HONOUR HAS COME BACK
AS A KING TO EARTH
AND PAID HIS SUBJECTS
WITH A ROYAL WAGE
Whilst pre-twentieth century poets dominate the authors quoted in personal inscriptions, with Shakespeare and Tennyson taking the lead in what is admittedly my very unscientific analysis based on impression rather than statistics, Rupert Brooke and John Oxenham are the most popular of the twentieth-century. Neither of their reputations have survived very well but Brooke is definitely better known than Oxenham who few people have heard of these days.
Charles Cox's mother chose his inscription. It comes from Brooke's The Dead in which the poet claimed that by dying, by being prepared to sacrifice themselves, the dead have "made us rarer gifts than gold": the restoration of the high, moral qualities that mankind seemed to have lost before 1914. But now, thanks to them, "nobleness walks in our ways again; and we have come into our heritage".
It's a deeply traditional, romantic and heroic view of war, and of fighting and dying for your country, which has helped Brooke's reputation slide to its current lowly state. But that is how many people felt then. It is however arguable that Brooke, who was an intelligent and sensitive man, wouldn't have continued to feel like this, or write like this, had he lived. As it was he died on 23 April 1915.
Brooke might have changed his view but by the end of the war it was still that of many next-of-kin, like Mrs Cox; it brought them comfort.
Charles Cox, born and brought up in Newport, Monmouthshire, served with the 1st Battalion Monmouthshire Regiment. He died of wounds on 4 October 1918. The battalion were in action on the 3rd, he could have been wounded then, or on the 4th itself when the war diary recorded:
"Orders received for "C" Coy to dispatch a strong patrol (1 platoon) at 6.30 am as far into Montbrehain as possible, under cover of our bombardment. Patrol moved off at 6.30 am but was driven back by concentrated M.G. fire from front and both flanks. Only 3 returned unwounded. The remainder of the day was comparatively quiet with the exception of enemy shelling & MG fire ... "
Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!
There's none of these so lonely and poor of old,
But, that dying has made us rarer gifts than gold.
These laid the world away; poured out the red
Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene,
That men call age; and those who would have been
Their sons, they gave, their immortality.
NOT SINCE HER BIRTH
HAS OUR EARTH SEEN
SUCH WORTH LOOSED UPON HER
I'm not sure what was going on here but it can have never occurred to Alexander Riddell that ninety-nine years after his death somebody would be looking at his attestation form and wondering what he'd been playing at.
Alexander Lorimer Riddell, army service number 706968, son of George and Margaret Riddell of Rosehearty, Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, was born in Scotland in 1885. In 1906, aged 21, he went to Canada and settled in Nanamo, British Columbia where he worked as a building contractor. He enlisted in the Canadian Infantry in February 1916, sailed from Halifax in July and joined his unit in the field in February 1917. He was wounded at Vimy Ridge in April 1917 and returned to Rosehearty in December where he married Jean Arthur. After two weeks leave he returned to the front and died of wounds received in action on 3 October 1918.
That, in brief, is the life of Alexander Lorimer Ridddell. It all comes from information provided by Riddell's family for his entry in the Marquis du Ruvigny's Roll of Honour. So why, on his attestation form, does he claim that he was born in New South Wales, Australia on 16 August 1877, which would have made him 44 when he was only 33. And why does he say that his next of kin is his step-father, Donald Riddell of Lincoln, Nebraska, when he didn't have a step-father. I don't have an answer.
His wife chose his inscription. It comes from Rudyard Kipling's poem The Children and is a savage indictment of the society that led its innocent children into war. Yes Kipling was probably moved to write it by his grief for the death of his own son, John, who was killed in action at Loos on 26 September 1915, but there is much more to the poem than the self-pity that one unsympathetic critic has accused Kipling of. Riddell's inscription comes from verse 3:
They bought us anew with their blood, forbearing to blame us,
Those hours which we had not made good when the judgment o'ercame us.
They believed us and perished for it. Our statecraft, our learning
Delivered them bound to the Pit and alive to the burning
Whither they mirthfully hastened as jostling for honour -
Not since her birth has our Earth seen such worth loosed upon her,
Never before has our earth seen 'such worth', such wonderful, valuable people thrown away, wasted in this manner. There is nothing at all heroic or triumphalist about this poem, no attempt at all to make death in war glamorous:
Nor was their agony brief, or once only imposed on them.
The wounded, the war-spent, the sick received no exemption:
Being cured they returned and endured and achieved our redemption,
Hopeless themselves of relief, till Death, marvelling, closed on them.
But, as Kipling acknowledges, we can rail against what has happened all we like, we can regret it, we can try to make amends, but in the end what's the point because nothing can bring our children back. "Who shall return us our children?" he asks, and the answer, of course, is no one.
I SAW THE POWERS OF DARKNESS
PUT TO FLIGHT
I SAW THE MORNING BREAK
These lines come from a poem called Between Midnight and Morning, which is often said to have been found on the body of an Australian soldier killed at Gallipoli; the implication being that the soldier wrote it. Well, a copy of the poem could easily have been found on the body of an Australian soldier but he most definitely didn't write it because it was written by Owen Seaman, the editor of Punch, and published in December 1914 in King Albert's Book. However, the Australian story gave the poem great traction and it became known all over the world.
You that have faith to look with fearless eyes
Beyond the tragedy of a world at strife,
And trust that out of night and death shall rise
The dawn of ampler life:
Rejoice, whatever anguish rend your heart,
That God has given you, for a priceless dower,
To live in these great times and have your part
In Freedom's crowning hour.
That you may tell your sons who see the light
High in the heavens, their heritage to take: -
"I saw the powers of darkness put to flight!
I saw the morning break!"
Thomson was born and raised in Kapunda, South Australia. He began his career as an accountant but enlisted in November 1914 soon after the outbreak of war. He served with the 3rd Field Ambulance in Gallipoli from June to December 1915 and then transferred to France in March 1916. In January 1918 he returned to England and in May 1918 was gazetted Flying Officer (Observer) in No. 3 Squadron Australian Flying Corps. The squadron flew RE8s on reconnaissance, bombing and artillery spotting duties.
At 6 am on the morning of the 3 October 1918, Lieut Thomson and Lieut Gould Taylor took off from the airfield at Bouvincourt and never returned. Three days later a machine was found crashed at Folemprise Farm, 1,000 yards NW of Estrees. Beside the plane were two graves marked with the information that these were the graves of two unidentified Australian airmen. The plane could be identified by its number as Thomson and Gould-Taylor's and the bodies identified as their's. A year later their bodies were exhumed and buried in adjacent graves in Prospect Hill British Cemetery.
Thomson's father chose his inscription.
Rejoice, whatever anguish rend your heart,
That God has given you, for a priceless dower,
To live in these great times and have your part
In Freedom's crowning hour.
NOR ENGLAND DID I KNOW
WHAT LOVE I BORE TO THEE
This is a rather poignant inscription for an Australian soldier who was born in England in 1888 and only went to Australia in 1912 when he was 24. It was chosen by his wife Phyllis. She too was born in England although the couple married in Australia in 1913.
Browning volunteered in January 1918. There was no conscription in Australia; he must have wanted to go. However, January 1918 is quite late to be enlisting if you were someone who was keen to get to the war. This could be explained by his answer to the question on the attestation form - Have you ever been rejected for military service? Browning's answer is 'Yes - made fit by operation'. He had wanted to go, but he needed to undergo an operation before he could be considered fit enough.
Browning's inscription comes from Wordsworth's 'I Travelled Among Unknown Men' of which this is the first verse:
I travelled among unknown men,
In lands beyond the sea;
Nor, England! did I know till then
What love I bore to thee.
I don't think Browning regretted going to Australia. He must have liked it since he persuaded his older brother, James, with his wife and two children, to join him in the country in 1913. But when England was in danger he realised what he felt for the old country.
Browning was killed in action at Beaurevoir on 3 October 1918, six weeks before the end of the war. The news went to his wife in Australia and his family in England only learnt of his death through friends. His sister therefore wrote to the Australian Red Cross to ask if they could tell her how he had died and whether he had been buried. They were able to assure her that he had been killed instantly and buried properly but spared her the full details, which they had learnt from the stretcher bearer who was first on the scene:
"I saw the above (all of B Coy) and one other man whose name I think was Lionel killed by one shell near Beaurevoir about 7 am during the attack about 1/2 hour or less after we hopped over. I was stretcherbearing & was following up behind them and was not 8 yards from them. Browning (killed instantly) was hit through head, Clarkson (instantly) thigh to knee badly smashed and concussion, Sgt, Crockett (instantly) all over body, Lionel (instantly) head, Langley hit on left collar bone and the artery was cut he was the only one with any life and I tried to dress the wound and succeeded in stopping the bleeding but he was dead before I finished ... Browning, Clarkson and Langley were all late joined us at Cappy, first time in line."
HIS LAST WORDS WERE
AS HE FELL
"GO ON 'C' COMPANY
William Braithwaite was killed whilst charging a machine gun in an attack at Estrees on 3 October 1918. This was a preliminary action to the Battle of Montbrehain on the 5th; the Australians last engagement of the war on the Western Front.
Braithwaite served with the 22nd Battalion Australian Infantry and its Report of Operations gives a brief glimpse of the action on the 3rd October:
"There were several instances where determined resistance was offered by small groups of Machine Gunners, and an examination of the ground after the attack evidenced the fact that the bayonets had been used by our men to a greater extent than usual."
After school and university, Braithwaite joined his father's tannery, the largest employer in the town of Preston, Victoria. He enlisted in July 1916 and embarked for Europe that October, joining his battalion in France in January 1917. A collection of his private letters, now held in the Australian National War Memorial, shows that he took part in the the actions at Bapaume, Bullecourt, Ypres, Broodseinde, Villers-Bretonneaux and the August 1918 offensive. It was at Bullecourt that he was wounded in the arm and face during an action for which he was awarded the Military Cross:
"For conspicuous gallantry in leading his men into the enemy's trenches during the attack near Bullecourt on 3 May 1917. Although twice wounded he persevered with the work of consolidating the position and leading bombing parties against the enemy strongpoints."
Braithwaite was back in action by July and served throughout the Battle of Passchendaele. He was wounded again at Franvillers in June 1918, had two weeks leave in England in September and was killed soon after his return.
It was his father, also William Braithwaite, who chose his inscription. Although he and his wife had six daughters, William was their only son. William Braithwaite Senior died on 5 August 1922 whilst on a trip to Europe with his wife to visit their son's grave.
WE WHO LOVED HIM ONLY KNOW
HOW MUCH WE LOST
EIGHT YEARS AGO
This inscription has been chosen specifically to show how long it could take to build the permanent cemeteries, and how long it could be before the next of kin were asked for for a personal inscription. William Martin died of wounds on 2 October 1918, therefore it must have been 1926 when his wife, Harriett Martin, was asked what she wanted to say. However, I have come across inscriptions which refer to the death only being a year ago so it didn't always take this long.
Martin was born in Newhaven, Sussex in 1889. In 1911 he was a police officer boarding at a house in Camden Road, Eastbourne. Among the other residents of the house was a widowed dressmaker called Harriett Rose Lakey. William Martin and Hariett Lakey were married in West Derby the following year.
Martin's medal card shows that he was entitled to the 1914 Star having entered a theatre of war, France, on 19 August 1914. This means he was a member of the original British Expeditionary Force and that he had managed to survive until the last six weeks of the war.
A gunner in 1914, Martin was a serjeant in 1918 with a Meritorious Service Medal awarded in January 1918 "in recognition of valuable services rendered with the Armies in the Field during the present war".
Martin died of wounds in a Casualty Clearing Station in Grevelliers, 3 km west of Bapaume, on 2 October 1918. There is no record of what happened to him.
By choosing this single Latin word, Teribus, William Beattie's father elegantly linked many aspects of his son's life. The word itself is said to have been part of the battle cry of the men of Hawick during the Battle of Flodden in 1513 - 'Teribus ye Teri-Odin'. A nineteenth-century song by James Hogg tells of the months after the battle when bands of English soldiers plundered the surrounding countryside, devastating the towns and villages. This continued until the following year when a group of brave men from Hawick turned the tide by attacking a band of English soldiers at Hornshole and carrying off their flag. The song claims that this action led to the turning of the tide against the English marauders who subsequently turned tail for home. The factual history of the event may be questionable but the legend has remained very powerful and the skirmish is still commemorated in Hawick to this day.
In June 1914, to mark the 400th anniversary, a bronze statue of a horseman holding the captured English banner was unveiled in the centre of the town. The sculptor was William Francis Beattie who had been born in Hawick, which made him a 'Teri', a Hawickman. Although the statue was unveiled in June 1914, the outbreak of war two months later meant that the final touches were not put to it until 1921, three years after Beattie's death.
Beattie had been a member of the Lothian and Border Horse since 1910, but in April 1915 he took a commission in the Royal Artillery in order to see some action. Four months later he was in France. Awarded a Military Cross in 1917 for the rescue of some wounded soldiers under a heavy artillery barrage, he was badly gassed in April 1918 and spent five months recovering before returning to the front on 20 September. He died of wounds thirteen days later in a Casualty Clearing Station in Tincourt.
On 29 July 1921 the Hawick News and Border Chronicle reported that a workman had that week finally cut the memorial inscription into the base of the 1514 monument:
"Erected to commemorate the return of Hawick Gallants from Hornshole in 1514, when, after the Battle of Flodden they routed the English marauders and captured their flag"
The work was carried out by William Beattie's father, Thomas, who also carved another inscription:
Merses Profundo Pulchrior Evenit
Sculptor: Major William F. Beattie MC RFA
A native of Hawick
Born 1886 Killed in France 1918
The paper reports that the Latin line is a quotation from Horace suggested as appropriate by Sir George Douglas, Bart, the meaning of which is - "You may overwhelm it in the deep; it arises more beautiful than ever".
William Francis Beattie was his parents' only child.
THE LORD BLESS THEE
AND KEEP THEE
Mrs Kirkpatrick has quoted from a beautiful blessing in the Book of Numbers, Chapter 6 verses 22 to 26, for her son's personal inscription:
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them,
The Lord bless thee, and keep thee:
The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
I haven't really been able to identify James Kirkpatrick, other than that he was the son of Mrs M Kirkpatrick, 116 Bonnington Road, Kilmarnock and that he was entitled to the War Medal and the Victory medal which means that he wasn't a 1914 or 1915 volunteer His medal card says he is James M Kirkpatrick, and the Kilmarnock war memorial lists a James McC Kirkpatrick. From this slight information I have concluded that he is the son of David Kirkpatrick, a journeyman tailor, and Mary Kirkpatrick nee McCutcheon, and that he had two brothers, David and George, and a sister, Mary. I could very well be wrong.
Kirkpatrick, who served with the 7th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, died of wounds in a Casualty Clearing Station at Haringhe on 2 October 1918. There were three casualty clearing stations in the area known to the troops as Dozinghem, Mendinghem and Bandaghem, the soldiers' humorous Flemish names for what went on there - dosing them, mending them and bandaging them. Haringhe CCS was Dozinghem
The 7th Battalion had taken part the previous day in an attack on the village of Dadizeele when 73 other ranks had been wounded. There's no record of what happened to Jame Kirkpatrick but he may well have been one of those wounded that day.
HIS BODY TO FAIR FRANCE
HIS PURE SOUL
UNTO HIS CAPTAIN CHRIST
The name Bernard Richard Penderel-Brodhurst has a particular air about it, something that would seem to be totally appropriate for the heir to the perpetual pension settled on his ancestor, Humphrey Penderel, for his services in concealing King Charles II and aiding his escape after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.
Penderel-Brodhurst was the only surviving son of James George Joseph Penderel-Brodhurst, the editor of The Guardian. His brother, Charles, had died at the age of 17 in 1899. Educated at St Paul's, Bernard was articled to a firm of architects when the war broke out. He enlisted three weeks later and served in Britain until, having been commissioned into the Royal Engineers in July 1917, he went with them to France in April 1918.
On the evening of 1 October Penderel-Brodhurst was in an area of the front line that was not thought to be dangerous when he was shot by a sniper concealed in a pill-box no more than 40yards away. He died three hours later having never regained consciousness - three days before his 28th birthday and his first wedding anniversary.
His inscription comes from Shakespeare's Richard II. The words are spoken of Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk by the Bishop of Carlisle who tells Bolingbroke that the exiled Norfolk is dead:
Many a time hath banish'd Norfolk fought
For Jesu Christ in glorious Christian field,
Streaming the ensign of the Christian cross
Against black pagans, Turks and Saracens;
And toil'd with works of war, retir'd himself
To Italy, and there, at Venice, gave
His body to that pleasant country's earth,
And his pure soul unto his captain Christ,
Under whose colours he had fought so long.
Penderel-Brodhurst may have been buried in France rather than Venice but his father, who chose the inscription, believed that his son too had been fighting for Christ.
A WARMER HEART
DEATH NEVER MADE SO COLD
Know thou, O stranger to the fame
Of this much lov'd much honour'd name!
(For none that knew him need be told)
A warmer heart Death ne'er made cold.
'For R.A. Esq.'
by Robert Burns
By choosing this lovely epitaph written by Robert Burns for one of his friends, Mr and Mrs Adam Oliver have managed not only to reflect their son's Scottish heritage - he was born in Jedburgh, Roxburghshire - but to simply and effectively convey an affectionate character sketch of their nineteen-year-old son.
John Oliver served with the 7th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, part of the 9th Scottish Division. On 29 September 1918 the Division captured the village of Dadizeele, 16km east of Ypres towards Menin. Three days later the Division pushed on towards the Menin-Roulers railway north of Ledeghem but the Germans put up a much fiercer resistance with particularly heavy machine gun and sniper fire.
Oliver was one of the twenty-three members of the battalion who were killed in action or died of wounds that day.
BABY OF FAMILY
BORN GREEN BAY, WISC. U.S.A.
MOTHER STILL ANXIOUS
FOR HIS RETURN
Albert Kick was a Oneida First Nation Canadian, born on the Green Bay reservation in Wisconsin U.S.A. whose family moved to the reservation in Muncey, Ontario. He was 29 when he was killed, the baby of the family.
'Mother still anxious for his return' - I had in my mind's eye the image of a grieving mother unable to accept that her son was dead and still hoping that he was going to come home. However, I have a feeling that this is not what the words mean. It was Albert's mother herself, Katherine Kick, who chose the inscription and I think her concern was to do with her son's spirit, perhaps even his body.
The Oneida, as with all First Nation people, have very specific customs, practices and rituals associated with the dead, all designed to facilitate the successful passage of their spirit back into the spirit world from which it came. This should start with the return of the deceased person's body to the place where they had lived. Was Mrs Kick agitating for the return of her son's body or was it his spirit she hoped would return? Either way, Albert Kick's inscription reflects a Oneida concern for the afterlife of the dead man.
Kick and his brother, Ernest, briefly attended Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Pennsylvania and when I say briefly I mean from 13 August to 20 October 1904 when they 'ran from school'. The school have digitised their records and you can read letters from both the brothers, written several years after they 'ran away', in which they seem to talk appreciatively about the time they spent at the school so I wonder whether they went back again.
Carlisle Indian Industrial School was the flagship Indian boarding school founded on the principle that Native Americans were the equal of European Americans and that if their children were immersed in Euro-American culture, i.e. at one of these schools, it would given them skills that would help them advance in life. The school ran from 1879 to 1918.
Albert Kick attested on 28 January 1916. He served with B Company, 4th Battalion Canadian Infantry, the same company as his brother Ernest, and was killed in action in the taking of Sancourt during the battle for the Canal du Nord. He is buried in the same grave as an unidentified soldier.
GOD IS HIS OWN INTERPRETER
Private Copeland's father chose his inscription from a well-known hymn written by the poet William Cowper (1731-1800). Other relations chose to quote this hymn but most used the first line of the first verse - 'God move in a mysterious way' - whereas as Walter Copeland quoted from the last verse:
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.
One way or another they are all saying the same as those relations who chose: 'God knows best', or 'We cannot Lord Thy purpose see but all is well that's done by Thee'.
Walter Copeland had perhaps more reasons than most to hope there was a purpose in God's actions. In June 1916 his eldest son Vivian Marshall Copeland died at the age of 21, three months later his wife, Mary Jane Copeland died at the age of 49. On the 22 March 1918 his youngest son, Harold, went missing in action and it wasn't until 16 July that Walter heard that he was a prisoner of war. Then just over two months after this his middle son, Albert Copeland died of pneumonia in Salonika aged 21.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
HE STOOD ON GUARD FOR THEE
Private Box's inscription comes from a patriotic Canadian song that has become Canada's national anthem and is the source of the Canadian Army's motto - Vigilamus pro te: we stand on guard for thee. It was neither of these things when Private Box's father, William Box, chose it.
Originally written in 1880, in French, the words were translated into English several times before Robert Stanley Weir's version, which he wrote in 1908, was settled on. In 1939 it became de facto Canada's national anthem but was only officially adopted in 1980. Weir himself made various amendments to his original version and changes continue to be suggested and made. This is a version that Reginald Box would have recognised:
Our home and native land.
True patriot love in all thy sons command
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
We stand on guard, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, Glorious and free.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!
It's an interesting choice of inscription for someone who was born in England and didn't go to Canada until after 1911 when the census showed him, aged 16, as a 'farm pupil' on a farm in Dymock, Gloucestershire. Box's father, William Box, a jeweller and silversmith in Gloucester, England chose it. Both his sons had gone to Canada and both of them served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force but his eldest son, Charles Henry Box, returned to England before the end of the war having been wounded. It may have been him who influenced his father's choice
Reginald Box served with the 16th Battalion Canadian Infantry and was killed on 1 October 1918 in the capture of the village of Sancourt during the battle for the Canal du Nord.
In 1921 Charles Henry Box and his wife had a son who they names Reginald in memory of Charles' brother.
A SON OF VENEZUELA
WHO FOUGHT AND DIED
FOR GOD'S JUSTICE ON EARTH
Manuel Bermudez attested in Montreal on 16 March 1916, giving his address as the Victoria Hotel, Montreal. Was he living and working in Montreal or did he come from Venezuela specially to enlist? He gave his occupation as 'Correspondence Spanish'. Was he perhaps a correspondent on a Spanish newspaper? I can't tell.
Venezuela was strictly neutral during the First World War, although its president, Juan Vincente Gomez, was widely suspected of being pro German. Bermudez's inscription does not sound as though it comes from a strictly neutral Venezuelan citizen ... far from it. A Mr JF Bermudez of Caracas, Venezuela chose it and was very specific that Manuel Bermudez had fought and died: 'For God's justice on earth'. JF Bermudez was not Manuel's father whose name was Manuel Bermudez Lecuna. However, it's possible that the family had pro-British sentiments since at one time the father had been the Venezuelan Consul in the British territories of Grenada and St Vincent.
Manuel Bermudez served with the 14th Battalion Canadian Infantry. He was killed in action during the battle of the Canal du Nord on day the Canadian Corps captured the village of Sancourt where Bermudez is buried in a joint grave with an unknown soldier.
WHY THEN, GOD'S SOLDIER BE HE!
Arthur Jagger's inscription, chosen by his father the former headmaster of Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Mansfield, comes from Macbeth Act 5 Scene 8:
ROSS: Your son, my lord, has paid a soldier's debt:
He only lived but till he was a man;
The which no sooner had his prowess confirm'd
In the unshrinking station where he fought,
But like a man he died.
SIWARD: Then he is dead?
ROSS: Ay, and brought off the field: your cause of sorrow
Must not be measured by his worth, for then
It hath no end
SIWARD: Had he his wounds before?
Ross: Ay, on the front.
SIWARD: Why then, God's soldier be he!
Had I as many sons as I have hairs
I would not wish them to a fairer death:
And so, his knell is knoll'd
Siward's pride in the manner of his son's death - his wounds were in the front of his body not in his back - overcomes any feeling of grief he may have had for his death. Could the Jaggers have been so insouciant about their own son's death; Arthur was their only child.
Jaggard was educated at Malvern College from where he went to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst in January 1917. That December he was commissioned into the 9th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, joining them in France on 27 June 1918. He died on 1 October 1918 of wounds received the previous day, 30 September. The battalion war diary gives a perfunctory report of that day:
30 September 1918
A & D companies under light barrage took part in an operation and successfully advanced line taking 10 prisoners and 1 machine gun. Our casualties were 3 officers wounded (of whom 1 died of wounds) 11 other ranks killed & 38 other ranks wounded.
I am assuming that Jagger was the officer who died of wounds. He's buried at Chocques Military Cemetery, which in September 1918 was a field ambulance cemetery for casualties who hadn't got very far down the casualty evacuation chain.
TO YOU FROM FAILING HANDS
WE THROW THE TORCH
BE YOURS TO HOLD IT HIGH
For all that this is now one of the most famous poems of the war, and certainly the most famous Canadian poem of the war, it is not often quoted in inscriptions. John McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields in May 1915, prompted by the death of a young friend killed at Ypres the previous day. McCrae, a doctor, served in France throughout the war, eventually dying of cerebral-meningitis following pneumonia in January 1918.
The inscription comes from verse 3, the last verse:
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
In this instance 'the torch' is 'our quarrel with the foe', McCrae was exhorting his readers not to give up the struggle with Germany until the war was won. More usually, however, 'the torch' is used as a metaphor for 'the torch of life', the vitai lampada'. This refers to the duties and responsibilities to one's fellow human beings that should be passed on from one generation to another. This was the meaning Sir Henry Newbolt had in mind when he wrote his poem, Vitae Lampada.
The War Graves Commission has recorded Sergeant Hammond's name as Henry Leggo Harry Hammond but I feel sure that 'Harry' was a nickname since Hammond's father was also called Henry. Hammond, a bank clerk enlisted in Montreal on 4 October 1915. He arrived in France on 23 April 1916 and served with No. 4 Company Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. He was killed on 30 September 1918. The battalion war diary recorded the events of the day:
"The plan was that the P.P.C.L.I., having crossed the Railway, should swing to the East and South-East and make good the Railway Cutting, the village of Tilloy as far forward as the main Tilloy-Blecourt Road ...
At 6-00 a.m. the attack was made with Nos. 1, 2 and 4 Coys front line and No. 3 Coy in support. Rapid progress was made as far as the road running from 8.21.b.60.80. to 8.27.a.40.60. From this point the advance was still continued on the right by No. 4 Coy, who reached their objective at the juncture of the main Tilloy-Blecourt Road and Embankment. Nos. 1 and 2 Coys on the Left and No.3 Coy in Support were suffering very heavy casualties from Machine Gun fire from the village and from the high ground to the North ... By this time most of the Officers and N.C.O.s had been knocked out and the Coys were badly disorganized ..."
Hammond was a senior N.C.O. in No. 4 Company.
His parents were initially told that he was missing presumed wounded in action. A month later they received the news that he had been killed. He's buried in Mill Race Cemetery, Tilloy-lez-Cambrai. The name coming from a switch line on the Cambrai-Douai railway, which ran to a large German supply dump on the site of the cemetery. Corps burial officers began constructing the cemetery in late October 1918, which is when Hammond's body must have been discovered and his parents informed.
WE IN SPIRIT
STILL LIVE, LOVE AND COMMUNE
WITH ALL ON EARTH
This inscription asserts a belief in Spiritualism, the belief that the spirit never dies and that it is possible for humans to communicate across the chasm of death. Whilst the world of Spiritualism was awash with cranks and charlatans there were many respected academics who felt convinced of it too. The best known being the highly respected British physicist, Sir Oliver Lodge, who played a key part in the development of radio.
After his son Raymond was killed in action in 1915, Sir Oliver wrote a memoir of his son in which he laid out his beliefs and his evidence, writing:
"Well, speaking for myself and with full and cautious responsibity, I have to state that as an outcome of my investigation into physical matters I have at length and quite gradually become convinced, after more than thirty years of study, not only that persistent individual existence is a fact, but that occasional communication across the chasm - with difficulty and under definite conditions - is possible.
This is not a subject on which one comes lightly and easily to a conclusion, nor can the evidence be explained except to those who will give to it time and careful study; but clearly the conclusion is either folly and self-deception, or it is truth of the utmost importance to humanity - "
'Raymond or Life and Death' by Sir Oliver Lodge Methuen & Co. 1916 p. 389
Mrs Mary Evans, Private Evans' mother, appears to seen it as truth.
Evans was born in Ramsgate, Kent on 12 August 1897. He attested on 4 August 1915 just after his eighteenth birthday. By this time both he and his widowed mother were living in Canada. Evans served with the 75th Battalion Canadian Infantry in France from 11 August 1916 - the day before his nineteenth birthday. He was killed in action on 30 September 1918 when the 75th led the attack on the Cambrai-Douai railway cutting on the sunken road that ran south from Blecourt.
His will, a perforated form torn out from the back of his pay book, left "£10 to Miss Agnes Patterson, Wright County, Cantley, Quebec, Canada, my friend".
Charles Wright's father doesn't beat about the bush. Not for him the polite, "Some day we'll understand" which many families chose as an inscription, let alone the fatalistic acceptance, "God knows best". Charles Wright Senior simply asked "Why?" Why was my son killed, why did he have to die, why did he have to go and fight, why were we at war, why, why why?
Charles Wright Junior was born in Leeds to Charles and Helena Wright, the third of their seven children. By 1911 he had gone to Canada. When he attested in September 1916 he was living in Robsart, a tiny community founded in 1910 following the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He described his occupation as 'range rider', someone who rode the ranges looking after the cattle.
Wright served with the 10th Battalion Canadian Infantry, the Alberta Regiment, and was killed in its last major action of the war, the crossing of the Canal du Nord 27 September to I October. This opened up the way for the capture of Cambrai and its vitally important German rail centre; Germany's last fully developed line of defence.
Less celebrated than the Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge, the Canadian crossing of the Canal du Nord, a sophisticated combined-arms assault in which engineer, artillery and infantry units were seamlessly combined, was a much greater tactical achievement. David Borys has written about it fully in this article for Canadian Military History.
A BROKEN MELODY
'A Broken Melody' is the title of an immensely popular musical play first performed in London in 1892. Although one of the first reviewers pronounced it 'feeble, tedious and commonplace', The Times declared that the combination of the music, the acting and the sentiment made it irresistible. The London Daily News attributed the play's success to Auguste van Biene, the musician who played the leading role. But, it said, touching though Mr van Biene's playing of the violoncello was, violoncellos alone will not make a successful play:
"The secret lies in the fact that the simple blend of pathos and humour goes home to the hearts of the unsophisticated spectators, who enjoy the eccentricities while they sympathise with the domestic sorrows of the poor deserted musician."
Van Biene is thought to have performed the role more than 6,000 times before he died in 1913. He and his wife also starred in the film version, which was made in 1896.
I believe the play was so popular that it gave rise to a figure of speech. The term 'a broken melody' came to be used to describe something that came to an end when it had been expected to keep running sweetly along. And the phrase even came to be parodied, as when a group of rowdy sailors were stopped by the police from playing their bagpipes in a public place. The photograph of the sailors in the newspaper appeared under the headline - 'A broken melody'.
For all its popularity it has been impossible to find out anything about the plot other than from the promotional strapline used by the cinemas showing the film. This described the film as, "A heart touching story of a struggle between love and duty". I have worked out that the story is about a musician, and that many different musical pieces were played during the evening. However, there was one piece that never failed to feature, it was called 'A Broken Melody' and you can here it played by Auguste van Biene.
James Keating was only 19 when he died. He served originally with the Yorkshire Regiment before transferring to the 1st Gun Carrier Company, Tank Corps. These were tanks that pulled guns into battle behind them. The idea was that the artillery could quickly set themselves up as the battle moved forward. However, it turned out not to be such a good idea and from May 1918 these companies were used to deliver ammunition not guns.
Keating died on 27 September 1918 when the British army was in action all along the front line. His parents announced his death in the Daily Gazette for Middlesborough on 5 October. The announcement says that Keating was "killed whilst on active service".
B.A. JESUS COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE
13TH BN. MIDDLESEX REGT.
This may not seem like a very interesting inscription but there's a very interesting story that lies behind it - and rather a sad one too, not that all these stories aren't sad.
I've given Hopcraft the rank of private, which he was, but it doesn't say so on his headstone, the place where his rank should be is blank. And I've given his regiment as the 20th Battalion London Regiment, which it was, but again it doesn't say so in the normal place on his headstone. I can't imagine what force of character Hopcraft's father must have applied to achieve this with the War Graves Commission ... but he did. What lay behind it?
Ernest George de Lathom Hopcraft was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant on 29 December 1914, transferring from the Reserve to the 13th Battalion Middlesex Regiment on 15 May 1915. In April 1916 he went to France where he was a billeting officer. Some French people were very reluctant to have British officers billeted on them and one woman in particular was very uncooperative. In an attempt to get him out of her house she began hitting and slapping him ... and he retaliated. Hopcraft was arrested, court martialled and on 19 February 1917 dismissed from the service for "committing an offence against the person of a resident."
Hopcraft's father, also called Ernest, obviously found it very difficult to accept this, but despite appeals to the War Office his son was not reinstated. Ernest Junior therefore re-enlisted in the Rifle Brigade, transferred to the London Regiment and was killed in action on 27 September 1918.
His father told the story as he wanted it to be known on a memorial plaque in All Saint's Church, Middleton Cheney, Northamptonshire:
Ernest George de Lathom Hopcraft
Aged 32 years. The only son of Ernest Hopcraft J.P. Northants, of Brackley and
Middleton Cheney. Who answered duty's call and volunteered and was given a
Commission in the 13th Middlesex Regiment. He gave his life, his all, for his King and
After having fought in Palestine he fell in action, at the assault on the German
Hindenburg Line at Marcoing near Cambrai. September 27th 1918; 5 weeks and 4 days
Before the Armistice.
Gone but never forgotten.
At the Battle of Flesquieres near Marcoing he gallantly attacked, single handed a German
Machine gun post and was killed.
Strangely, had Ernest Hopcraft Senior not said what he did on his son's headstone I would never have bothered to see what was going on. And had he not insisted that neither his son's rank nor his regiment should appear on the headstone other people's curiosity wouldn't have been aroused either. I got much of the information for this inscription from a Great War forum for which I am very grateful.
REST IN A NATION'S LOVE
AND NEVER DIE
Robert Gray was born in Australia in 1883. In 1917 he was working as a book keeper in Fresno California whilst his wife was living in the Dominion Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia. On 12 September 1917 he joined the 7th Battalion Canadian Infantry, the British Columbia Regiment, and served with them in France from March 1918. He was killed in action on the 27 September. By the time his wife came to choose his inscription she was living in Australia, where his mother also lived.
If his wife hadn't lived in Canada she might never have come across his inscription. It comes from a poem, They Never Die by J.W. Barry, published in the 17 August 1917 edition of The Civilian, "a fortnightly journal devoted to the interests of the Civil Service of Canada" - hardly a mass circulation journal! And from my trawl of the Internet I can't see that it was published anywhere else.
The Brave! who says they die?
Their deathless story
Rings 'cross the emblazon'd sky
Of England's glory.
He fought, and fell, and met
No tearful eye
To wet his nameless grave - and yet
He did not die.
She fought a martyr's fight, and fell
Without a cry.
Ah, sweet Cavell, all, all is well -
You did not die.
Only cowards die. The Brave,
Seeing beyond, with piercing eye,
Rest forever in a Nation's love,
And never die.
Gray was killed on the day the 1st Canadian Division played their part in the crossing of the Canal du Nord by capturing the village of Sains-les-Marquion. He's buried in the cemetery there where 152 of the 228 burials belong to Canadians who were also killed on that day. Sains-les-Marquion is 15 km north west of Cambrai, a fact that is probably significant in Mrs Gray's post-war address. She lived at: Cambrai, Lone Pine Parade, Matraville, Sydney.
STAND FAST CRAIGELLACHIE
By choosing this motto for his only son, Alexander Grant Snr was establishing his kinship with Clan Grant whose motto and war cry this is. He may also have had in his mind a painting by Lady Butler called Stand fast Craigellachie, which shows a highland soldier standing guard over the wounded during an incident on the North West Frontier in India in 1895, thus claiming by association the same heroic qualities of the highland soldier for his son.
Stand fast may be understood today as an instruction but at one time it was a quality, a synonym for steadfast. Craigellachie, a hill with a commanding view of the Strathspey, is a symbol of strength and watchfulness for the Grants; it's the place where beacons were lit to alert the community to danger - to the need to stand fast, and to be steadfast.
In 1911, Alexander Grant KC of Lincoln's Inn, born in Bolton, Lancashire was living at 37 Hans Place, Chelsea with his second wife and his three children. Alexander Jnr, who was educated at Eton, would have gone to Trinity College, Cambridge when he left school in 1917. Instead he was commissioned into the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards in December that year. He went to the front on 29 April 1918 where he served continuously until he was killed in action on 27 September, the day the Guards crossed the Canal du Nord on the Hindenburg Line. Grant is buried in Sanders Keep Cemetery, which took its name from the German stronghold captured that day.
Grant's death was announced in The Times on 9 October; his father proudly quoting from a letter he'd received from his son's captain who wrote:
"I had seen a good deal of his conduct during the morning, and every time I saw him he was smiling and cheerful, moving about and encouraging his platoon to do their utmost in a most difficult attack ... He died upholding the great traditions of his school and his regiment ... He was a true Grenadier, and understood the full meaning of Vitae lampada traduit."
Vitae lampada traduit - they hand on the torch of life - a phrase forever associated with Sir Henry Newbolt's poem Vitae Lampada where at a desperate moment in a battle it's the voice of a schoolboy who rallies the ranks with his cry of 'play up, play up and play the game'.
Private Wilbur Brown must have led a complicated existence. Why else would he have given his name as Frederick Wells Osbourne on his attestation form, signing an oath that all his answers were true when they weren't?
Brown says he was born on 7 July 1891. At his death in 1918 that would have made him 27. However, the War Graves Commission has his age as 23. It could be the Commission's mistake but by this time his mother has become involved in his commemoration whereas in all the form-filling prior to his death he made no mention of her. He gave 'a friend', Mrs Edna Lynn of El Centro, California, USA, as his next of kin but when the communication informing her of his death was sent there it was undelivered. He left real estate in Kansas to another 'friend', Miss Margaret Brown, however, I have a feeling that she was his sister. Miss Margaret Brown also received his separation allowance.
Brown was born in Manchester to William W and Mrs AE Brown. The family moved to the United States and by the time his mother signed for his inscription she was Mrs AE Huff of La Junta, Colorado.
I wonder what was going on. What was his reason for signing up under a false name? It could have been a bit awkward that having given his name as Frederick Wells Osbourne to the Attesting Officer, the Medical Officer recorded the letters W.W.B. (Wibur Wells Brown) tattooed onto his left fore-arm as one of his 'distinguishing features'. In the case of William Clarence McGregor, who served as Albert Murray, it was because the Army had decided that a bout of rheumatic fever on his medical record rendered him permanently medically unfit. Attesting as a totally different person meant that he could escape this decision.
It's interesting that Brown, who was living in Kansas City, USA, enlisted on 15 January 1918 in the Canadian Infantry when by this time he could have enlisted in the US army. Perhaps he still felt he was an Englishman and was happy to swear an oath of allegiance to His Majesty King George V. His active service began on 23 May 1918 and he was killed four months later on 27 September in the opening stages of the Battle of Cambrai.
His mother chose his inscription, the rather underwhelming tribute - 'He tried'. It's possible that she was quoting from a short poem written by an Old Etonian, 'Somewhere in France', and published in the Eton Chronicle of May 1916 but the circulation of the Chronicle is so limited that I doubt it ... but maybe:
To a Soldier
Say not of him "he left this vale of tears,"
Who loved the good plain English phrase
Nor state "he nobly lived (or otherwise)
Failed or succeeded" - friend, just say
GOD'S HUSBANDMAN THOU ART
IN HIS UNWITHERING SHEAVES
BIND MY HEART
Driver Appleby's widow chose the final two lines of 'Laus Mortis' - In Praise of Death - by Frederic Lawrence Knowles (1869-1905) for her husband's inscription. Why should we praise death? Because it 'gives us life, and in exchange takes breath'; because 'Life lends us only feet, Death gives us wings', and because in death, whether we 'wear a crown or bear a yoke' we will all be equal, 'when once your coverlet of grass is spread'. Life is the sower and death is the reaper: 'God's husbandman'. Death has traditionally been portrayed as the reaper, Knowles takes the analogy further and portrays the dead as gathered corn, bound in 'unwithering' sheaves close to God.
Alexander Appleby, a horse driver in civilian life, came from Perth in Western Australia. He enlisted in March 1917 and served as a driver in the 3rd Australian Field Artillery Brigade. He died of wounds in hospital in Rouen on 25 September 1918. It's not possible to tell when he was wounded but the 3rd Artillery Brigade had been relieved on the 23rd and was resting at the 'Wagon Lines' on the 25th. Forty-five other ranks had been wounded during the month, Appleby may have been one of those. However, long term cases were nursed at Rouen so his wounds may have dated from earlier in the year. He is among 8,348 casualties buried in St Sever Cemetery Extension, all of whom died in one of the fifteen hospitals based in Rouen.
TRUE TO COUNTRY, KING AND MATE
LEAVING A SPOTLESS NAME
Trooper Ernest McKay was one of the fourteen 11th Australian Light Horsemen killed in the savage fighting at Samarkh on 25 September 1918. There's nothing to say whether he was killed in the cavalry charge or in the subsequent hand-to-hand fighting in the town. And nothing to say why the inscription refers to 'mate' in the singular rather than mates in the plural.
It's always interesting to see the cause or causes for which Australians fought. Today the idea that Australian nationhood was born in the First World War is commonplace, and is being fiercely promoted during the centenary. But McKay, Australian born, fought for his country and his King, and I would venture to suggest that by his country he meant Britain, or rather the British Empire for the terms were synonymous. Actually, to be accurate, the word most people would have used for Britain at this time, and for the whole British Empire, was 'England' but whichever word was used I don't think McKay was fighting just for Australia.
McKay was a carpenter from Brisbane. His mother chose his inscription and filled in the circular for the Roll of Honour of Australia. I love the way that, given the opportunity to say something that might "be of interest to the Historian of the AIF or of his regiment", she writes proudly that he was -
"One of the most popular boys in his regiment. Also a good footballer. In fact one of the best all round players over in Egypt."
[NB I have corrected some of the spelling a punctuation.]
Somehow I don't think this was the sort of information the historians were looking for!
As to the 'spotless name': McKay's service record shows that he embarked from Australia for Egypt on 30 September 1915; he spent from 3 January to 22 February in detention for an unspecified misdemeanour; in December 1916 he was punished for being absent without leave, and from 15 August to 22 December 1917 he was in hospital being treated for VD.
But none of this detracts from the fact that Ernest McKay, living in Australia where there was no conscription, volunteered to fight for King and country, an action that led to his death.
BORN TO KNOW NOT WINTER ONLY SPRING
Sir John Bridger Shiffner, 6th Baronet, had been at the front for two days when was killed in action on the 24 September 1918, the day the 2nd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment captured the high ground north of Gricourt. Later that day the Germans counter-attacked with some 400 men. The battalion war diary gives an unusually vivid description of what happened next:
"Captain Roberts ordered his company to open fire on the advancing enemy and when they were within 30 yards, the leading waves began to waver, on seeing this, Captain Roberts ordered his men to fix bayonets and then to charge the enemy. The men all rose from their positions in shell holes and charged with the bayonet and utterly routed the enemy, taking over 40 prisoners. The artillery in response to the S.O.S. signal, put down an intense fire on to the enemy, causing numerous casualties as they were running away. This action was specifically mentioned in Sir Douglas Haig's communique. It was a fine example of the use of Infantry weapons and the value of the dash and fighting spirit shown by all ranks who took part, as their total number was less than 80, thus being out-numbered by 5 to 1."
Shiffner was killed in the bayonet charge. He was 19 and had been married for six weeks. His younger brother, Henry, inherited the title and was killed in action in North Africa in 1941.
The Dowger Lady Shiffner, Sir John's mother, chose his inscription. It comes from 'In Memoriam F.A.S', written by Robert Louis Stevenson at Davos in 1881 to commemorate an eighteen-year-old boy, Francis Albert Sitwell, who died of consumption there that year. It's a beautiful poem, echoing Shelley's 'Adonais', his lament for the early death of John Keats (see stanzas XXIX and XL), and prefiguring Laurence Binyon's 'For the Fallen'. However, Lady Shiffner makes an interesting alteration: Stevenson wrote 'Doomed to know not winter, only spring', she changed the word 'doomed' to 'born', which gives a slightly less mournful feeling to her son's death.
I wonder why the new Lady Shiffner, as next of kin, didn't choose her husband's inscription, and what she might have wanted to say.
YET, O stricken heart, remember, O remember
How of human days he lived the better part.
April came to bloom and never dim December
Breathed its killing chills upon the head or heart.
Doomed to know not Winter, only Spring, a being
Trod the flowery April blithely for awhile,
Took his fill of music, joy of thought and seeing,
Came and stayed and went, nor ever ceased to smile.
Came and stayed and went, and now when all is finished,
You alone have crossed the melancholy stream,
Yours the pang, but his, O his, the undiminished
Undecaying gladness, undeparted dream.
All that life contains of torture, toil, and treason,
Shame, dishonour, death, to him were but a name.
Here, a boy, he dwelt through all the singing season
And ere the day of sorrow departed as he came.
IN MY LONELY HOURS
THOUGHTS OF YOU
ARE ALWAYS NEAR
I enter these inscriptions into a database and I notice that many of the post-August 1918 casualties are buried in cemeteries that I've never entered before, like Berthaucourt. Whereas once the front was stationary it is now moving forwards so fast that some of the cemeteries contain the dead of a brief few days before the battle has moved on. And there is another characteristic of these battlefield cemeteries, many are much smaller than the old ones. There are seventy casualties buried in Berthaucourt of whom three are unidentified. The rest of them were all killed between 18 September and the 5 October with sixteen being killed on 18 September and thirty-six on the 24th.
Walter Potts is one of the thirty-six. A married railway clerk whose wife lived in Wooler, Northumberland, his medal card shows that he didn't enter a theatre of war until after 1915, which indicates to me that, being the age he was, he was a conscript rather than a volunteer. He was killed when the 1st Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment took part in a successful attack on the village of Pontru, seven kilometres west of St Quentin.
The 1st battalion war diary comments that the village was strongly held and that the casualties were 'fairly heavy', not helped by the fact that the four tanks meant to have gone in front of the troops, behind the artillery barrage, proved to be 'quite useless': two were knocked out before starting, one never arrived and the fourth seemed to get lost. Two officers and forty men of the battalion were killed on the 24th, including Private Potts.
I don't know when Walter Potts got married; in 1911 he was still living at home with his parents and four of his brothers. There is no indication that there were any children of the marriage: his wife, Jane Anne Potts, would therefore have been left with many 'lonely hours' to think of him. It's an affectionate, unselfconscious inscription, addressed to the dead man with no care for who else might read it.
NEVER MORNING WORE
BUT SOME HEART DID BREAK
This is yet another quotation from Tennyson's In Memoriam, which is galloping away as the most quoted poem in personal inscriptions. And interestingly, it's not always the same quotation that people use, in fact, I haven't seen this one before. Tennyson muses on the fact that even whilst a father is toasting his far-away soldier son a shot can just have killed him, and while a mother prays for her sailor son's safety he can at that very moment be being buried at sea.
That loss is common would not make
My own less bitter, rather more:
Too common! Never morning wore
To evening, but some heart did break.
O father, wheresoe'er thou be,
Who pledgest now thy gallant son;
A shot, ere half thy draught be done,
Hath still'd the life that beat from thee.
O mother, praying God will save
Thy sailor - while thy head is bow'd.
His heavy-shotted hammock-shroud
Drops in his vast and wandering grave
IN MEMORIAM VI 2-4
However, I would be prepared to bet that it wasn't just the poem that influenced Mrs Annie Cash when she chose this for her son.
There's a rather beautiful painting by the Newlyn-School artist Walter Langley (1852-1922), which he called, 'Never morning wore to evening but some heart did break'. It shows a young woman sitting on a harbour wall, her face in her hands, whilst a much older woman sits beside her, a hand on her shoulder and a look of sorrowing despair on her face. Behind them is a calm sea, shimmering in the early evening light. The empty fish baskets beside them indicate that this young woman's fisherman husband will not be coming home but has perished at sea - the day has never dawned that didn't end in heartbreak for someone. It was one of Langley's most powerful works and I feel sure that it would have been reproduced in enough places for Mrs Cash to have seen it.
George Cash, her eldest child, served with the 4th Battalion South Wales Borderers. The battalion, which had been in Gallipoli during 1915, was ordered to Mesopotamia in 1916 where it spent the rest of the war. Cash's medal card indicates that he didn't join until after 1915. The fighting was largely over by the time Cash died so the presumption is that he either died of illness or of wounds received some time earlier.
Dark house, by which I once more stand
Here in the long unlovely street,
Doors, where my heart was used to beat
So quickly waiting for a hand,
A hand that can be clasp'd no more -
Behold me, for I cannot sleep,
And like a guilty thing I creep
At earliest morning to the door.
He is not here, but far away
The noise of life begins again,
And ghastly thro' the drizzling rain
On the bald street breaks the blank day.
IM MEMORIAM VIII 1-3
NEARING THE GOAL
HE FELL GLORIOUSLY
LEADING HIS MEN
It's all there - the sporting analogy, the exalted language, the noble death, all just as it should be for a heroic soldier. It was Sir Henry Newbolt in his poem Clifton Chapel who had a father tell his son that the son could wish for no finer 'fortune' than to have the words 'Qui procul hinc ... Qui ante diem periit: Sed miles, sed pro patria' (He died far away and before his time but as a soldier and for his country) written on his gravestone. I think that many a parent today could think of a better one; one that had their son living to a ripe old age.
I've written before about sporting analogies in inscriptions: 'He played the game' from the poem The Lost Master by Robert Service;'Well played lad' a tribute from a mother to her son, and 'Though a boy he played a man's game to the finish' from the soldier's Commanding Officer.
'Nearing the goal' carries the analogy a bit further. We know Second Lieutenant Burstall was leading his platoon in an attack on the German lines at Holnon on the 24 September 1918 so the 'goal' was presumably the German lines. Such an association is totally alien to us today but it was part of the culture of the era. Not that people thought war was no more than a game of football but that the qualities necessary to be a good member of a team were the qualities necessary for a good soldier. I can see their point.
Arthur Burstall was nineteen, the eldest son of a timber merchant in Kingston-upon-Hull. It looks as if he served originally as a private in the 16th London Regiment before being commissioned into the East Yorkshire Regiment. He was attached to the 1st Battalion the The Prince of Wales Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) at the time of his death.
Burstall is one of three young officers commemorated in a stained glass window in Holy Trinity Church, Kingston-upon-Hull, now Hull Minster. Two knights stand on either side of a robed figure above the words:
Comfort ye my people
Saith your God
Speak ye comfortably
And cry unto her
That her warfare is accomplished
WE ARE YOURS
ENGLAND, MY OWN!
Thomas Lawrence's married sister, Hilda Sillavan, chose his inscription, quoting from verse three of 'England, My England' a poem written by W.E.Henley (1849-1903).
The poem begins:
What have I done for you,
England, my England?
What is there I would not do,
England, my own?
Verse three reads:
Ever the faith endures,
England, my England: -
'Take and break us: we are yours,
England my own!
Life is good, and joys run high
Between English earth and sky:
Death is death; but we shall die
To the Song on your bugles blown,
To the stars on your bugles blown!'
'Take and break us, we are yours'; England certainly broke hundreds and thousands of young men between the years 1914 and 1918, including Thomas Lawrence. In 1914 he was a fifteen-year-old schoolboy at Malvern College. In 1918, aged nineteen, he arrived in France on 31 July. Seven weeks later he was dead. Records say he served with 'C' Company, 7th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment but I can't see his name in the diary and there are lists of officer casualties throughout September 1918. The regiment attacked at Epehy on 18th and again on the 22nd. Lawrence is buried in a Casualty Clearing Station cemetery, which would suggest that he died of wounds.
This used to be such a famous poem, the epitome of British patriotism at a time when both Britain and her Empire were referred to simply as England. There is pride in English achievements: "Where shall the watchful sun ... match the master-work you've done?"; there is a belief that England has a duty to guard the world: "They call you proud and hard ... you with worlds to watch and ward", and a certainty that in all this England is doing God's work: "Chosen daughter of the Lord, spouse-in-chief of the ancient sword". The refrain, which varies slightly from verse to verse, became a rallying cry of Empire - "the song on your bugles blown" ... "round the world"; "down the years"; "to the stars"; "round the pit"; "out of heaven".
IN THE SHOCK OF STEEL
THE OFFSPRING OF LOCHIEL
I often wonder where people get the quotations they use from. I don't mean which poems or hymns but how they knew them. To my mind the whole point of a truncated inscription, like this one, is that people will recognise the allusion. These lines seem particularly obscure but they are not inappropriate.. They come from the Field of Waterloo by Lord Byron. The battle is over and many fine men are dead:
Thou saw'st in seas of gore expire
Redoubted Picton's soul of fire -
Saw'st in mingled carnage lie
All that of Ponsonby could die -
De Lancy change love's bridal-wreath,
For laurels from the hand of death -
Saw'st gallant Miller's failing eye
Still bent where Albion's banners fly,
And Cameron, in the shock of steel,
Die like the offspring of Lochiel;
The most famous Cameron of Lochiel was Bonnie Prince Charlie's loyal supporter in the 1745 Rebellion, who accompanied him into exile in France. The Cameron of the poem refers to John Cameron, a cousin of the Camerons of Lochiel. He fought with distinction at Waterloo and was killed leading a cavalry charge at Quatre-Bras.
This still left me wondering how Private Fraser's mother could be confident that people would pickup the allusion as it is not one of Byron's best-known poems. That was until I discovered that under 'L' in the turn-of-the -century editions of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is the word Lochiel, with Byron's lines by way of explanation of his heroism.
The quotation has a further relevance because William White Fraser served with the 2nd Battalion the Cameron Highlanders. The battalion had been fighting in Italy since November 1917. But on 22 September 1918, Private William Fraser died of influenza in a hospital in Genoa.
LOVE IS STRONGER THAN DEATH
William Voight Theron was a South African of Dutch ancestry. He was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in August 1917 but didn't join 205 Squadron until May 1918. 205 Squadron's role was to carry out bombing raids on ports and airfields flying DH4s, light bombers.
I haven't been able to find out exactly what happened on 20 September 1918 but 205 Squadron was based at Bois de Roche in Northern France, about 75 km from Proyart where Theron was originally buried. This would suggest that he was on a bombing raid over the German lines. Between August and September 1918 No. 9 Casualty Clearing Station was based at Proyart and Theron is reported to have died of wounds. 2nd Lieutenant JJ Rowe who was flying with Theron, whether as observer or pilot I haven't been able to tell, was also wounded but survived.
E. Theron Esq. of CapeTown, South Africa chose Theron's inscription. The War Graves Commission's Register doesn't have any details of Theron's parentage so I can't tell who E. Theron was. He has chosen to quote from the Old Testament Song of Solomon 8:6-8:
Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy as cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would be utterly contemned.
MAN'S INHUMANITY TO MAN
MAKES COUNTLESS THOUSANDS
Ernest Steele's mother was German. She became a naturalised British citizen in 1894, the same year she married James Steele, a cardboard box manufacturer in London. It's not really possible to determine the sort of relationship someone like Rosa Koehne would have had with her native country, nor how she would have felt when the two countries were at war. But perhaps the fact that her son was a volunteer is a clue.
Ernest Steele enlisted in the 16th London Regiment; conscription was not introduced until March 1916. He went with the regiment to France on 17 August 1915 whilst he was still only 18. As he was not yet 19 he would have needed his parents' signed permission in order to be able to serve abroad On the 25 September 1916 he was commissioned into the Machine Gun Corps, serving from March 1918 with the 21st Battalion, part of the 21st Division.
On 18 September 1918, the day Steele was killed, the Division took part in an attack directed at outposts of the Hindenburg Line near the village of Epehy. A creeping barrage of 1,500 guns, and the presence of 300 machine guns greatly assisted the attack, which was a small but significant victory, indicating an encouraging weakening of German resistance.
Steele's father signed for his inscription. His son might have been a youthful volunteer, and gone abroad with his parents' support when he was still only 18, but by the time he came to choose his son's inscription James Steele's support for the war seems to have diminished.
The inscription comes from verse seven of 'Man Was Made to Mourn' by Robert Burns (1759-1796). To Burns, man has enough problems in his life without adding to them himself through his inhumanity to his fellow man.
Many and sharp the num'rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves,
Regret, remorse and shame!
And man, whose heav'n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, -
Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!
The Steele's weren't the only family to choose this as an inscription and it's interesting that the War Graves Commission, which gave itself the power to censor inscriptions, didn't refuse to accept this one, despite its obvious criticism of war.
WOULD THAT THOSE
WHO MADE THE QUARRELS
WERE THE ONLY ONES TO FIGHT
From his choice of inscription you can see that Leonard Tams' father, James, was not a wholehearted supporter of the war. In his opinion, why couldn't those who caused them fight them and not drag everyone else in. This is not how his son felt, or at least this can't have been how his son felt originally since he was quite an early a volunteer. Leonard Tams attested on 24 March 1915, before the pressure to 'volunteer' began to be heavily applied.
Tams served with the 9th Battalion South Lancashire Regiment and embarked with them for France on 6 September 1915. The following month they embarked from Marseilles for Salonika. His service file is one of the few to have survived and from it we can see that he was admitted to hospital with influenza and a septic hand in March 1916, and that from 18 November 1916 he was in and out of medical units with 'N.Y.D.', a 'not yet diagnosed' complaint. Eventually on 18 April 1918 he was admitted to the hospital ship Valdivia, still with 'N.Y.D', and then on 17 May into hospital in Malta, his condition eventually diagnosed as malaria. He did not return to Salonika until October 1917.
On 18 September 1918 the battalion took part in the Allied attack on the strongly fortified heights of the Grand Couronne and Pip's Ridge. Their casualties were huge and the attack initially failed. However, it was the beginning of the end for the Bulgarians: three days later they abandoned the heights and eight days later they surrendered.
Leonard Tams was wounded in action on the 18th - his Active Service Casualty Sheet recording 'Shell wound penetrating abdomen'. He died the next day.
"BOY O' MINE"
The speech marks are definitely there, as is the apostrophe after the letter 'o', which means that the chances are Donald Emson's mother intended us to understand that this is a quotation rather than simply a term of endearment. But a quotation from what? My best guess is a poem called Boy O' Mine written by the American poet, Edgar Guest (1881-1959) and published in a collection of his verse called When Day is Done. The last verse could have resonated with Mrs Emson:
Boy o'mine, boy o'mine, this is my prayer for you;
Never may shame pen one line of despair for you;
Never may conquest or glory mean all to you;
Cling to your honour whatever shall fall to you;
Rather than victory, rather than fame to you,
Choose to be true and nothing bring shame to you.
The poem was not published until 1921, which may seem too late to be used as a source for a headstone inscription. However, many war cemeteries were not constructed until the late 1920s so this is not necessarily a problem. A slightly bigger problem comes from the fact that there appears to be no evidence that either the poem or When Day is Done was ever published in Britain.
There are other contenders but they are equally American and even more unlikely. Soldier Boy O' Mine, written in 1919 by Elizabeth S Howe has a first verse that goes:
All my heart is with you o'er the ocean
In my dreams your dear face I can see
And I long for the day, when from far away
You'll come back to the homeland and me.
Somehow this doesn't sound like something that would appeal to a bereaved mother. And there's another poem with the title Boy O' Mine, words and music by Florence T Irving, which was written in 1918:
Just a song boy o' mine
Just a message of love
Just a prayer oh boy o' mine
To our father above ...
But the subject of the song is really the Stars and Stripes so that rules it out for me.
Donald's father having died when he was four, his mother supported herself as a school teacher. Donald, a farm labourer, volunteered and went out to France in September 1915. In September 1918 he was in Salonika with the 9th Battalion The King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, which took part in the costly assault on the Grand Couronne and Pips Ridge near Lake Doiran on 18-19 September. Emson was killed in action on the 19th.
ALAS THAT YOUTH'S
SWEET SCENTED MANUSCRIPT
Edward Fitzgerald's translation of quatrains said to have been written in the 11th Century by the Persian poet Omar Khayyam was published in 1859 as the Rubayait of Omar Khayyam. Initially attracting little attention, by the 1880s the poems were extremely popular throughout the English speaking world, and their popularity only grew. Some of the quatrains perfectly capture the fleeting nature of life and the pathos of youthful death.
Lieutenant Kirby's father, Hector, was not the only relation to quote from the Rubayait; he chose a line from the 72nd quatrain:
Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose
That youth's sweet-scented Manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the Branches sang,
Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows!
Kenneth Cameron Kirby was brought up in Norwich. His mother died in 1903 and his family lived with his mother's father, who was a master tailor. Hector Kirby was a tailor's cutter. They lived with Kenneth's two younger brothers, and two of Hector's sisters. This is totally irrelevant but one of the sisters went by the magnificent name of Alma Sevastopol Kirby. She was 56 in 1911, which means that she was born in 1855 during the Crimean War, I would imagine in September 1855 or shortly afterwards when the siege of Sevastopol was lifted.
After leaving school, Kirby worked in insurance for the North British and Mercantile Insurance Company, part of the Norwich Union group on whose Roll of Honour his name appears.
Kirby's medal card card indicates that he first arrived in a theatre of war on 10 August 1918. He was killed six weeks later, leading his men in a successful attack on the village of Epehy.
Epehy was a minor but significant victory in which the British took 11,750 prisoners and captured 100 guns. It was an early sign that perhaps the Germans were weakening.
WENT THE DAY WELL?
WE DIED -
AND NEVER KNEW
Captain Dick's mother chose his inscription, quoting from an epitaph composed by J Maxwell Edmonds, a classics don at Cambridge. The epitaph was one of four originally published in The Times on 6 February 1918 under the heading 'Four Epitaphs'. Edmonds then composed five more. All nine were included in the Victoria and Albert Museum's 1919 publication - Inscriptions Suggested for War Memorials.
The full inscription reads:
On some that died early in the Day of Battle.
Went the day well? We died and never knew;
But well or ill, England, we died for you.
Somehow the incomplete inscription, especially in the manner in which it is laid out, which was how Mrs Dick wanted it to be done, is all the more poignant for being incomplete.
Watson Tulloch Dick volunteered in 1915 and served as a private in the Highland Light Infantry. He served in France from September 1915 until 1917 when he went to Salonika. By this time he had been commissioned and was serving with the 7th Battalion South Wales Borderers.
Dick was killed on 18 September 1918 in the Third Battle of Doiran when the combined British, Greek and French forces tried to break the Bulgarian lines. Although the Bulgarians surrendered just ten days later this wasn't before they had put up a tremendous fight, causing the 7th Battalion South Wales Borderers terrible casualties. Dick was killed leading an assault on the Grande-Couronne, a rugged peak that rose to 1,977 feet to the west of Lake Doiran.
TO SAVE MANKIND
A WIDOWED MOTHER'S ONLY SON
'To save mankind' seems like rather an unequal task for one widowed mother's son to achieve; where did the idea that this was the cause for which William John Daniels died come from?
The Mrs Maude Turner who chose his inscription - she was not his mother whose name was Catherine - was quoting a line from verse two of Sir John Arkwright's famous hymn, O Valiant Hearts:
Proudly you gathered, rank on rank, to war
As who had heard God's message from afar;
All you had hoped for, all you had you gave,
To save mankind - yourselves you scorned to save.
You can imagine the comfort such words would have given to the bereaved. They provide not only meaning for the deaths of their loved ones but the assurance that having fought in God's cause these men are assured of their place in heaven:
These were His servants, in His steps they trod,
Following through death the martyred Son of God.
Victor, He rose; victorious too shall rise
They who have drunk His cup of sacrifice.
I haven't been able to find out any personal details about William John Daniels, only that he was born in Landrake, Cornwall, enlisted in Saltash and wasn't entitled to the 1914 or 1915 Star. He served originally with the 4th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment, transferred to the 260th Battery Royal Garrison Artillery, and was killed in action on 18 September 1918 when the battery was in support of the 4th Australian Divisions attack on the Hindenburg Line.
NOW LETTEST THOU THY SERVANT
DEPART IN PEACE
Frederick Moon died as a prisoner of war in Germany. There is very little else I can tell you about him other than that he had been a professional soldier who in September 1914 was still on the reserve. In 1911 Moon was in Malta serving with the 2nd Battalion The Prince Albert's Somerset Light Infantry. Later in 1911 the Battalion went to China and then in 1914 to India where it remained until 1917. However, Moon earned the 1914 Star by entering a theatre of war on 21 September 1914. This is why I conclude he must have been still on the reserve when war broke out.
Moon is now buried in Cologne Southern Cemetery but he could have died in any one of the 180 different prison camps in the Hanover, Hessen, Rhine or Westphalia regions. After the war it was decided to gather all the British dead from these areas into the Southern Cologne Cemetery, which was to be one of four cemeteries in Germany into which the exhumed bodies of prisoners of war were reburied. There is no record of when Moon was taken prisoner and no record of his cause of death.
Born in Williton, Somerset to Edward and Emma Moon it was a Mrs E Cheshire of 11 Havelock Road, Wealdstone, Middlesex who chose his inscription. In the absence of any other information I would suggest that this was his mother, remarried, or a married sister. She chose an extract from the Nunc Dimittis, an ancient canticle that has been part of the Church of England's service of Evening Prayer for centuries, as well as part of the funeral service:
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
I MOURN FOR YOU IN SILENCE
BUT NOT WITH OUTWARD SHOW
This seems a very guarded inscription; it made me curious to know whether there was anything behind it and the more I looked into William Clarence McGregor the more dark thoughts I began to have about him.
His entire eight-eight-page service file has been digitised and for some time it made confusing reading.
The War Graves Commission record says that he was the son of Mrs Jessie McGregor and the late Dugald McGregor and that he served as Murray. According to the documents in his file, he enlisted on 17 September 1914 giving his name as William Clarence McGregor, his birthplace as Bellingen, New South Wales, his profession as motor driver, and his age as 21 and one month. In answer to the question had he ever been apprenticed he answered no. The next document in the file is his discharge paper. There is no information on it, no date of discharge and no information as to why he was discharged.
However, on 2 July 1915, the file contains the attestation form for Albert Murray. There is a note in red ink at the top of the form, 'Real name William Clarence McGregor'. 'Albert Murray' said he was born in Aukland, New Zealand, and that he was a motor mechanic who had been apprenticed for four years to his father in Aukland. In answer to the questions, 'Have you ever been discharged from HM Forces?', 'Have you ever served in HM Forces' and 'Have you ever been rejected as unfit?', his answer to every question was 'no'.
You can see why I was having dark thoughts about McGregor/Murray. Albert Murray received a commission in June 1916, embarked from Australia in January 1917 and served with the 49th Battalion Australian Infantry. However, he didn't get to France until the 17 November that year.
He seems to have been a bold soldier as testified by the manner in which he won his Military Cross on 17 August 1918:
"For conspicuous daring in dealing with a troublesome hostile machine-gun. Crawling over No Man's Land, he entered the enemy's trench & worked up it for about 150 yards, until he located the sentry mounted on the gun. He killed the sentry & captured the gun. After bombing a dug-out & killing an officer & four men, he made good his way back with two prisoners."
Note, citations usually read 'for conspicuous gallantry' not 'daring'. A month later whilst out on patrol he was hit by a machine-gun bullet and killed instantly.
At this point he was still known as Albert Murray. However, a year after his death his mother wrote to the military authorities to say that "as the mother of the above-named soldier, who was killed in action in France on the 16th September 1918, I desire to take the necessary steps to have his correct name recorded". This is the story she had to tell:
"My son enlisted to leave with the first lot of men to go and was very disappointed when he contracted rheumatic fever and instead of sailing with his camp comrades he had to go into hospital for 9 weeks and as a consequence received his discharge.
Later on when he considered that he had removed all trace of the [disease] he endeavoured to re-enlist but was advised that his former illness which had to be disclosed would come against him.
Not to be defeated in this worthy object he enlisted in a name other than his own and sailed as if Lieut Albert Murray in the troopship Ayrshire in 1916 ... "
Mrs McGregor obviously convinced the authorities, which is why his file has 'Correct name William Clarence McGregor' written over all his forms. She also got his correct name carved onto his headstone. However, it's interesting to note that the War Graves Commission told her that they would also include the name under which he served, reasoning:
"If the correct name only appeared in view of the fact that he served under the assumed name there would be danger of his identity being lost sight of."
So, my dark thoughts about McGregor were totally unfounded. His reasons for disguising his identity far from being nefarious were down to the fact that he was keen to join the action and feared that his medical history, if suspected, would prevent him doing so.
FEAR NO MORE
THE HEAT O' THE SUN
NOR THE FURIOUS
These words, from Shakespeare's Cymbeline, are spoken by Guiderus over the body of Cloten who he has just killed:
Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldy task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
Guiderus' brother, Arvirargus, speaks the next lines and together they complete what is now best known as a poem, without the separate speaking parts.
Long before Shelley assuaged his grief for the death of John Keats in his poem Adonais with the assurance that 'He hath awaken'd from the dream of life':
He has outsoar'd 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.
And Binyon attempted to comfort those mourning the dead of the First World War with the thought that:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grown old:
Age shall not weary them or the years condemn.
Shakespeare was assuring those who mourned that at least nothing could ever hurt the dead again and that they would now never have anything to fear.
Johnston Hughston, also known as John and Jack, was an Australian doctor, a former pupil of Scotch College, newly qualified from the University of Melbourne. Scotch College have a detailed biography of him on their website from which I shall quote.
Johnston and his brother Edward, also a doctor, were among a group on one hundred Australian doctors who went to England in 1915 to help support Kitchener's New Armies. They were all on one year contracts. Johnston joined the 68th Field Ambulance and went with it to Salonika in October 1915. In April 1916 his contract with the army came up but he signed on again.
In May 1918 he went home to Australia for a few weeks in order to recover from malaria. He returned to the Salonika front and on 3 August was wounded in the chest by a shell fragment. He spent a month in hospital before returning to the front when he was again hit by shrapnel whilst visiting some advanced dressing stations. Although he was with another doctor who immediately did what he could, and was despatched to hospital as quickly as possible, he died nineteen hours later.
His mother chose his inscription, but added to the War Grave Commission records the comment that he was 'A young Australian who freely gave his life when duty called'. Johnston Hughston was one of eight of the original hundred doctors to die.
HE LOVED TO DO A KIND ACTION
I have just watched a television programme where one of the commentators was spitting with rage at the fact that officers got a clothing allowance and extra pay despite the fact that they were already all so much better off than the soldiers. The commentator was wrong; all officers weren't necessarily better off.
Harley Bentham was the son of a Midlands Railway Company signalman who had begun his working life as an assistant railway porter. The family lived in a small terraced house at 7 Thorndale St, Hellifield, Yorkshire.
Bentham attended Giggleswick Grammar School and left work to become a clerk in the Bank of Liverpool in Settle. He enlisted in January 1916 as a private in the Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment. In December 1916 he was recommended for a commission and in August 1917 was gazetted second lieutenant.
On 13 September 1918 Bentham was wounded in action by shellfire "whilst gallantly leading his men" in a successful attack, which captured the town of Havrincourt. Bentham's lieutenant colonel reassured his parents that their son had not suffered and that he'd died shortly after reaching the Casualty Clearing Station. There's always been a suspicion that such reassurances were mere words, especially as we know that Bentham didn't die until the third day after he'd been wounded.
Thomas Bentham chose a very gentle inscription for his son, who was his parents' only child - 'He loved to do a kind action'. One such action was a letter he wrote to the sister of one of the men in his regiment. This was whilst he was still a private so it was not his job to do so but as he says to her: "I have been asked by some of the lads to write to you and tell you how sorry we are and how we sympathise with you in your great loss". Bentham tells the sister how her brother was killed when a shell burst on the parapet right beside him. He assures her that death would have been instantaneous and that he wouldn't have suffered. In this instance it's possible to believe him.
TO HAVE, TO LOVE
AND THEN TO PART
IS THE SADDEST PAIN
OF A MOTHER'S HEART
This may not be great literature but it is very heartfelt, and very affecting. Mrs Sarah Dally chose the words for her son, John's inscription. John had been married since early 1914 but his wife, Elizabeth, was dead.
There is very little information about John Dally but what there is can be pieced together to tell a story. He was born in Smoketown, USA, the only one of his parents' five children not to have been born in Wales. Smoketown is a minute and remote farming community in Pennsylvania. Did John's parents try to escape from the mining life of South Wales but find they couldn't manage it? They returned to Wales where James Dally, a coal miner, died in 1896.
In the 1901 census Sarah Dally, a widow, is living with her five children, her widowed mother, a widowed sister and her two children, and three spinster sisters in a single house in Aberdare. Her son Thomas aged 13 is a coal miner, a hewer, despite the fact that he is so young. In 1911 Sarah Dally and four of her children are living in their own house. John and Thomas are both coal miners, both hewers.
John joined up early earning the 1915 Star. He went to France in July 1915, serving with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He later transferred to No. 1 Water Boring Section, Royal Engineers. This was formed in March 1917 and served in France with the 3rd Army from 1 July 1917. Made up of one officer and 40 other ranks with a variety of different skills, these sections were responsible for drilling wells and pumping the water.
There is no information about how John Dally died but on 15 September the 3rd Army was taking part in the assualt on the Hindenburg Line. Dally is buried in a Casualty Clearing Station cemetery 12 km south east of Bapaume.
Sometimes next-of-kin choose inscriptions that are impenetrably enigmatic, like this one - "As yesterday" - or Lieutenant Horace Collins', "Yes Dad" which I wrote about in May. I admire their originality, especially as I always suspect I might have chosen something deeply conventional. However, is it possible to get an inkling of what Robert French's mother, Mrs Martha French, meant by her choice of inscription?
There's a memorial in Linthorpe Municipal Cemetery, Middlesborough Yorkshire that gives a hint. The dedication reads:
My dearly loved husband Robert French
Died on active service Aug. 18th, buried at sea
August 19th 1916
Also my dearly beloved only son Robert Illtyd
Aged 23 yrs 10 mths killed in action Sept 12th 1918
Buried at Bertincourt, France
Robert French was a time-expired naval petty officer who rejoined the navy on the outbreak of war. He served on board HMS Moldavia, an armed merchant cruiser on patrol in the North Sea. French is variously said to have 'died of disease', 'died of haemorrhage', died of a 'burst blood vessel'. However, someone has transcribed Moldavia's log book and this gives chapter and verse:
18 August 1916
Various courses for patrol
4.00 pm: In 56 26N, 11 27W, departed this life, PO Robert French, RFR, ON 138240, from haemorrhage following cancer of the stomach
19 August 1916
Various courses for patrol
9 am: Stopped and committed to the deep the body of the late PO 1c Robert French, in Lat 56 22N, Long 11 17W. RIP.
There is not the same level of detail known about his son's death. Robert Illtyd French's medal card shows him to have been entitled to the 1915 Star having first gone to France and Flanders on 17 April 1915. He served originally with the Yorkshire Regiment before being transferred to the 2/4th York and Lancaster Regiment. This was part of the 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division, which on 12 September 1918, the day French was killed, successfully took the town of Havrincourt; the first breach in the German Hindenburg Line.
Does any of this tell us what Martha French meant by her inscription? I would suggest perhaps that she was declaring that her love and her grief for her dead husband and son were the same 'as yesterday'; they had not diminished.
SUCH A SLEEP THEY SLEEP
THE MEN I LOVED
This beautiful inscription is from Tennyson's Morte d'Arthur, which begins:
So all day long the noise of battle roll'd
Among the mountains by the winter sea;
Until King Arthur's table, man by man,
Had fallen in Lyonesse about their Lord,
The dying Arthur tells Sir Bedevere, 'the last of all his knights':
The sequel of today unsolders all
The goodliest fellowship of famous knights
Whereof this world holds record. Such a sleep
They sleep - the men I loved. I think that we
Shall never more, at any future time,
Delight our souls with talk of knightly deeds,
Walking about the gardens and the halls
Of Camelot, as in the days that were.
These are such haunting words, which must have resonated with many people who felt that life would never be the same again now that so many of their menfolk were dead, as was the case with Mrs Gillespie, William Gillespie's mother, who chose the inscription. Mrs Gillespie's husband Denis died in October 1915, her son William was killed on 11 September 1918 and another son, Daniel, was killed seven days later.
William served with the Rifle Brigade but at the time of his death was attached to the 12th Battalion London Regiment, part of the 58th London Division. On 11 September they were in the front line near Epehy. That night the Germans put down a box barrage and attacked Tattenham Post. According to the war diary, "D Coy were surrounded and the post taken". Was this when Gillespie was killed? His body was discovered in an unmarked grave a year later.
His older brother, Daniel, a Lance Corporal with the 58th Division Signal Company Royal Engineers, was killed on 18 September. One of his other brothers, a Mr J Gillespie, chose his inscription. It comes from Shakespeare's Macbeth:
After life's fitful fever
He sleeps well
HE CROSSED THE BAR
FOR HIS COUNTRY
IN THE GLORIOUS CHARGE
On 31 October 1917 the British (at the time the term British would automatically have included Empire and Commonwealth soldiers) secured the capture of the Ottoman-held town of Beersheba with a magnificent Australian cavalry charge that has gone down in legend. The capture of the town, important though it was, was perhaps of less importance than the capture of its wells since the British soldiers and their horses had been short of water for days.
Some parts of the town had been captured during the day but the British wanted total possession and the day was getting late. The commanders therefore decided to gamble on a full-scale cavalry charge and the task was entrusted to the 4th and 12th Australian Light Horse regiments. Much has been written about this famous charge, which rode off at 4.30 pm just as the sun was beginning to set. Armed only with their bayonets, the cavalry was organised into three lines, each line 300 yards apart, and each man keeping a distance of five yards between him and the next to minimise the impact of enemy artillery. As the Ottoman lines came into view the Australians spurred their horses into a gallop and rode straight into a hail of artillery and machine-gun fire. Within in an hour they had achieved their objective and although the Ottoman commander tried to destroy the wells all but two were saved.
It was a magnificent achievement but amongst all the hyperbole that has been subsequently written about the event, I love the 12th Light Horse's laconic war diary entry:
October 31 1917:
"The Regiment moved on Beersheba at the gallop. Heavy enemy rifle and machine gun fire developed on the left flank ... This fire was silenced by artillery. The leading Squadron came under very heavy rifle fire and machine gun fire from the trenches, ... On reaching a point about 100 yards from these trenches, one Troop of A Squadron dismounted for action, and the remainder of the Squadron galloped on ... The Regiment, less 1 troop, kept straight on to Beersheba."
John Fielding was in A Squadron. Eight hundred men began the charge in which 31 were killed, mainly in the hand-to-hand fighting in the trenches.
Fielding was born in Rawtenstall, Manchester and arrived in Australia in 1908 when he was 13. He enlisted in January 1915 and served in Gallipoli from August to December that year. His father chose his inscription. He began it with a reference to Tennyson's Crossing the Bar, a euphemism for dying:
Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar
When I put out to sea
And concluded it by indicating his pride in his son's participation in this legendary event. There's one other point about the inscription. John Fielding's father says, 'he crossed the bar for his country', which country? I'm going to say Britain, and by that I mean the British Empire because at that time many Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians and South Africans thought of themselves as British, despite the fact that so many episodes, like the 'glorious charge at Beersheba', have now become building blocks in the construction of their various nationhoods.
NATION WITH NATION
LAND WITH LAND
UNARMED SHALL LIVE
AS COMRADES, FREE
This wonderful Utopian world where men will live at peace, guided by science and reason, where woman will be man's 'mate and peer' and art and music will blossom, is envisaged by John Addington Symonds in his poem, The Vista (1880). However, it's far more likely that Arthur Latchford's mother, who chose the inscription, knew the lines from the shortened version, which was published as a four or five-verse hymn, rather than from the poem.
Symonds, a literary critic and cultural historian, was a fairly controversial figure. An advocate of homosexuality even perhaps verging on pederasty, Symonds admired the Greek world where relationships between men and youths were not frowned on, and looked forward to a time when homosexuality would no longer be a sin. That's why the hymn is a far more likely source. It's called, 'These things shall be: a loftier race', and it looks forward to the time when:
These things shall be: a loftier race
Than e'er the world hath known, shall rise
With flame of freedom in their souls
And light of knowledge in their eyes.
Latchford's inscription comes from verse three:
Nation with nation, land with land,
Unarmed shall live as comrades free;
In every heart and brain shall throb
The pulse of one fraternity.
This is the Utopian world that Mrs Latchford was looking forward to.
Arthur Latchford was his parents' eldest child; his father, William was a brickmaker in Boxmoor, Hertfordshire. Arthur is commemorated on the McCorquodale and Co Ltd war memorial. McCorquodales were printers based in Cardington St, London and in Milton Keynes, which is where Latchford was probably based. He served with the 38th Field Ambulance, part of the 12th Division, and died on 8 September 1918. There are no records of what happened to him.
KILLED IN ACTION
25TH SEPT. 1918
There's a story here quite beyond the one of two brothers being killed within twenty days of each other.
Benjamin and Emmanuel Goldstein were the sons of Morris and Milly Goldstein. Morris was born in Chachinow, Plotzk a town now in central Poland but at the time of his birth in Russia. The town had a huge, vibrant Jewish community estimated at one time to have made up 40% of the population. However, by the end of the Second World War, after decades of varying degrees of anti-semitism culminating in the Plotzk Ghetto, there were thought to be no more than thirty Jewish residents in the city. Milly, Amelia Bernberg, was born in Kuldiga, a town in western Latvia, which had had a similarly thriving Jewish community. Many of them were German, which is how Milly identified her nationality in the 1911 British census. In 1941, the Jews of Kildigas were imprisoned in the synagogue before being taken out into the forest in small groups and shot.
Morris Goldstein, who was a tailor, came to Britain in about 1894 when he was 36, and became a naturalised British subject in December 1902. There is no evidence that Milly ever became a British subject. All their six children were born in Britain, of whom five survived to adulthood.
The three eldest boys all served in the British army, the second and third sons both being killed in 1918 within weeks of the end of the war.
The boys' father, Morris Goldstein, chose Benjamin's inscription, whereas their eldest brother chose Emmanuel's: "Brother of Ben Goldstein died of wounds Sept. 6th 1918". However, the eldest brother, Samuel Reuben Goldstein, was now calling himself Stanley Robert Golding. And later on I can see that the youngest brother, Louis, had changed his surname to Golding too.
It seems a shame that a family who came to Britain to escape prejudice, two of whose four sons died fighting for Britain, should have felt the need to change their name from Goldstein to the less Jewish sounding Golding - but this was the story of the twentieth-century.
"THEY NEVER FAIL
WHO DIE IN A GREAT CAUSE"
"MY DEAR, MY BETTER HALF"
The first part of the inscription comes from Byron's play 'Marino Faliero'. Faliero was a fourteenth century Doge of Venice and against all the historical evidence, in fact in contradiction of all the historical evidence, Byron creates a revolutionary hero. In the play, two fellow revolutionaries, Calendro and Israel Bertuccio discuss a third, Bertram, whom Calendro thinks has 'a hesitating softness', which will be fatal to their cause. Bertuccio assures him that:
The truly brave are soft of heart and eyes.
And feel for what their duty bids them do.
I have known Bertram long; there doth not breathe
A soul more full of honour.
In this Bertram appears to share the same characteristics as Wordsworth's Happy Warrior - see yesterday's inscription and also this earlier one. But the quality that made the Happy Warrior more than usually brave was that he was a married man with much to love, which he risked losing by fighting, whereas Bertram was alone:
CALENDRO: [...] Yet as he has no mistress, and no wife
To work upon his milkiness of spirit,
He may go through the ordeal; it is well
He is an orphan, friendless save in us:
A woman or a child had made him less
Than either in resolve.
So Bertram is not as brave as the Happy Warrior who, despite the fact that he has much to love, can be relied upon to do his duty. Lieutenant Ponter also has much to love: the wife who called him her "dear one, her better half", a son born in January 1918 and a daughter who was born posthumously in February 1919.
Ponter had joined up in September 1914 but poor eyesight kept him on home duties, training soldiers and guarding the east coast. However, by some means he got himself to France in July 1918. He was killed in his first action, his company commander assuring his parents that he had died "gallantly and well", leading his platoon and dying instantaneously when hit by rifle fire.
Blanche Ponter chose her husband's inscription. Just after Bertuccio has defended Bertram he goes on to assert:
We must forget all feelings save the one -
We must resign all passions save our purpose -
We must behold no object save our country -
And only look on death as beautiful,
So that the sacrifice ascend to heaven, -
And draw down freedom on her evermore.
CALENDRO: But if we fail.
BERTUCCIO: They never fail who die
In a great cause:
MORE BRAVE FOR THIS
THAT HE HATH MUCH TO LOVE
James McDonald was a married man, a fact which provides a clue to his inscription. It comes from Wordsworth's poem 'Character of the Happy Warrior'. The poem asks the question - "Who is the happy warrior? Who is he that every man in arms would wish to be?" - before enumerating all the noble and honourable qualities that make a man a good soldier, describing him as someone who can withstand the 'storm and turbulence' of warfare but:
Is yet a Soul whose master-bias leans
To homefelt pleasures and to gentle scenes;
Sweet images! which, whereso-er he be,
Are at his heart; and such fidelity
It is his darling passion to approve;
More brave for this, that he hath much to love: -
And 'much to love' meant he had much to lose, which explains why in Wordsworth's eyes he was 'more brave' than those who were not family men.
More than one inscription quotes from Wordsworth's poem, and the term 'happy warrior' had passed into general usage as a description for an all-round good sort. Presumably none of the people who quoted from Wordsworth's Happy Warrior were familiar with Herbert Read's poem of the same title:
His wild heart beats with painful sobs
His strain'd hands clench an ice-cold rifle
His aching jaws grip a hot parch'd tongue
His wide eyes search unconsciously.
He cannot shriek.
Dribbles down his shapeless jacket.
I saw him stab
And stab again
A well-killed Boche.
This is the happy warrior,
This is he ...
McDonald had been born in Scotland in 1878 but by the time he enlisted in September 1915 he was a grocer in Vancouver, British Columbia. He served with the 72nd Battalion Canadian Infantry and arrived in France in August 1916. Severely wounded in his right foot and right temple, he was out of action for the early months of 1917. In July 1918 he went home on leave to Dumbarton in Scotland, returning to the front on 17 August. He was killed just over a month later.
A PROFITABLE MEMBER
OF THE KING AND COMMONWEALTH
On 1 November 1918 Frank Knight came home on leave from France to stay with his mother's brother at Severn Street in Leicester. Nine days later he was dead. The cause of his death: pneumonia following influenza. He was buried in Leicester's Welford Road Cemetery after a full military funeral that included buglers and a firing party.
Knight's family lived in Australia, where they had gone in 1912 when he was 17. He had been born in Witherley in Leicestershire and grown up in Rugby, Warwickshire where his father, Isaac Knight, ran the Queen's Head pub. Knight attended Lawrence Sherriff School in Rugby. This makes him an Old Laurentian, an O.L. as it says on his inscription.
Knight, a draughtsman, enlisted in Melbourne in March 1916. It would appear that he spent some time training to be a machine gunner and then training machine gunners at the Machine Gun Training Centre in Grantham, Lincolnshire. In January 1918 he went to France, from where he came on leave on 1 November 1918 to die two days before the end of the war.
I find the the syntax of his inscription rather curious: 'He became a profitable member of the King and Commonwealth'. It has rather a seventeenth-century ring to it. However, by Commonwealth Isaac Knight wasn't referring to the kingless government of England following the civil war, nor to the British Commonwealth of Nations but to the Commonwealth of Australia the country's official name following the federation of the six self-governing colonies on 1 January 1901. Isaac Knight was stating that his son was both a valuable subject of His Majesty King George V and a useful member of the Commonwealth of Australia.
This inscription will feature as part of the Global War Graves Leicester project, which aims "to explore and bring to light how the 298 First World War casualties came to be buried in the cemetery, how their identities were negotiated in death; and how even the British burials alongside them also had connections throughout and beyond the UK. The purpose of this research will be to challenge and expand our understandings of the relationship between local and global in terms of Leicester and the First World War".