanings. Mr and Mrs Owen could never have envisaged that their son's poetry would become the subject of such minute study, and in any case - it's what they wanted to say.
IS THIS THE END?
It is unusual to see an inscription like this, this questioning of whether death is in fact the end or whether there is something that comes afterwards. It is far more usual to see families express the firm belief that they will all meet again: 'Thinking of you 'til we meet again', 'God will bind the golden chain closer when we meet again', and one of the most popular of all inscriptions, 'Until the day dawns and the shadows flee away'. But Private Bolton's wife, Eva, was not so sure - 'Is this the end?'
Charles James Bolton was a house painter from Norwich, one of the four sons and seven daughters of Alfred and Sarah Bolton, also of Norwich. He married Eva Lawton in 1908 and the couple had one son, Sidney George.
Bolton's medal card indicates that he didn't enter a war zone until 1916. He was a married man with a wife and child and it wasn't until May 1916 that married were conscripted. He served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, as a stretcher bearer with the 2nd Field Ambulance, part of the 1st Division. On 4 November the Division took part in the attack on the Sambre Oise Canal. Bolton was shot by a sniper.
'Is this the end?'
IF WINTER COMES
CAN SPRING BE FAR BEHIND?
102nd Battalion Canadian Infantry
Saturday November 2 1918
The Hun started bombing and shelling at 04:00 hours. Our barrage opened at 05:30 hours ...
The Hun continued desultory shelling of the town and at about 09:00 hours, the Battalion Medical Officer, Captain Harry Dunlop MC (CAMC) was hit in the head whilst standing in the doorway of HQ and died shortly afterwards, to the intense sorrow of all.
Dunlop was working in Peru when the war broke out. He returned to Canada to enlist in March 1916 and went abroad that October. In March 1918 he married an American, Rachel Thayer, in London. In August he was awarded a Military Cross for his action near Beaucourt-en-Santerre when, "this officer followed close behind the attack, and attended to the wounded under heavy machine gun fire. He was untiring in his efforts to care for and evacuate the wounded, and undoubtedly saved many lives".
After the war, Mrs Dunlop returned to the United States. At the time she chose her husband's inscription her address was Eaton's Ranch, Wolf Creek, Wyoming, a 7,000 acre cattle ranch on the slopes of the Bighorn Mountain.
The inscription she chose comes from the last line of Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ode to the West Wind. The poem is thought to express support for the people of Europe in their struggle against authoritarian regimes. Winter in this context being the re-establishment of reactionary governments after the Treaty of Vienna in 1815 and these governments' suppression of liberal protest; just as spring always follows winter so conservative repression will be followed by liberal reforms. However, in the context of Harry Dunlop's inscription it would appear to be a reference to death and resurrection: just as spring always follows winter so death is always followed by resurrection.
"BEHOLD, I TAKE AWAY FROM THEE
THE DESIRE OF THINE EYES
WITH A STROKE"
The Bisatt's God was a fierce God, a jealous God, one who took away from the prophet Ezekial "the desire of thine eyes with a stoke": his wife. God then forbad Ezekial to either mourn or weep. It's a difficult biblical passage but it appears to be a graphic way of demonstrating to Ezekial the level of sorrow God's people should be feeling as they continue to disobey His ways. As a consequence of this disobedience the people will be punished: their sons and their daughters "shall fall by the sword" and then "ye shall know that I am the Lord God". In other words, you will be forced to acknowledge how powerful I am
George Bisatt chose his son's inscription; it would appear that he believed the war was God's way of punishing people for the callous decadence of early twentieth-century life. He wasn't alone in believing this, nor alone in believing that having purged the world of sin, the post-war world would be a better world, one where there was no more war and where mankind would live together in love and brotherhood.
Private Robert Bisatt was the eldest son of George and Sarah Bisatt of St Fagans, Cardiff. George Bisatt was a flour miller's clerk, Robert Bisatt had been a clerk with the Great Western Railway before he was called up. His nineteenth birthday was in the first quarter of 1918 so he cannot have been at the front long. He served with the 15th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers and was killed in action on 2 November 1918 as the British army tried to cross the Sambre-Ojse canal, a task they achieved two days later.
"I WAS EVER A FIGHTER
SO ONE FIGHT MORE
THE BEST AND THE LAST"
Yesterday's soldier, Ernest Cartright, enlisted on 23 August 1914 and entered a theatre of war on 15 July 1915. He was killed on 1 November 1918. Arthur Skemp too joined up on the outbreak of war, and he too was killed on 1 November but in Skemp's case he had been at the front for just eight days, since 23 October.
Skemp was not unwilling to go to the front but his employers were unwilling to let him go. He was the extremely popular and able Winterstoke Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Bristol of whom a friend wrote:
"His remarkable powers as a lecturer on his subject were well known, and he was idolised by staff and students alike for his intellectual gifts, strong and virile character, his energy and enthusiasm, and his geniality and unfailing kindness of heart endeared him to all."
Skemp served as a member of the Bristol Contingent of the Officer Training Corps until he got transferred to the 1st Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment and was posted to France. He arrived just as the battalion came out of the line for six days general cleaning up and training. On the 30th they took over the line NE of Mazinghein, holding posts overlooking the Canal de la Sambre. On the 31st the battalion repulsed an enemy attack, the next day the enemy attacked again:
"A Coy posts attacked by enemy. Enemy repulsed with casualties. Our casualties: Lieut A.R. Skemp and 6 O.R. killed 1 O.R. wounded. 4 O.R. wounded later."
Mrs Jessie Skemp chose her husband's inscription. It comes from Robert Browning's Prospice. The choice of author cannot have been difficult since Professor Skemp, the author of a study of his poetry, was a Browning expert. Nor can the choice of poem have been difficult either since in Prospice Browning expresses a bold determination not to hide from death but to meet it head on:
I was ever a fighter, so - one fight more,
The best and the last!
I would hate that death bandaged my eyes, and forebore,
And bade me creep past.
No! let me taste the whole of it, fare like my peers,
The heroes of old,
Bear the brunt, in a minute pay glad life's arrears
Of pain, darkness and cold.
ENLISTED AUG. 23RD 1914
WITH ENGLAND'S HEROES
IN THE WATCHFUL CARE OF GOD"
When some families noted the date of enlistment in the personal inscription it was to show that the man had been a volunteer. There was pride, a cachet, in the fact that he hadn't waited to be conscripted but had volunteered. In the case of Ernest Cartwright, his wife will also have wanted to highlight the tragedy of her husband's death just ten days before the end of the war.
Cartwright had joined the West Riding Regiment as a private, going with them to France on 15 July 1915. He was commissioned in May 1918, serving, so the War Graves Commission's records show, with the 5th Battalion. But on 1 November, the day Cartwright was killed in action, the 5th Battalion's war diary makes no mention of any action. It wasn't even in the front line.
1 November: "Fine day. Battalion trained on ground west of Solesmes in morning. Recreation in afternoon. News was received that Austria-Hungary had concluded an Armistice with the Allies."
Cartwright's name isn't listed among the month's officer casualties either. He was, however, dead, the news reported in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph on 18 November.
The second part of Cartwright's inscription became very popular on headstones, war memorials and In Memoriam columns. You can see its popularity grow in the pages of local newspapers: it appeared once in 1916 and once 1917, eight times in 1918 and fifty times in 1919. The earliest mentions sometimes quote the full two-verse poem. The later mentions restrict themselves to the last two lines.
Gone without one farewell message.
Mangled by a German shell,
He, whose laughter still is ringing
In the home he loved so well.
Comrade's hands, by love made tender,
Laid our warrior 'neath the sod,
And he sleeps with England's heroes
In the watchful care of God.
"WE ALL LOVED HIM
AS A BRAVE SOLDIER
AND A STRAIGHT WHITE MAN"
EXTRACT OFFICER'S LETTER
What a difference a hundred years makes: our understanding of the words 'straight' and 'white', especially in relation to men, has changed radically since Private Mann's officer described him as 'a straight white man'. To be straight meant to be honest and straightforward, and to be a white man meant to be decent and trustworthy.
Honesty might not, however, have been Mann's best quality. On the 2 October 1915, Thomas Harry Mann enlisted in the King's Royal Rifle Corps. He said he was 19. Four months later, on 6 February 1916, he was in France. But on 3 May 1916 he was discharged from the army. Why? Because he had lied. Thomas Mann was just 16 when he enlisted. His discharge form is marked, "Discharged having made misstatement as to age on enlistment". Yet, on the bottom of the form there's a space for a character reference and it says:
"A good brave lad who has been four months at the front and he is willing and hard working."
Honesty may not have been his strong point but his seniors all thought well of him.
Thomas Mann enlisted again in September 1917. This time in the 7th Battalion The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). The battalion were involved in the 3rd Ypres Campaign in the autumn of 1917. In the spring of 1918 they were in the eye of the storm of the German offensive at St Quentin, and then they were back at the front again for the final push across both the St Quentin Canal and the River Selle.
Mann was killed in action on 31 October. All the 7th Battalion's war diary says of the day is:
"During night our patrols active and a number of enemy machine guns located. A patrol under 2/Lt Gerard endeavoured to capture an enemy MG post but came under heavy fire. Bombs were thrown and the gun was afterwards inactive."
Was this how Private Mann met his end?
It is estimated that there was something in the region of 250,00 underage soldiers serving in the British army at the beginning of the war. Soldiers were meant to be 18 before they could enlist, and 19 before they could serve at the front. However, prior to the introduction of conscription you didn't have to be able to prove your age you just had to declare it. If you looked 18 the army took your word for it. Much has been written about recruiting sergeants turning a blind eye to the underage because they got a bonus for every man they enlisted. But the fact of the matter was that the army wanted men and not weaklings. Soldiers had to be able to carry their packs and march long distances. If you looked old enough and strong enough the army took your word for it.
I don't know the circumstances Mann's discharge. Did his parents track him down and tell the authorities how old he was or did Thomas himself ask to be released when faced with the reality of war?
Thomas Harry Mann was the eldest son of Thomas Henry Mann, a printer's machine assistant from Walworth in south east London, and his wife, Charlotte.
IN DUTY, VALOROUS;
IN ALL THINGS NOBLE;
TO THE HEART'S CORE, CLEAN
In honour, chivalrous;
In duty, valorous;
In all things, noble;
To the heart's core, clean.
St Jans Capelle 1915
This four-line verse, a tribute to H.T.O. a soldier killed near Ypres in 1915, was written by the Canadian priest and poet, Frederick George Scott [1861-1944]. Aged fifty-three when the war broke out, Scott volunteered for war service in 1914 and served in France and Flanders until the Armistice. His memoir, The Great War As I Saw It, makes an interesting and detailed read. 'To H.T.O.' was included in a collection of Scott's verse called, 'In the Battle Silences Poems Written at the Front', published in 1917.
Knighthoods are bestowed on those who have done special service to their monarch. In times gone by this would have been military service. The knights of old were considered to have been a particular breed, their qualities summarised by Scott's verse. H.T.O. and Serjeant-Major Montague have both done special service to their king and have had the qualities of knighthood bestowed on them.
Montague originally served as a private with the 3rd London Regiment Royal Fusiliers. The regiment was in India when the war broke out but returned to England in December 1914 and by January 1915 was in France. Montague's medal card gives 6 January 1915 as the date for his arrival in France. This is rather early for a volunteer. Was he already a soldier? The 1911 census describes him a publisher's assistant, perhaps he was a territorial.
At the time of his death, Montague was serving with the 10th Battalion Royal Fusiliers. As he died of wounds in one of the base hospitals in Boulogne, it's not possible to tell when or where he was wounded, but during September and October 1918 the 10th Battalion had been involved in the Battle of Cambrai, the Pursuit to the Selle, the Battle of the Selle, and on the 27 October the Battle of the Canal du Nord and Bourlon Wood.
Montague was the son of Albert Edward Montague, Assistant Secretary to the Victoria Institute Philosophical Society of Great Britain. It was a deeply conservative organization committed to defending "the Great Truths revealed in Holy Scripture against the opposition of Science falsely so called". In other words it was opposed to Darwinism. However, it wasn't either of Montague's parents who chose his inscription but his wife, Alice.
WHATEVER IS, IS BEST
This is no 'que sera sera' but a far more definite statement, not whatever will be will be but 'whatever is, is best'. The words are both the title and the last line of a three verse poem by the popular American poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox [1850-1919]. This is the last verse:
I know there are no errors
In the great Eternal plan,
And all things work together
For the final good of man.
And I know when my soul speeds onward
In its grand Eternal quest,
I shall say as I look back earthward
Whatever is - is best.
Mrs Dorothy Bell chose the inscription for her husband, 'Jack', who died of influenza in hospital in Boulogne on 30 October 1918. They had been married for nearly two years and had an eighteen-month-old son. Bell originally served in the Royal Field Artillery but at the time of his death was attached to the Intelligence Corps.
THERE IS BUT ONE TASK
FOR EACH ONE LIFE TO GIVE
The poem from which this inscription comes, For All We Have and Are, was written by Rudyard Kipling inthe first month of the war. It begins:
For all we have and are,
For all our children's fate,
Stand up and take the war.
The hun is at the gate.
Kipling warns that we shall all have to give up our comfortable lives in order "to meet and break and bind a crazed and driven foe". However:
No easy hope or lies
Shall bring us to our goal,
But iron sarcrifice
Of body will and soul.
There is but one task for all -
One life for each to give.
What stands if Freedom fall?
Who dies if England live?
Most families chose the last two lines of the poem, but Private Mcnamara's mother, Matilda, chose the penultimate two. They seem to issue a stark message: it is up to each person to offer their life to the cause.
Mcnamara, who served with the 6th Battalion Welsh Regiment, a pioneer battalion, was killed on 28 October 1918 when "the companies were employed on the repair of forward roads and tracks, working as far forward as possible by day without direct observation". The war diary doesn't report any casualties but presumably something went wrong.
Mcnamara is buried in the cemetery at La Vallee-Mulatre, the village where the battalion had been billeted. It's a very small cemetery, only forty-seven burials. For this reason it features on Pierre Vandervelden's website, 'In Memory' designed to encourage people to venture off the beaten track and visit some of the smaller cemeteries along the Western Front. 'In Memory' has a Guest Book and in it 'Stephen' has written: "In memory of my great uncle Llewellyn Mcnamara, he never wanted to go died 28/10/1918 he nearly came home. You may be long gone but you are certainly not forgotten." -
"He never wanted to go", the great nephews's words; "There is but one task for all - one life for each to give", the mother's choice of personal inscription. Mcnamara was a conscript, although he was 31 in 1918 he didn't enter the war until at least 1916. Did his mother disagree with his holding back or was she acknowledging that her son had had to do his duty?
Llewellyn Mcnamara was the son of Robert Mcnamara, a County Council nightwatchman in Swansea, and Matilda his wife. In 1911, Mcnamara was working as a carter for the Steam Packet Company, which ran a ferry service between Swansea and Ilfracombe across the Bristol Channel.
ALL OUR BEAUTY
AND HOPE AND JOY
WE OWE TO LADS LIKE YOU
Robert Inglis was taken prisoner, unwounded, at Ploegsteert on 11 April 1918. The information comes from his file in the Red Cross Prisoners of the First World War ICRC Historical Archives. Inglis served with the 10th Battalion Cheshire Regiment, not the 19th as it says on his War Grave Commission record, and was captured when the Germans overran the catacombs at Hill 63 near Ploegsteert Wood as they drove all before them during their Spring Offensive.
Six months later, Inglis, who had been held at Friedrichsfeld bei Wesel prisoner of war camp, died of unrecorded causes - most probably influenza - on 28 October 1918. He was 19 and ten months.
Alexander Inglis, Robert's father, chose his inscription. It comes from the last lines of a poem written by the English-born Canadian poet Robert Service, Young Fellow My Lad, which was published in Rhymes of a Red Cross Man, 1916. In the poem, the son tells the father that he's going to join up despite the father's protestations that he's only a boy: "I'm seventeen and a quarter, Dad, and ever so strong you know". The son goes off to fight and after some time the father receives no letters from him. He's very afraid:
I hear them tell that we've gained new ground,
But a terrible price we've paid:
God grant, my boy, that you're safe and sound;
But oh I'm afraid, afraid.
The son has been killed: "They've told me the truth, young fellow my lad: You'll never come back again". But he is able to comfort himself with the thought that his son will live on:
In the gleam of the evening star,
In the wood-note wild and the laugh of the child,
In all sweet things that are.
And you'll never die, my wonderful boy,
While life is noble and true;
For all our beauty and hope and joy
We will owe to lads like you.
Robert Inglis was the son of Alexander Inglis, a stableman, and his wife, Margaret, of Newlands, Glasgow.
ELDEST TRIPLET SON
OF J.G. & E.E. DAVIES
OF FRODSHAM, CHESHIRE
John Gifford and Elsie Ellen Davies had five sons: Donald, Herbert and the triplets Algernon, Colin and Bertram. In that pre-technical medical era the survival of all three of them - and the mother - must have been quite rare. In 1849, Queen Victoria had introduced a bounty for multiple births of three or more children. A bounty that survived until 1957. However, the bounty was only for families in need and the Davies were relatively prosperous. John Gifford Davies was the founder and owner of J.G.Davies & Co. Builders and Contractors, Frodsham Cheshire.
Algernon's service papers have not survived, but Bertram's have. If Algernon followed his triplet brother, he enlisted on 27 June 1917 aged 17 and 11 months but didn't 'join for duty' until the following June, one month short of his 19th birthday. A report says that Algernon didn't go 'into the firing line' until 22 October 1918. Four days later he was wounded and admitted to a casualty clearing station suffering from gunshot wounds in the dead and neck. The sister, who wrote to his parents after his death, said there had been little hope of recovery but that she hoped it would comfort them to know that he had been given every care and attention.
Bertram and Colin Davies survived the war; Bertram dying in 1956 aged 56 and Colin in 1988 aged 88.
SON OF COL. G.C. ATKINSON
"IS IT WELL? IT IS WELL"
Owen Atkinson's father, Lieutenant-Colonel George Charles Atkinson, Indian Army, quotes from a poem by Rudyard Kipling for his son's inscription. Called The Nativity, the poem compares the anguish of the Virgin Mary over her son's death with that of a mother whose son has been killed but who has no known grave, "she knows not how he fell", nor "where he is laid".
Published in the Daily Telegraph on 23 December 1916, the poem echoes the Kipling's own grief. John Kipling had gone missing during the Battle of Loos on 27 September 1915. His body was never found and his parents had to face the agony of having to believe he was dead but hoping against hope that he was alive.
George and Margarita Atkinson did know that their son was dead. Wounded on 21 October 1918, he died six days later and was buried in the grounds of the Hautmont Abbey; his body exhumed and reburied in Y Farm Military Cemetery in February 1920.
Atkinson had already followed his father into the army before the outbreak of war. He attended the School of Military Engineering in Chatham and was gazetted a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers on 1 April 1914. He crossed to France with his unit, the 200th Field Company, on 15 November 1914 and served with them for one month short of four years, rising to the rank of major.
He was wounded on 21 October 1918 and died six days later. The Engineers were trying to bridge the River Scheldt near Helchin and according to the war diary, Major O.D. Atkinson was "wounded while making reconnaissance for bridge across Schelte near Helchin". The Allies didn't manage to cross the River Scheldt until the beginning of November and by then the war was virtually over.
Kipling's poem has an interesting number of religious references for a man who was generally considered not to have believed in a Christian God. The phrase in the poem, "Is it well with the child" is a quote from 2 Kings 4:26. One day the prophet Elisha has an unexpected visit from the Shunammite woman, a wealthy woman who has befriended him. He sees her from a distance and sends his servant to ask:
"Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child? And she answered, It is well."
In fact the Shunammite woman's child is dead but her words indicate that whatever God does 'it is well', and that 'it is well' with those who are dead too since they are with God. The last verse of Kiplng's poem indicates that this is how this mother also feels. Her child has died in God's cause, so it is well with him:
"But I know for Whom he fell" -
The steadfast mother smiled,
"Is it well with the child - is it well?
It is well - it is well with the child!"
HIS LAST MESSAGE HOME
"MY PEACE I LEAVE WITH YOU"
The words in the inverted commas aren't Thomas Rattray's but those Christ used when he warned his disciples that he wouldn't be with them for much longer.
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
St John 14:27
Christ was comforting the disciples with the promise that he would leave them with his peace: the knowledge that through his death they would be assured of eternal life. This will have been the meaning of Rattray's last message, that he trusted in Christ words - presumably with the hope that they would be a comfort to his wife. As it was his wife, Mary Young Rattray, who chose the inscription, it would seem that they might have done.
Rattray came from Largo in Fife, where his father, Andrew, was a tailor clothier. He served with the 6th Battalion Black Watch, was not entitled to a 1914 or 1915 Star so can't have entered a theatre of war before 1916. He was killed in action on 26 October 1918 when the battalion, part of the 51st Highland Division, captured the village of Maing, which had been in German hands since the beginning of the war. He is buried in Maing Communal Cemetery Extension a small cemetery with only eighty-five graves, all belonging to soldiers killed between 11 October and 5 November, sixteen of them belonging to soldiers of the Black Watch killed between the 24th and the 27th.
LET NOT YOUR HEARTS
Let not your hearts be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
In my father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
St John 14:1-3
The opening words of St John Chapter 14 offer instant comfort and most people at the time would have recognised them since the passage always was, and still is, a popular reading at funerals with its promise of a home in heaven for al- comers and its suggestion that there we shall all meet again.
William Gibbs was the son of Eli and Lizzie Gibbs of Buckland Common in Buckinghamshire. Eli described himself in 1911 as a farm servant, his sons William and Jesse as agricultural and farm labourers respectively. William served originally with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry before transferring to the 11th Battalion Royal West Surrey Regiment. He died of wounds in a casualty clearing station in Moorseele, 20 km east of Ypres, twelve days after the town had been taken from the Germans.
TREAD SOFTLY O'ER
MY DARLING SON'S GRAVE
FOR A MOTHER'S LOVE
Among the 3,879 graves in Terlincthen British Cemetery, this personal inscription seems to have a special tenderness. The graves on either side of Tonar's have very conventional inscriptions: 'Deeply mourned by his loving father, mother, brothers & sisters R.I.P.' and 'Rest in peace', which serve to highlight the informality of Tonar's.
James Tonar's father, a railway carter in Leith, was still alive but his mother, who chose the inscription, privileges herself on their son's grave.
Tonar died in hospital in Terlincthen, a town near the ports where there were a number of base hospitals. The War Grave Commission's register says he died of disease, the Leith Roll of Honour is more specific - he died of pneumonia, quite possibly a complication influenza.
GOD MUST BE RIGHT
MUM AND DAD
Many families make their acceptance of God's will evident in their choice of personal inscription: 'Thy will be done', 'We cannot Lord Thy purpose see but all is well that's done by thee', 'Not my will but thine O Lord'.
Private Parker's inscription seems rather different: there's an air of desperation to it, as though Parker's mother is trying to persuade herself that God must be right ... but can't believe that he is because how can it be right for her to lose her only child, her darling boy.
Charles Parker's parents were in the theatre. Haidee Parker was a former dancer, Frank Parker the theatrical manager of the London Hippodrome. In the 1911 census, Charles Parker's occupation is given as Box Office Keeper.
Parker served with the 1st Battalion Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders and was killed in action on 25 October 1918.
HE LIKE A SOLDIER FELL
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.
PRO DEO ET PATRIA
"MOTHER DEAR I MUST GO"
Macully was a volunteer, every Australian soldier was a volunteer as there was no conscription in Australia. But it was an issue that bitterly divided country. In October 1916 the Government held a referendum on the issue and was defeated by 72,000 votes. It held another referendum in December 1917 when it lost by 166,588 votes.
It may not look like it but Mrs Macully is referring to conscription in her son's inscription. Arnold Macully had recognised that he had a duty to fight for God and his country - the Latin 'Deo et patria' lending gravitas to the sentiment. But she hadn't forced him to do his duty: "Mother dear I must go" speaks of a tender but determined son and a mother who is unwilling to part with him. The implication is clear, Arnold Macully was no shirker and Mrs Macully had not forced her son to enlist.
Macully served with the 14th Brigade Australian Artillery. All the Australian divisions had been withdrawn from the Western Front for rest and recuperation after the Battle of Montbrehain on the 5 October. Not only were they exhausted having been in continuous action since August but there weren't enough Australian reinforcements to make up the casualties and some battalions were operating at less than half their strength. However, some artillery units remained to support the British and American infantry. The 14th Brigade was one of those that remained. On 23 October they were engaged at Le Cateau, providing a creeping barrage for a British attack.
Macully's Red Cross file states that he was admitted to the 55th Casualty Clearing Station on 23 October and died the next day. A witness told his mother:
"It happened at dusk one evening late in October, and Gunner Macully was in his dugout in the waggon lines when he was badly wounded by a shell in the thigh and side." His mate helped place "him on a stretcher, and carried him to an Ambulance by the road-side. He was quite conscious and chattered cheerfully to the Drivers Saunders and Edwards, telling them how to apply the Field Dressing. He was then taken away, and they learnt later that he has succumbed to his wounds."
LO, ONE WE LOVED
Lieutenant Charles Reynolds was a pilot with 55 Squadron, part of the Independent Air Force. If you've never heard of the Independent Air Force neither had I.
The Royal Air Force was formed on 1 April 1918, the Independent Air Force, or the Independent Force RAF, on 6 June. The RAF was intended as a tactical force, operating in support of the army on the ground, the Independent Air Force was to be a strategic force, attacking German railways, industrial centres and airfields. By the end of October, joined by French, Italian and American squadrons, it had become the Inter-Allied Independent Air Force. However, three days after the signing of the Armistice it was dissolved.
Charles Reynolds enlisted on the outbreak of war and was commissioned into the 1st Surrey Rifles on 14 October 1914. He was eighteen. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, getting his wings in June 1917. After this he received specific bombing training before joining 55 Squadron in March 1918. The squadron flew the new DH4s on daylight bombing raids over German targets. Reynolds was wounded on 18 May 1918 having taken part in a raid over Cologne when thirty-three bombers caused widespread damage and 110 casualties. He returned to his squadron in October and was killed on the 23rd when his plane crash landed on returning from a bombing raid.
Andrew Whitmarsh's British Strategic Bombing 1917-18: The Independent Force writes of the many difficulties day bombers faced. Forced to fly at very high altitudes with rudimentary oxygen equipment, oxygen deprivation was a real issue, as were extreme cold causing frostbite, headaches and temporary deafness - all contributing to debilitating exhaustion.
Reynolds' widowed mother, Annie Delesia Reynolds, chose his inscription. It is not a quotation from Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam but Mrs Reynolds will have been referencing it:
Lo! some we loved, the loveliest and best
That Time and Fate of all their Vintage prest,
Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to Rest.
Fitzgerald's melancholy verses, first published in 1859, perfectly capture the fleeting nature of life and the pathos of youthful death.
Mrs Reynolds says, "Lo, one we loved", but in fact she lost both her sons. James Reynolds also enlisted on the outbreak of the war. He did not take a commission but served as a private in the London Rifle Brigade and was killed in action on the 2 May 1915 during the Second Battle of Ypres. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate.
THAT HIS HANDS UNFURLED
STILL FLIES TRIUMPHANT
IN THE SUN
Ellis Jones was the son of Ellis and Margaret Jones of Blaeneau-Festiniog and the husband of Katie Jane Jones of Port Talbot. This is all I can tell you with any certainty, other than the facts that he served with the 14th Battalion, Welsh Regiment, wasn't entitled to a 1914 or '15 Star and died on 23 October 1918. I am going to assume that he died of wounds because he's buried in a casualty clearing station cemetery, and I'm going to suggest that he was wounded in the 14th Battalion's attack on the 20th October when the war diary reported:
"Attacked and captured objectives from K10d 90 95 to K11a 30 00 stubborn resistance was met with. Prisoners taken about 75 including 2 officers. The enemy left a considerable number of dead our casualties slight. The battalion was relieved by 17 RWF & returned to Billets in Bertry. Remained in billets."
But I don't know.
Ellis Jones' wife, Katie, chose his inscription. It comes from a poem written by Claude Burton, who was a regular contributor to the Daily Mail under the pseudonym Touchstone. The poem is called Unknown Grave. Ellis Jones did not have an unknown grave but Claude Burton's son did. Captain Henry Charles Claude Burton was killed in action on 27 July 1916 in the fighting at Longueval and Delville Wood. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
What does the inscription mean? In the poem, Claude Burton is saying that it doesn't matter if the soldier has no grave, we know his worth and our grief is the price we must pay for victory, to ensure that:
The banner that his hands unfurled
Still flies triumphant in the sun!
Taken out of context, as Mrs Katie Jones has done, the words are no longer the aim of victory but a statement that victory has been won.
SO HE PASSED OVER
AND ALL THE TRUMPETS SOUNDED
FOR HIM ON THE OTHER SIDE
Ernest Davison's inscription describes the death of Mr Valiant-for-Truth in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. A good man, who has aimed to follow Christ's teaching, the trumpets sound as he crosses the river of death to the Celestial City, the New Jerusalem.
"When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the Riverside, into which as he went he said, Death where is thy sting? And as he went down deeper he said, Grave, where is thy victory? So he passed over, and all the Trumpets sounded for him on the other side."
And why do the trumpets sound? It's a sign that the dead man is one of those chosen by God. As it says in St Matthew 24, there will be a time of great tribulation, nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom after which Christ will "send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds ... ".
For Mr John Davison, Private Davison's father, the trumpets will sound at the death of his son to signify that he too is worthy of reaching the Celestial City because he has died in Christ's service - fighting the Germans.
Davison served with the 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment and was killed in action on the 23 October during the Battle of the Selle. Originally buried in Contour British Cemetery in a single grave with a sergeant and three other privates, his body was exhumed and reburied in Amerval Communal British Cemetery in 1923.
REMEMBER THE LOVE OF THEM
WHO CAME NOT HOME
FROM THE WAR
The Poet Laureate, Robert Bridges (1844-1930), wrote these lines for his Eton Memorial Ode, 'In memory of the Old Etonians whose lives were lost in the South African War'. The words were set to music by Sir Herbert Parry and the piece performed when King Edward VII inaugurated the Memorial Hall on 18 November 1908. In 1912 Bridges published the poem in a collection of his works but it was never particularly well known.
At one time I thought Wakeman must have been an Etonian, which would explain how his parents knew the poem. But he wasn't, he was a former pupil of William Hulme's Grammar School, Manchester[ He is remembered on their War Memorial site]. However, Wakeman's inscription appears as a dedication on more than a few war memorials and this is probably attributable to the fact that it was one of the 'Inscriptions Suggested for War Memorials', a booklet which the Victoria and Albert Museum thought it would be helpful to publish in 1919.
The story of Malcolm Wakeman's death features in Jay Winter's Sites of Memory Sites of Mourning. Wakeman was called up in 1917 when he was eighteen. He joined the Royal Air Force, trained as an observer and was posted to France in July 1918. He seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the excitement of it all, his letters to his parents full of tales of derring do. Then on 2 October his plane, an RE8 on a counter attack patrol was shot down and the pilot killed. Wakeman was taken to hospital with head wounds. The German pilot, Leutnant K Plauth of Ja51 claimed the victory.
When informed, Wakeman's parents immediately set out to visit him, paying their own fare, which cost them £8 12s 8d. Despite initial optimism, Wakeman's condition deteriorated and he died on 18 October.
When Wakeman's father asked the Air Ministry to reimburse him the £8 12 8d, something it was prepared to do for parents too poor to afford it themselves, he was told that didn't fit this category. But Mr Wakeman successfully argued that he was not a rich man and why should he be punished just because he had been prudent enough to have some savings to hand. It's difficult to say how much £8 was worth in 1918 but apparently the average male earned £94 a year.
In 1923, the Wakemans, taking advantage of the St Barnabas Society's organised tours to the battlefield cemeteries, visited their son's grave. The cost of the journey this time was £4.
HIS MEN USED TO SAY
"WE WOULD FOLLOW
This is a lovely inscription, a real tribute to someone who must have been a natural leader of men. Howard Thomas left Winchester in the summer of 1915, just after his eighteenth birthday. In September 1915 he was commissioned into the Royal Scots and went with them to France the following May, just before his nineteenth birthday. Two years later, at the age of twenty-one, he was a captain with a Military Cross, which he won for his actions during the Battle of Arras in April 1917. The citation for the award reads:
"He led his platoon to the second objective with great courage, where he organised a party and outflanked the enemy, enfilading them, inflicting heavy losses. He was wounded but carried on throughout the day."
Thomas did not return to France until May 1918. Five months later, on 22 October, he was killed outright by a machine gun bullet in his head whilst leading his company in the capture of the village of Vichte.
I imagine that the quotation in Thomas's inscription comes from a letter of condolence written by a senior officer to his parents. The officer has passed on a great compliment - Captain Thomas's men would have followed him anywhere. What's more, they called him 'Tommy' without any seeming loss of respect.
The little book, A General's Letters to His Son on Obtaining His Commission (1917) offers this advice:
"In a well disciplined unit men find it almost impossible not to obey the commander's voice, however terrible the order."
"Your men will obey you because you are their officer, but you will succeed in getting infinitely more out of them if you can win their love and respect.
" ... it is as important to look after your men, and keep them fit, as it is to lead them well in action. If you look after your men, and if they know that in you they have a friend upon whom they may depend, you may rely on their never leaving you in the lurch."
It would appear that Howard Thomas, the only son of Harry and Mary Thomas of Cargilfied, Cramond Bridge, Midlothian, had learnt all these lessons.
[Much of this information comes from the Winchester at War website,. The accompanying photograph shows a whippet-thin young man with a face of earnest composure wearing a Glengarry and with his MC medal ribbon showing above his left breast pocket.]
HIS LAST MESSAGE
"I WOULD NOT HAVE MISSED IT
James Hewett had been a member of the Berkshire Yeomanry since he'd served with it in the Second South African War 1899-1902. In civilian life he was a sugar boiler in a confectionery factory but he remained a member of the Yeomanry, which became a Territorial force in 1908. At the outbreak of the First World War he opted for imperial service and was posted to Egypt with the 2nd Mounted Division in April 1915. Four months later the regiment was sent to Gallipoli where it served dismounted until the evacuation in January 1916. In March 1916 the regiment became part of the 6th Mounted Division, and in April 1918 it merged into the 17th Squadron Mounted Machine Gun Corps.
Hewett served with the Division in Egypt and Palestine until his death, taking part in all three battles of Gaza and in the capture of Lebanon in October 1918. For those who served in this part of the world, it was a totally different war from the Western Front - for the most part it was a war of movement, hot, dangerous, dusty and exhausting, but presumably for someone like Hewett exciting too. As he told his family, "I would not have missed it for anything".
The information on his medal card says that Hewett 'died', as opposed to 'died of wounds' or 'killed in action'. Like so many soldiers who served in that part of the world he could have died of dysentery or heat exhaustion or from the flu pandemic that was sweeping the world at the time.
Born in St John's Wood in 1891, Henry James Hewett was the son of Charles Hewett, who died in 1890, and his wife, Mathilda. Before his father's death the family lived at Uxmore Farm, Ipsden, which was then in Berkshire. Perhaps this is where Hewett acquired his skills in horsemanship.
NO THOUGHT OF GLORY
TO BE WON
THERE WAS HIS DUTY TO BE DONE
AND HE DID IT
It hadn't occurred to me that this was a quotation until I wrote up Second Lieutenant Andrew Bennet's inscription. Bennet's inscription comes from The Vision Splendid, a poem by John Oxenham, published in 1917 in a collection of verse of the same name. It was whilst looking through this book that I came across the poem Oxenham wrote in praise of sixteen-year-old John Travers Cornwell who, although mortally wounded, remained at his post on HMS Chester throughout the Battle of Jutland with the rest of his gun crew dead around him. The poem, called Promoted, begins:
There was his duty to be done, -
And he did it.
No thought of glory to be won;
There was his duty to be done, -
And he did it.
Wounded when scarce the fight begun,
Of all his fellows left not one;
There was his duty to be done, -
And he did it.
Why hadn't it occurred to me that this was a quotation? I'd seen other inscriptions that said, 'There was his duty to be done and he did it' and just assumed that the family were making a simple and direct statement since 'duty' was as great a motivator as patriotism - if not more so - when it came to people's reasons for joining the war. This inscription seemed to confirm it so I looked no further.
Oxenham, the pseudonym for William Arthur Dunkerley (1852-1941), was perhaps the most popular poet of the First World War. The sales of his wartime volumes, All's Well and The Vision Splendid, were phenomenal and one has to assume that the message he propounded was popular too. To Dunkerley, the outcome of the war depended on us - and he wasn't talking about whether we lost or won. Yes there had been huge material losses; yes many hundreds of thousands of men had been killed but after all the dead are only lost to us for a short while since we shall be reunited them when we too die. Despite these losses, to Oxenham the war will have been worthwhile, "if it brings us perforce to simpler living". He hoped that "the soul of the world has been shocked at last into true understanding of the inevitable and dire results of purely materialistic aims", the:
"wheels of life were skidding on the greasy ways of wealth and ease. We were leaving God out. This from which we are suffering is of our own incurring".
So that after the war:
"having paid, in blood and tears and bitterness of woe, - now with the spirit of God in us, with enlightened souls and widened hearts, we may look forward to The Vision Splendid of a new-made world".
Powerful stuff. This, however, is a view of the war that we have snuffed out. Rupert Brooke's Peace, has been much mocked for promoting a similar view:
Now, God be thanked who has matched us with his hour,
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping,
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary,
Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move,
And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary,
And all the little emptiness of love!
It may not be a view that we can comprehend today but that doesn't mean that it wasn't a view held then. Nor was it a view imposed by Governments and elites; it was a view that emerged among some people as the spirit of the age. As we have recently learnt, the spirit of an age can have many faces.
John O'Neill was born in Liverpool, one of the two children of John and Marie Isabel O'Neill. The family lived in Birkenhead where father was a gas fitter at the shipyard. Private O'Neill served with the 9th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers and died on 20 October 1918. This is the day that the war diary reported:
"The Batt attacked at 02.00 hours. The object of the attack being to capture the high ground E of the River Selle. All objectives were gained. Gains were consolidated and held"
9th Battn Royal Welsh Fusiliers War Diary
20 October 1918
The battalion attacked from Montrecourt, a village on the River Selle. O'Neill is buried in Glageon, over 50 km further east. Glageon had been in German hands since the beginning of the war and wasn't liberated until early November. It's where the Germans buried their own soldiers and allied prisoners. Was O'Neill already a German prisoner or was he taken prisoner on the 20th and died of wounds that day?
Britain, be proud of such a son! -
Deathless the fame that he has won.
Only a boy, - but such a one! -
Standing for ever to his gun;
There was his duty to be done, -
And he did it.
HE FELL 'MIDST
BLANDAIN'S BATTLE ROAR
FAR FROM THE PEACE
OF HIS SHETLAND SHORE
Serjeant Coutts went missing on 20 October 1918 - and remained missing until October 1990; his name carved onto the Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing in 1927.
I can't say how it came about that his body was identified but there's an asterisk in red ink beside his name in the Ploegsteert Memorial Register with a handwritten note dated 22.10.90, which says: *Known to be buried in Tournai Communal Cemetery Allied Extension*.
The date of the burial at Tournai was May 1930. This was the date when seven bodies, one of them unidentified, were exhumed from Blandain Churchyard and reburied in Tournai. Later, by whatever means, it became known that that unidentified soldier was Coutts and his family were contacted and asked to compose an inscription. The inscription record is very modern, which would match with it being created in 1990. And as with modern records, it doesn't say who signed for it. Coutts had been married to his wife Margaret for eight years when he died but I haven't come across a record of any children.
What happened to Serjeant John 'Bennie' Coutts? I can't really work it out but in October 1918 Coutts' battalion, the 11th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, were progressing though Flanders. At 10.00 on the morning of 19 October they reached Willems, fifteen minutes after the Germans had evacuated the town. At 15.30 on the same day they reached the village of Trieu de Warzon, four kilometres away, and by 17.00 they had taken it. By the 11.00 on the 20th they were in Houilly, another four kilometres further east, which they took after considerable hostile fire.
Blandain, where Coutts was originally buried, is halfway between Willems and Houilly - perhaps a casualty of the hostile fire.
Coutts wasn't buried in Blandain until September 1919 when his body was found at map reference N10c.95.45 and identified as a Sergeant Glott. As no British soldier with the surname Glott was killed in the First World War the identification was dropped and the body buried as an unknown sergeant. It would be interesting to know how the unknown Glott became Coutts but whoever did the research was able to convince the War Graves Commission, which amended their records and created a headstone for him.
Coutts' father, mother and wife were long dead. They had died in 1921, 1924 and 1971 respectively. In the absence of any known children perhaps it was a great-nephew of niece who chose the inscription. There is something slightly anonymous about it. Coutts may have been buried in Blandain but the location is not known for being the scene of any fighting. However, battle roar or no battle roar the location was certainly far from Lerwick in the Shetland Islands where Coutts had been born and brought up and where he had been a shoemaker like his father before him.
AS BRAVE AS A LION
& WORKED TO HIS LAST OUNCE
IN THE CAUSE
OF HIS WOUNDED COMRADES
Unless I am mistaken, this is an extract from a letter of condolence sent to Private Perry's parents by his senior officer, or perhaps by one of his friends in the Field Ambulance. There are no quotation marks around the words but they sound very immediate and very heartfelt as they mix a deeply conventional image - "as brave as a lion" - with the original, if slightly clumsy, image of someone working to their last ounce.
Perry had served with the Royal Army Medical Corps since he'd come to France in July 1915. At the time of his death he was with the 55th Field Ambulance under the command of the 18th Division. Field Ambulances were not vehicles but mobile medical units consisting of about ten officers and over two hundred men with responsibilities ranging from stretcher bearer to surgeon. There's a informative article about Field Ambulances on the Long Long Trail site .
We don't know what role Perry fulfilled but we do know that in September 1917 he was awarded a Military Medal 'for bravery in the field'. We don't know how or when he was wounded but we do know that he died of wounds in a base hospital in Le Havre.
SIR GEORGE WHITEHEAD, BT.
AND LADY WHITEHEAD
George Whitehead and his observer, Reginald Griffiths were artillery spotting over Lauwe when they were shot down at 7.50 am on the morning of 17 October 1917. The town was still in German hands and the two airmen were buried together by the Germans in a communal grave. It was five years before their bodies were exhumed and reinterred in adjacent graves in Harlebeke New British Cemetery.
I am always dubious about the parents who used their own status as a personal inscription on their son's headstone, as the Whiteheads have done. But then you see the final words - Deus vult, God wills it - and you have to acknowledge that whether the family were rich or poor, grand or humble, whether the words were written in Latin or plain English, the pain was as great for the Whiteheads as it was for any of the many families who chose 'Thy will be done', or 'God knows best' as their son's inscription.
And the Whiteheads lost both their sons. James Whitehead, the eldest son, died of war related illness on 3 March 1919 meaning that, at his death, the title went to Sir George's younger brother.
So, having confessed to prejudice about people conferring status on their sons by referring to themselves, I noticed that Reginald Grifffiths' headstone had exactly the same type of inscription and the same Latin tag:
Son of Owen
And Hetty Griffiths
Aberavon, S. Wales
The parents must have conferred and this I found rather touching since the Whiteheads and the Griffiths came from different worlds. It is enough to tell you that the seven members of the Whitehead family - and their seven servants - lived in Wilmington Hall, Dartford, Kent a house with six drawing rooms and eleven bedrooms, whilst the nine members of the Griffiths household lived in Aberavon, Glamorganshire in a six-roomed house that was also their shop - Owen Griffiths and Sons Fruiterer, Fish, Game and Poultry Dealer.
After the war, the Whiteheads sold Wilmington Hall and moved to Oxford. Sir George died in 1930 and left a bequest of £10,000 to the University to be known as the James Hugh Edendale Whitehead and the George William Edendale Whitehead Memorial Fund for the promotion of the study of history and/or the literature of England and her colonies.
WHAT PEACEFUL HOURS
WE ONCE ENJOYED
HOW SWEET THE MEMORY STILL
John Sharp's inscription comes from verse three of the hymn, O For a Closer Walk With God, by the poet and hymn writer William Cowper (1731-1800):
What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void
The world can never fill,
For John Sharp's family the words must have perfectly encapsulated their feelings - even though Cowper was not mourning the loss a loved one but the loss of God's love, which he felt he had forfeited through his own unworthiness.
Sharp came from Milesmark, a mining community near Dunfermline. His mother died in 1901 when he was five. His father, Frank Sharp, was a coal miner and it's possible to assume that John Sharp was too.
Sharp served with the 1st Battalion Cameron Highlanders, enlisting in 1916 when he became nineteen. He was a casualty of the opening day of the Battle of the Selle, 17 October 1918, in which the battalion took part as part of the 1st Division.
HAPPY HAVE WE MET
HAPPY HAVE WE BEEN
HAPPY DID WE PART
HAPPY MEET AGAIN
This is a version of the final toast given at Masonic Lodge meetings. I haven't been able to discover whether either Arthur Hancock or his father, Thomas, a dairyman, were Freemasons but this is definitely a Masonic toast.
Hancock began the war in the Royal Navy and was entitled to the 1915 Star. At some point he was commissioned into the Machine Gun Corps, where he served with the 50th Battalion MGC (Infantry), part of the 50th Division, in turn part of General Rawlinson's Fourth Army.
During the period known as the Pursuit to the Selle, 9-11 October 1918, the Allied armies pushed the Germans back almost ten miles towards the River Selle, where they decided to make a stand. The Battle of the Selle opened at zero hour, 05.10, on 17 October, a day of dense mist which greatly complicated the situation.
Hancock was in A Company, of which the war diary records that their situation "had been very difficult". Ordered to cover the left flank of the 149th Infantry Brigade, they encountered very heavy shelling, causing many casualties, "including Lt. Hancock killed".
News of his death reached his home town, Liverpool, and five days later notices from family and friends began to appear in the Liverpool papers: from his 'chum' Ernest Waters with whom he had served in the navy; from his brother, Tom, serving in Egypt, and from Lillian:
Hancock - October 17, killed in action, Second Lieut. Arthur Hancock, M.G.C. My hero - Always remembered by his sorrowing Fiancee Lillian and all at 20 Vandyke Street.
LIVERPOOL ECHO 24 October 1918
WITH THE VISION SPLENDID
HE SHALL SMILE BACK
AND NEVER KNOW REGRET
Here - or hereafter - you shall see it ended,
This mighty work to which your souls are set;
If from beyond - then, with the vision splendid,
You shall smile back and never know regret.
John Oxenham (the pseudonym for the popular and prolific poet William Arthur Dunkerley 1852-1941) originally wrote this verse for his poem 'Christs All! Our Boys Who Have Gone to the Front'. Here he assures those who are fighting that:
You are all christs in this your self surrender, -
True sons of God in seeking not your own.
Oxenham then repeated the verse in a poem he wrote later, which was called 'The Vision Splendid', which was published in a collection of verse of the same name. The thrust of this poem is that those who are fighting have redeemed the world from the selfishness and sin into which it had fallen:
O, not in vain has been your great endeavour;
For, by your dyings, Life is born again,
And greater love hath no man tokened ever,
Than with his life to purchase Life's high gain.
What is the 'vision splendid'? It's that time when all the people of earth shall come together as one to worship God, as envisaged in the Book of Revelation 7:9-10:
After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;
And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
Mrs Agnes Bennet, Andrew Bennet's widowed mother, chose his inscription. To be able to envisage that your son had fought not just for victory but to contribute to the coming together of all mankind must have brought her comfort - enough comfort to cope with the fact that twelve days after Andrew's death her only other son Alexander died of wounds?
Andrew Bennet was an observer with 82 Squadron. The squadron flew Armstrong Whitworth FK8s on artillery spotting and photo reconnaissance duties. Bennet and his pilot, Captain Humphrey Flowers, were shot down over Ledeghem, some sources say in aerial combat, others by ground fire as no German fighter claimed a corresponding kill that day.
THIS GRAVE WAS VISITED
BY HIS PARENTS
SUNDAY SEPT. 30TH 1923
If Thomas McBride's headstone says that his parents visited his grave in September 1923 it means that his permanent headstone hadn't yet been erected since there was still time to have this statement carved on it. This means that five years after McBride's death his grave was still only marked by a temporary wooden cross. It's a good illustration of the the massive task that the War Graves Commission had undertaken.
McBride had originally been buried with twenty-six other members of his battalion in Quiery-la-Motte. Their bodies were all exhumed and re-buried in Orchard Dump Cemetery in June 1921 but their graves were not marked with permanent headstones until two years later.
There is no evidence for this but I'm going to suggest that McBride's parents made their visit to his grave under the auspices of one of the charitable organisations that offered free visits to the battlefields for families who would not otherwise have been able to afford it. My assumption that the family would not have been able to afford it is based on the fact that in the 1911 census John McBride, Thomas's father, was a cotton piecer in a cotton mill. This meant that he mended the broken threads during spinning. In 1911, fifteen-year-old Thomas was a scavenger in a cotton mill, someone who cleaned up the cotton fluff that accumulated under the machinery. Travelling on the continent was expensive, complicated and very rare for those without access to money. I think the family would have used an organization like the St Barnabas Society.
Strictly speaking, Thomas McBride's parents, John and Ellen McBride, did not visit his grave in 1923. Ellen McBride died before 1901. It was his father and his stepmother, Mary Jane, who came.
HE WAS A PRISONER
DEATH SET HIM FREE
Private Cross's wife means this literally; James Cross was a prisoner of war and death did set him free. Usually when inscriptions talk about the freedom of death they mean that the dead person has been set free from the cares of this world:
He has outsoared the shadow of our night;
Envy and calumny and hate and pain,
And that unrest which men miscall delight,
Can touch him not and torture not again;
ADONAIS Percy Bysshe Shelley
But this is not what Evelyn Cross meant, her husband had escaped captivity by dying.
Cross died of pneumonia in a German hospital in Hautmont. The town had been in German hands since the earliest days of the war and wasn't captured by the British until 8 November. James Cross had been in German hands since the 16 April 1918.
Cross served with the 1st Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment. On the evening of the 12/13th April 1918 the battalion went into the front line in the Wytschaete Sector. The war diary gives up at this point and says that the ensuing period, 12-
16 April, is best described by reproducing verbatim the official account of the operation sent by Brigadier-General GH Gater to the Higher Command.
The battalion were to be responsible for holding the line from Bogaert Farm to Stanyzer Cabaret cross roads. On the night of the 15/16th this was extended to Scott Farm. At 4.30 am on the morning of the 16th the Germans subjected the line to a heavy and continuous bombardment until 5.45 am before attacking under cover of dense fog. They succeeded in breaking the line. The British found it impossible to tell what was going on until the Germans were at close quarters. However, the Lincolnshires stood firm,
"and fought it out to the last. No officer, platoon or individual surrendered and the fighting was prolonged until 6.30 am. ... The withdrawal was covered by the Adjutant, Captain McKellar, with revolver and bombs, firing into the enemy at close quarters."
James Cross was one of the many missing after the engagement. Eventually his wife was informed through the offices of the International Red Cross that he had been taken prisoner. His death on 13 October from pneumonia was probably a result of influenza.
[Gater's report is in turn reproduced virtually verbatim in The History of the Lincolnshire Regiment 1914-1918.]
NO KING OR SAINT
HAD TOMB SO PROUD
AS HE WHOSE FLAG
BECOMES HIS SHROUD
This inscription comes from a very patriotic poem called Nationality, written by Thomas Osborne Davis (1814-1845). Verse one declares that a nation's voice is a solemn thing and should be respected. Verse two states that a nation's flag, unfurled in the cause of Liberty, should be guarded "till Death or Victory" - with the assurance that anyone who dies defending it will have an honoured grave:
No saint or king has tomb so proud,
As he whose flag becomes his shroud.
Verse three insists that God gave nations the right to defend themselves with the sword against a foreign yoke.
'Tis freedom from a foreign yoke,
'Tis just and equal laws,
Which deal unto the humblest folk,
As in a noble cause.
So far so good, this is England fighting for her liberty against the fear of a German 'yoke'. Except that it isn't. The nation entitled to her voice, entitled to just and equal laws, is Ireland, and the foreign yoke belongs to England.
Thomas Osborne Davis, the author of the poem, was an Irish nationalist whose nationalism was based on shared Irish culture and language rather than on Catholic Emancipation or full blown independence and republicanism. He was in any case a protestant, as were Charles Stuart Parnell and Roger Casement, two other Irish nationalist figures.
The Leonards were a Roman Catholic family from Brackaville, a rural community near Coalisland, Co. Tyrone. Who knows what the family's politics were but throughout the twentieth century Coalisland was an IRA stronghold. However, many Irish people were prepared to fight for Britain because they believed John Redmond who told them that English gratitude would ensure they were rewarded afterwards with independence. And many Irish people fought for Britain because they didn't want independence.
It's not possible to tell what motivated James 'Joe' Leonard to enlist - money, adventure, escape, principle. He was an early volunteer, his medal card shows that he was entitled to the 1915 Star having arrived in France on 29 September 1915. This was well before the British suppression that followed the Dublin Easter Rising in April 1916.
Leonard served throughout the war with the 157th Field Company Royal Engineers, part of the 16th (Irish) Division. The war diary exists and shows that in October 1918 the Company were based in Auchy constructing pontoons for crossing the Heutedeule Canal and attempting to stop a leak or a 'cut' in the canal bank. The diary for 13 October records:
"No. 3 [Section] in canal cut .Sprs Leonard and Dunnington killed and the stopping of the leak was not successful."
It sounds as though there was some kind of accident in which Leonard and Dunnington were killed. There is certainly no mention of any enemy action that day. By the way, the War Graves Commission gives the date of his death as the 12 October, the war diary as the 13th.
Mrs Sarah Ann Leonard, Sapper Leonard's mother, chose his inscription - or did she? In the 1901 census neither parent were said to have been able to read.
May Ireland's voice be ever heard,
Amid the world's applause!
And never be her flag-staff stirred,
But in an honest cause!
May freedom be her very breath,
Be justice ever dear;
And never an ennobled death
May son of Ireland fear!
So the Lord God will ever smile,
With guardian grace, upon our isle.
NATIONALITY verse four
HE JOINED THE FORCES
AT 15 1/2 YEARS
AND DID HIS DUTY
Born in January 1899, Albert Knowles would have been fifteen and a half in July 1914. By implication therefore he joined up immediately on the outbreak of war. in August 1914. He was far too young. In theory you had to be eighteen before you could join the army and nineteen before you could serve abroad but in practice, in the early days of the war, if you said you were nineteen, and looked nineteen, the army took your word for it. Much is made of recruiting sergeants wilfully turning a blind eye to obviously underage boys but in fact, the army didn't want weaklings.: you needed to be able to march long distances, carrying your own equipment. But as I said, if you looked nineteen the army took your word for it.
Knowles obviously managed to convince the authorities. His medal card shows that he went to France in September 1915 when he would have been just over sixteen and a half. It was January 1918 before he became nineteen, by this time he had been in the army for over three years.
In March 1918 his eldest brother, Ernest, serving with the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards, died of wounds. Six months later, on 12 October, Albert was killed as the 16th Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps tried to cross the River Selle.
For all that the end of the war was only a month away, for all that the Germans were already putting out peace feelers, their soldiers were still fiercely resisting allied attacks so that by noon on the 12th the 16th Battalion, which had been charged with taking the line of the Le Cateau-Solesmes railway and the surrounding high ground, had been forced to withdraw 'disorganised' with very high casualties.
Albert Knowles may have deceived the army authorities about his age but his mother put that right on his headstone. There's a sense of pride in her choice of words, not so much pride in his deception but in the fact that even though he was only fifteen he had wanted to do his duty, and that he continued to do it "till death". There is no inscription on his brother Ernest's headstone.
[Richard Emden's 'Boy Soldiers of the Great War' is the book to read on this subject.]
IN FOREIGN SOIL SHE LAYS
AND IN THAT RICH EARTH
A RICHER DUST CONCEALS
This might not be exactly what Rupert Brooke wrote but when Mrs Sarah Hilling chose this inscription for her daughter she had Brooke's poem, The Soldier, firmly in her mind:
If I should die, think only this of me;
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. 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 ...
At one time this was the most famous poem in England and Brooke, who died in 1915 on his way to take part in the Gallipoli Campaign, the most famous war poet.
I wish it had been possible to find out more about Sophia Hilling - most records give her name as Sophie, including the War Graves Commission, but the record of her baptism and all the census returns give it as Sophia.
She was born in Deptford, South London. Her father, Samuel Hilling, was a rag cutter, someone who cut up rags for paper making. He died before 1901 when her mother, Sarah Hilling, was supporting herself as a charwoman. Sixteen-year-old Sophia was a general domestic servant. Ten years later she was a sick nurse working at the Birmingham Workhouse Infirmary.
According to the information her mother gave the Commission, Sophia Hilling had had four year's war service before she died. There is no information as to where but in 1917 she was awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal (Second Class) for "bravery, coolness and devotion to duty whilst on active service". At this time she was working at the Welsh Metropolitan War Hospital, Whitchurch, Cardiff where soldiers received both orthopaedic and psychiatric treatment.
By October 1918 Hilling was in France working at one of the general hospitals in Trouville, France when she fell ill. On 12 October E Maud McCarthy, Matron-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders, recorded in her official diary:
"Wired Matron-in-Chief, War Office, and reported to DGMS that Sister S. Hilling, QAIMNS reported on the "Dangerously ill" list with pneumonia."
And then the next day:
"Wired Matron-in-Chief, War Office, and reported to DGMS that Sister S. Hilling, QAIMNS on the "Dangerously ill" list yesterday, died at 10.30 p.m."
[E Maud McCarthy's war diary is a wonderful resource. It has been transcribed by Scarlet Finders and can be read here.]
ENLISTED AUG. 1914
Hugh Davies's wife, Laura, chose to make a very bald statement on her husband's grave - but it speaks volumes. Her husband was a volunteer, and a very early volunteer at that. He had joined up in the first month of the war, August 1914, had survived for over four years and then been killed in its last month, October 1918. Fate is cruel.
Davies had enlisted as a private, served in Egypt from November 1914, and then in Gallipoli. He had risen through the ranks until in June 1916 he was a sergeant. That month the London Gazette recorded his award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal:
"For exceptional ability and good work. He turned out a large quantity of grenades to meet an urgent demand."
In September 1917 Davies was commissioned into the Royal Engineers. He served with the 430th Field Company and was killed on 12 October during the Second Battle of Le Cateau, the first battle having taken place in August 1914.
On the day of his death sappers had been at work around Le Cateau diverting a railway line, filling craters and trying to fix up a water supply. There's no evidence as to what Davies had been doing but as a plumber in civilian life it would seem logical that he was involved in the latter.