FATE RULES OUR DESTINIES
ROUGH HEW THEM AS WE MAY
This isn't exactly what Shakespeare's Hamlet says in Act 5 Scene 2 but I'm sure that Mrs Elizabeth Bratt had Hamlet's words in mind when she chose her husband's inscription.
Hamlet, speaking to his friend Horatio, says that however much we might attempt to 'rough hew' our destinies, control them ourselves, it is God who in fact does so:
There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will
I wonder whether Mrs Bratt mis-remembered Shakespeare's words or whether she made a conscious decision to ascribe fortune to fate rather than to God. But, had Mrs Bratt seriously not believed in God, she would have told the War Graves Commission that she didn't want a cross on her husband's grave; it was only a matter of saying 'yes' or 'no' beside the question on the Family Verification Form. There is a cross on Richard Bratt's grave, which would suggest that Elizabeth Bratt was no atheist. It could be that she preferred to think that 'fate' had removed her husband from her, not God. The popular headstone inscription, 'We cannot Lord Thy purpose see but all is well that's done by Thee' was not for her.
The couple had been married for nine years and in the 1911 census had a ten-month-old daughter, Elizabeth. Richard was a letter-press printer and the couple lived in Islington. His medal card indicates that he didn't join a theatre of war until 1916. In August 1918 he was serving with the 5th Battalion London Regiment. On the night of the 26th/27th August the battalion made a frontal attack on the German trenches in front of Croisilles. The battalion war diary speaks of heavy casualties from machine gun fire. Bratt died of wounds on the 27th.
SLEEP LIGHTLY, LAD
THOU ART KING'S GUARD
This is an inscription of unknown origin about which there has been a certain amount of curiosity on the Internet. The words appear on several memorials in the North East of England and although it is not unknown elsewhere it is more commonly found here. And 'here' is where William Charlton came from. His father, John Charlton, was the head teacher at the Council School in Seaton Delaval, a village in Northumberland, eleven miles north of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
In November 1917 an article appeared in the journal, The United Methodist, written by the Rev. Ernest FH Capey, a Methodist minister. He told of going for a walk one Sunday afternoon to the church in Ford, which overlooks Flodden Field. The church was locked but,
"On the inner door was suspended an artistic card 'in memoriam' of the brave boys of the village who had lost their lives in the war. It was headed:
Fought and died for Freedom
Sleep lightly, Lad,
Thou art for King's Guard at daybreak;
With spotless kit turn out,
And take a place of honour."
In other words, prepare yourself, for tomorrow, as a reward for dying for your country, you will part of the honour guard around God.
Searching the newspaper archive I came across an earlier mention of the inscription in an article in the Newcastle Journal of 9 October 1916. Reporting on the dedication of a memorial plaque in St Luke's Chapel, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, it mentioned an accompanying Roll of Honour, 'delicately executed, the gift of an anonymous friend'. The inscription on the Roll of Honour read: 'Pro Patria: Freely they served and died', followed by the same inscription as that on the door of Ford Church. The article finished with the information that, 'The roll is the work of Mr J.H. Binks of Ford, and is chastely and ably done'.
That certainly doesn't mean that Mr JH Binks composed the inscription, although he may well have done, but it does link the two locations. I don't imagine that it was the card in Ford Church that popularised the lines however, rather I should image it was its use by the Royal Infirmary, and the mention in the local paper. The North East War Memorial Project records several places where the inscription has been used on a war memorial. None of these places are more than 12 miles from Newcastle, except for Ford which is over 50 miles away.
John and Ann Charlton had four children, two sons and two daughters. William was the youngest. Before being commissioned into the Durham Light Infantry in January 1916, he was a pupil barrister at the Inns of Court in London. Serving with the 15th Battalion London Regiment, he went to France in July 1916 where he was severely wounded on the 7th. It was June 1918 before he returned to the front. He was killed two months later.
'Sleep lightly, Lad' is not the inscription on the Seaton Delaval war memorial. This carries the dedication 'To the Motherland', followed by the words on the next-of-kin memorial scroll. The memorial was unveiled on 2 September 1922 by Mr John Charlton "whose two sons were killed in the war"
And what is the personal inscription on the headstone of Captain George Fenwick Hedley Charlton, South Wales Borderers, killed in action on 6 October 1916?
Sleep lightly, Lad
Thou art King's Guard
GOD, MOTHER, ENGLAND
This is the fourth night in succession that the epitaph has identified a soldier's reasons for fighting: 'To uphold British prestige"; "for England's honour"; "To end all wars" and now for "God, Mother, England".
If I'm not much mistaken, John Albert Nadon was really Jean Albert Nadon since the family were French Canadians hailing from Quebec. Nadon was born in Mattawa, Ontario where his parents, Joachim and Exilda, had married in 1885 and where his father was a farmer. This makes Nadon's inscription all the more interesting. It was signed for by his mother and it's not only the order of priorities that makes it interesting, nor the fact that his father was still alive, but that this French Canadian should identify England, not Canada or the Empire as a reason for fighting, which some Canadians, especially French Canadians, would have done. Today England is a very specific place but at one time the word was loosely used for the whole of Great Britain. And England was the motherland, the heart of the world-wide Empire.
There is very little personal information on John Albert Nadon, just that he served in the 52nd Battalion Canadian Infantry and that he died on 28 August 1918. On the 27th and the 28th the battalion took part in an attack on the village of Bois-de-Vert and Artillery Hill. It was a successful operation but a costly one, the war diary noted that at the end of the day, "our four companies only numbered one hundred".
TO END ALL WARS
To Private Martin's father's, his son had died in the war to end all wars. The phrase, which became one of the catchphrases of the war and is always associated with the American president Woodrow Wilson, in fact owes its origins to the title of a book by HG Wells, published in late 1914, containing a number of newspaper articles he'd written in August 1914. The title of the book was, 'The War That Will End War'. And how would it end war? By smashing German militarism.
"We are fighting Germany ... we have to destroy an evil system of government and the mental and material corruption that has got hold of the German imagination and taken possession of German life. We have to smash Prussian Imperialism" which "has been for forty years an intolerable nuisance in the earth. Ever since the crushing of the French in 1871 the evil thing has grown and cast its spreading shadow over Europe. Germany has preached a propaganda of ruthless force and political materialism to the whole uneasy world. "Blood and iron," she boasted, was the cement of her unity, and almost as openly the little, mean, aggressive statesmen and professors who have guided her destinies to this present conflict have professed cynicism and an utter disregard of any ends but nationally selfish ends, as though it were religion."
I think you will have got the picture by now. It's worth following the link to have a look at the book as it certainly illustrates what some people thought they were fighting for and why it would be the war to end war. It wasn't, as we know, but then Wells himself said:
"There can be no diplomatic settlement that will leave German Imperialism free to explain away its failure to its people and start new preparations. We have to go on until we are absolutely done for, or until the Germans as a people know that they are beaten, and are convinced that they have had enough of war."
And that of course didn't happen until after 1945.
I have been able to find out virtually nothing about Private H Martin, except that his father was Mr JJ Martin, that he lived at 3 West Beech Road, Wood Green, London, and that he was killed in action on 27 August 1918 when the 3rd London Regiment Royal Fusiliers, with which he was serving, took the village of Maricourt.
HE DIED FOR ENGLAND'S HONOUR
May the heavenly winds blow softly
O'er that far and silent grave,
Where sleeping without dreaming
Lies one we could not save.
He answered duty's call,
He lies among the slain,
He died for England's honour,
He has not died in vain.
Arthur Williams' father quoted from a piece of memorial verse of the kind to be found in the In Memoriam columns of local newspapers. Arthur's father, James, was a former Life Guards' trooper. The concept of England's honour would have resonated with him.
Williams' army number indicates that he joined up in February 1917. He served with the 1st Battalion the Welsh Guards. On 25 August 1918 the 1st Battalion were in the trenches at St Leger when they took part in an attack on the German-held town of Ecoust St Mein. Initially things went well, the heavy mist shrouding their attack. However, the supporting tanks got lost, the German wire was discovered to be uncut, and when the mist lifted the guardsmen were sitting ducks for the German machine guns. The war diary tells how they were forced to withdraw, emphasising that they took their wounded with them. However, Arthur Williams and four other Welsh Guardsmen, who all died on 25 August, were buried approximately ten kilometres behind the German lines in Dury German Cemetery. Their bodies were exhumed in 1924 and buried in Vis-en-Arois British Cemetery.
TO UPHOLD BRITISH PRESTIGE
Upholding British prestige throughout the world has always been a matter of concern for British politicians and diplomats. Was it one of the factors that took us to war in 1914? Probably. Did Harry Wright's father, Walter Wright, who chose the inscription, think it a cause worth fighting for? I'm going to say again - probably. Just as concern for British sovereignty played its part in the vote for Brexit in 2016, so upholding British prestige will have played a part in Britain's decision to go to war in 1914.
Harry Wright joined up on 23 August 1915 when he was 17. He didn't get to France until 13 February 1917, presumably by which time he was 19. Promoted Lance Corporal on 22 May 1917, he was demoted on 5 August 1918 for "when on active service failing to relieve a sentry".
According to his surviving service record, Wright was wounded on the 22 August and died on the 24th. According to the war diary the battalion was resting on the 21st and 22nd August so it seems more likely that he was wounded on the 20th when the Germans attacked the British lines just south of the River Scarpe and secured a footing in the Loyal North Lancashire's trenches, forcing them to withdraw to the lines they had originally held on the 18th. A total of five other ranks were killed and twenty-four wounded during thi three-day period. One of them being Harry Wright, who died 'to uphold British prestige'.
THOU O'ER LOOK'ST
THE TUMULT FROM AFAR
AND SMILEST, KNOWING
ALL IS WELL
This is yet another inscription from Tennyson's In Memoriam. It comes from section CXXVII, the section that begins:
And all is well, tho' faith and form
Be sunder'd in the night of fear;
The poem goes on to describe an apocalyptic scene before asserting that even in the midst of all this chaos, even while "compass'd by the fires of Hell",
Thou, dear spirit, happy star,
O'erlook'st the tumult from afar,
And smilest, knowing all is well.
The smiling person is Tennyson's dead friend Arthur Hallam, and the implication is that once we are dead and with God in heaven, we can be assured that all will be well whatever is happening on earth.
Robert Evans was a solicitor. He served initially as a serjeant with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Commissioned in March 1917, he served with the 57th training reserve battalion before going to France in 1918. He was killed during the Battle of Albert; shot dead by a German prisoner.
A married man with one child, I think it was his wife, Edith, who chose his inscription. The War Graves Commission's records say Mrs AC Evans but that's probably a mis-type for Mrs RC Evans.
REMEMBER, WHATEVER HAPPENS
IT WILL HAVE BEEN
Arthur Granville Sharp earned the 1914 Star. This means that he entered a theatre of war before 22 November 1914. Sharp was born on 27 October 1897. He joined Thring's Horse on 24 October 1914, which means that he was just three days short of his seventeenth birthday.
Thring's Horse took part in the suppression of the Maritz / Boer Rebellion after General Maritz allied himself with the Germans and declared that "the former South African Republic and Orange Free State as well as the Cape Province and Natal are proclaimed free from British control and independent". The war, Maritz claimed, was South Africa's chance to free itself from British control and become independent.
Although born in the Orange Free State, Sharp was one of the many who did not agree with Maritz. By the end of the year the rebellion had been suppressed. At which point Sharp transferred to the 1st Mounted Brigade (Sharpshooters) and took part in the German-South-West African Campaign. By December 1915 he had taken a commission in the Royal Field Artillery and spent the rest of the war in France, Flanders and Italy.
Sharp was serving with D Battery, 72 Army Brigade attached to the Guards Division Artillery when he was killed in action on 23 August 1918, the same action for which he was awarded his Military Cross. On the day he was working as a forward observation officer near Hamelincourt, sending back accurate and valuable information to the guns despite the fact that he was under constant and relentless fire.
His mother chose his inscription. These have to have been Arthur Sharp's own words, this must have been his philosophy. Interestingly it's not the same thing as 'Thy will be done', or 'Whatever is is best' but 'Whatever happens it will have been worthwhile'. Sharp served throughout the war until his death in August 1918 but was still only 20 when he died.
HIS LAST WORDS AT HOME WERE
"I SHALL BE ALRIGHT MOTHER"
You can imagine the scene at 33 Maple Road, Blackheath, Birmingham as Percy Cole prepared to leave for the front: Mrs Ellen Cole fussing and fretting whilst her son tried hard to reassure her, "I shall be alright mother". Did he mean I'll be able to look after myself, I've got everything I need, or don't worry I won't get killed; all three I expect.
Percy Cole was nineteen when he died. He would have been conscripted at 18 and allowed to go to the front at 19 so he wouldn't have been there for long before he was killed. He served with the 1st Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment and died of wounds 30 km from Beaumont-Hamel where at 3 am on 21 August the 1st Lincolnshires,
"formed up in their preliminary assembly positions in Wagon road (the road between Beamont Hamel and Serre), B and D formed the first wave, C and A the second wave. By zero, companies were formed up in their assembly positions, i.e., Serre road, due east of Wagon road.
At zero the battalion advanced and reached a ravine (probably the Puisieux road) without opposition: a few prisoners were taken en route. But now hostile machine-gun fire came from a line of German trenches ahead."
[History of the Lincolnshire Regiment 1914-1918]
The 1st Lincolnshire's objective had been to take a sunken road running north-west from Baillescourt Farm, north-east of Beaucourt. Lost to the Germans earlier in the year, Beaucourt was successfully retaken, thus the Lincolnshires played their part the Second Battle of Albert, which restarted the stalled Allied advance and really was the beginning of the end. However, by the end of the month the Lincolnshires had suffered three officers and twenty-nine other ranks killed, one officer and two other ranks died of wounds, together with twenty missing and a total of 171 wounded.
Percy Cole was one of the two other ranks who died of wounds; his final words to his mother tragically belied.
BY THE WILL OF GOD
HERE THE WEST MEETS THE EAST
This inscription must reference Rudyard Kipling's poem The Ballad of East and West, but whether Lance Corporal Carpenter's father, Charles Carpenter, used the idea as Kipling intended or as critics have assumed it does not seem possible to tell. The poem begins and ends with the same four lines:
Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho' they come from the ends of the earth!
There are those who argue that Kipling's poem is racist and asserts the superiority of the white races. However, without wishing to be too rude, I would suggest that these people haven't read the poem since Kipling in fact describes how two men from completely different religious and cultural backgrounds, one from the east and one from the west, come to respect each other's courage, and tells how this mutual acknowledgment of bravery results in the swearing of a solemn oath of brotherhood:
They have looked each other between the eyes, and there they found no fault,
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on leavened bread and salt:
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on fire and fresh-cut sod,
On the hilt and the haft of the Khyber knife, and the Wondrous Names of God.
Lance Corporal Herbert Carpenter died on 19 August 1918 in Mesopotamia. I don't know whether he was killed in action, died of wounds or disease, or of heatstroke as many men did. He's buried in Baghdad North Gate Cemetery which took men who had died in the hospitals and casualty clearing stations there, or were gathered in after the war from graves in northern Iraq and Anatolia. The enemy was the Ottoman Turk. Did Charles Carpenter's choice of inscription reflect a respect for these representatives of the east, or scorn?
Herbert Carpenter was the eldest of his parents' four children. Father was a commercial traveller in groceries and in 1911 Herbert was a draper's assistant in Marshall and Snelgove, a big department store on Oxford Street. He served with the 1/6th Hampshire Regiment, which served in India before arriving in Basra on 16 September 1917. His youngest brother, Carl, was killed in action on 15 February 1915. Carl's body was not found until 1928 so although he now has a grave in Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, his name had already been carved onto the Menin Gate.
DIED TO SAVE AN ENEMY
Samuel Brew's brother, Captain Henry Brew, chose his inscription, and confirmed this statment when he filled in the circular for the Roll of Honour of Australia by saying: "Killed while succoring [sic] wounded enemy". Interested to see if I could find out any further details, I looked up 16 August 1918 in the 6th Field Ambulance's war diary and this is what it said:
15th August: ... At about 12 noon the driver of a Ford Car stationed at Quarry X.4.s.8.3. (No. 2294 Dvr F Connolly No. 2 A.M.T. Coy att. 6th Field Amb.) and the orderly No. 9806 Pte. S Brew 6th Field Amb. were just about to commence their midday meal when an enemy shell exploded 5 yards from the car. The driver was standing just in front of the car & the orderly had stepped into the car to get his mess utensils when the shell exploded, the driver was killed instantly & the orderly severely wounded (sh.wd avulsed right arm sh. wd right knee, right foot). He died at No. 55 CCS on 16th & was buried at Daours Communal Cemetery Extension."
On 12 August, the 6th Field Ambulance moved forward from St Achuel. By the end of the 13th it had established itself in its new location and at 8.30 pm received its first patient. There would definitely have been German soldiers among those treated by the 6th Field Ambulance, those it succoured, but Brew's inscription does give a slightly misleading idea of the exact circumstances of his death.
Samuel Brew was born in Britain, in Great Crosby near Liverpool. He emigrated to Australia in 1899 when he was 23. His brother, Henry, also went to Australia, as did another brother, John. John served with the 38th Battalion Australian Infantry and was killed in action on 8 June 1917. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate. The death of two brothers, and also of a cousin - Lieutenant Thomas Brew was killed in action on 4 October 1917 - could explain why Henry Brew, from the comments he makes about his brother's death, sounds like a bitter man.
I'd like to make two comments about the diary entry before I finish, firstly it's interesting that a Field Ambulance diary names and describes the death of other ranks in this way, other units tend only to name officers. And secondly, as a Field Ambulance, the diary writer has given very specific details about the wounds Brew suffered. I had to look up 'avulsed'. It means a partial or complete tearing away of skin and tissue.
"'TISN'T LIFE THAT MATTERS
'TIS THE COURAGE
YOU BRING TO IT"
"'Tisn't life that matters! 'Tis the courage you bring to it" ... this from old Frosted Moses in the warm corner by the door." ... "A little boy, Peter Westcott, heard what old Frosted Moses had said, and turned it over in his mind."
FORTITUDE Hugh Walpole 1913
John Francis Ashley Hall's father chose his inscription, taking it from the opening words of Hugh Walpole's 1913 novel, Fortitude. The main character is Peter Westcott whose life is tested by one personal catastrophe after another, in the face of which he shows great personal fortitude.
Hall originally served with the East Yorkshire Regiment, being commissioned from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst in August 1916. However, at some point he transferred to the Royal Air Force where he served with 21 Squadron, a strategic reconnaissance and bombing squadron.
I don't know how Hall met his death on 14 August 1918 but he's buried beside a fellow member of 21 Squadron, Second Lieutenant Hugh William Savage, who also died on 14 August. This suggests to me that they were the observer and pilot of one of 21 Squadron's RE-8s. Savage's record says that he was killed in action rather than being accidentally killed. I would imagine that this was Hall's fate too.
HE WAS ONLY A BOY
Frank Westby was 20 when he died. We've become so used to the idea of boy soldiers being 17 and under that we've almost forgotten how young soldiers were at 20.
Frank Westby was born in 1898 in Long Eaton in Derbyshire. The War Graves Commission's records state: "Son of Mrs Jane Westby of Sheffield", yet in the 1901 census Frank Westby is described as the adopted son of John and Agnes Hibbs of Long Eaton. The Hibbs already had three children. Aged 14 in 1911, Frank Westby was a farm boy boarding with John and Elizabeth Middleton, also in Long Eaton. Aged 17 and 24 days on 9 October 1914, Westby enlisted in the 6th Battalion Sherwood Foresters.
Westby's medal card shows that he was not entitled to the 1914-15 Star so he didn't enter a theatre of war until 1916. Two years later he was in the front line at Noreuil on 21 March 1918 when the Germans launched their Spring Offensive. The 2nd/6th Battalion Sherwood Foresters took the full force of the German onslaught with resulting very heavy casualties: on 1 March 1918 their fighting strength had been 53 officers and 883 ORs; on 1 April 1918 it was 18 officers and 364 ORs.
Westby, along with both the regiment's Commanding Officer and Second in Command, was taken prisoner. Five months later he died whilst a prisoner of war. Some sources says he died of wounds but many prisoners died of overwork, malnutrition, harsh treatment or illness. Westby would have been buried at the time wherever in Germany he had been imprisoned, but after the war prisoners' bodies were gathered up from 180 different burial grounds and reinterred in four permanent cemeteries, of which the Cologne Southern Cemetery was one.
Mr Joseph Westby, a cutlery manufacturer of Goole Green Farm, Fulwood, Sheffield, chose Frank Westby's inscription - "He was only a boy". However. not only was Westby 'only a boy' but he was also one who appears to have had no real family. Joseph Westby was definitely not his father but he could have been his uncle.
HE SHALL MASTER & SURPRISE
THE STEED OF DEATH
FOR HE IS STRONG
During her lifetime the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning was more popular than her husband Robert Browning, but this hasn't been reflected in this headstone inscription project. Robert Browning is one of the most popular poets quoted whereas this is the first quotation from one of Elizabeth's poems that I've come across. It's a difficult poem too, and not a popular one. The poem is called A Drama of Exile. It recounts the events of Adam and Eve's first day in exile from the Garden of Eden, and their conversations with Gabriel, Lucifer, various angels, spirits, phantasms and Christ in a vision.
On the Day of Judgement, when the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised up, who will control Death, the pale horse of Revelation 6: 7-8? The second semichorus promise that, "A Tamer shall be found ... He shall master and surprise the steed of Death for He is strong ..." He, of course, will be Christ who will overcome death for, as it says in the bible, "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" [I Corinthians 15:22]. This is the meaning of Osmond's inscription: there is no death.
John Percival Osmand was born and brought up in South Molton Devon where his father was a domestic groom and coachman. He served in the 2nd/4th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment and died of wounds in Aire, a hospital centre behind the lines. The battalion had been in action that day in the Neppe Forest Sector where their casualties, particularly from gas, had been very heavy but it's not possible to say if this was the day Osmond was wounded.
MY TASK ACCOMPLISHED
AND THE LONG DAY DONE
Roy Harvey's inscription comes from WE Henley's poem, Margaritae Sorori, Sister Margaret, which he wrote after the death of his five-year-old daughter, Margaret, in 1894. The poem likens death to the end of a day:
... The sun,
Closing his benediction,
Sinks, and the darkening air
Thrills with a sense of the triumphing night -
Night with her train of stars
And her great gift of sleep.
So be my passing!
My task accomplished and the long day done,
My wages taken, and in my heart
Some late lark singing,
Let me be gathered to the quiet west,
The sundown splendid and serene,
It's a beautiful image which can bear no resemblance to Harvey's death except for the fact that it was the end of his day.
Harvey was a pupil at Hillhead High School in Glasgow and his war service is covered in their war memorial volume. According to their account:
"Three days after the sweeping British advance on the 8th August, in a gallant and successful attack by his battalion, the 5th/6th Royal Scots, he was struck by a bullet, and killed instantaneously."
This wasn't quite how the battalion's war diary saw it. The 5th/6th were certainly part of the attack on Parvillers that day but the attack failed, according to the diary writer:
"for the following reasons, (a) the tanks were half an hour late and were all put out of action before crossing our front line (b) barrage line 400 yds too far advanced and missed German front M.G. positions (c) wire almost impenetrable."
Initially prevented from joining the army, as the Hillhead volume put it: "by a physique which fell below the standard then required", it was October 1917 before he got to the front. Harvey must have been about 5' 2", the minimum height requirement varied between 5' 3" and 5' 6" during the early months of the war before settling on 5' 2" in February 1915. Although men as small as 4' 10" were accepted by the bantam battalions.
The school described Harvey as a reserved, thoughtful boy, noted for his thoroughness, accuracy and precision. For this reason they found it totally in keeping that on his body should have been found both a diary, written up to the previous day, and a Collins Gem dictionary.
"CURST GREED OF GOLD
WHAT CRIMES THY TYRANT POWER
Virgil didn't say this precisely; he used the word 'attest' rather than 'caused', not that it makes much difference. Virgil's point was that many crimes attest to, are evidence of, the power not of gold itself but of the greed for gold. The sentiment is similar to the biblical words from Timothy 6:10: "For the love of money is the root of all evil".
If that was Virgil's point, what was the point of W de V Summers, Victor's cousin, who chose the inscription? It sounds very much as though W de V was one of the many people who held the socialist view that the war was the result of imperialist tensions caused by world capitalism: "What was responsible for these wars was the whole world system of capitalism with its competitive struggle for profits and its collection of competing armed states".
It's strange that W de V Summers, the de V representing the family name de Vere, who lived in Berkeley, California should have been his cousin's next of kin but then Victor Lionel's parentage is something of a mystery. Aged four in 1891 he was living with his grandparents, and aged 14 in 1901 he was a pupil at St Saviour's College, Ardingly in Sussex. When he enlisted in Watrous, Saskatchewan on 28 October 1916 he named his grandmother, Elizabeth Summers, as his next of kin. She died in 1923 and perhaps this was before the War Graves Commission sent out the request for inscriptions.
Victor Summers served with the 28th Battalion Canadian Infantry and was killed on 9 August 1918 when the battalion was ordered up from the reserve to go to the assistance of the 31st Battalion in their attack on the village of Rosieres on the second day of the Amiens offensive..
HIS LAST WORDS
"I PRAY TO GOD
TO KEEP MUM AND DAD
HAPPY AND WELL" RIP
At 1 pm on 9th August 1918, the 6th Battalion the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment received orders that they were to attack at 5.30 pm that evening. The battalion war diary recorded:
"Attack completely successful after hand fighting. 12 machine guns captured 10 others destroyed, 4 Trench Howitzers & 1 granatenwerfer [grenade thrower] & about 40 prisoners taken. Attack penetrated about 2000 yards into enemy positions."
Two days later the war diary counted up the casualties the regiment had incurred between 12 noon on the 9th and 12 noon on the 11th August. They amounted to 165 including two officers and 24 other ranks killed. Fourteen members of the regiment are buried with Rivers in Ville-sur-Ancre Communal Cemetery Extension; Rivers is the only one to have died on the 11th. I don't like to think about it but, there was no Regimental Aid Post or Field Ambulance attached to this cemetery so Rivers would not have received any particular medical attention. However, he obviously knew he was dying and lived long enough to be able utter his last affecting words. I wonder who passed them on.
Frederick Rivers was the seventh of his parents' ten children. Father, Charles William Rivers, had served in the army between 1883 and 1894 - as a butcher in the Commissariat Transport Corps. In 1911 he was a labourer in the naval dockyards in Portsmouth. Two of Frederick's elder brothers served in the Royal Navy and one in the Royal Marine Artillery, all three survived the war.
WILL YE NO COME BACK AGAIN
This song has such strong associations with Scotland that I assumed William Logan was a Scotsman. But no, he was an Englishman, born and bred in the Home Counties. Nor was his father a Scotsman, having been born in Liverpool. But then I saw where his mother came from - Alvah in Banffshire - so that was the Scottish connection.
The song's best-known words commemorate 'Bonnie Prince Charlie', the Young Pretender, Prince Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788), following the 1745 Rebellion. It's possible however that the tune belonged to a traditional Scottish song of farewell long before Carolina Oliphant (Lady Nairne 1766-1845) added the Bonnie Prince Charlie dimension. The words come from the chorus:
Will ye no come back again?
Will ye no come back again?
Better lo'ed ye canna be,
Will ye no come back again.
William, the son of a nurseryman in Enfield, Middlesex, served with the 1st Battalion The Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment. In August 1918 the regiment were in Flanders and whatever was happening in France, where the British had just launched the Battle of Amiens, it was business as usual in Flanders. The regiment were based near Erie Farm where the war diary reported that on the 6th they were "Called upon to furnish a party to proceed to La Lovie Chateau & line the avenue to cheer H.M. the King as he passed along ... The party got very wet". There were no casualties on the 7th, nor on the 8th but on the 9th it reported "hostile artillery active on front left during night 3 ORs killed". The 10th was another quiet day. Was Logan one of the three ORs killed on the night of the 9th. It looks like it.
"HE NOBLY LIVED OR OTHERWISE;
FAILED OR SUCCEEDED"
FRIEND JUST SAY "HE TRIED"
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
O.E. (Somewhere in France.)
The above verse was published in the Eton Chronicle on 11 May 1916 just four days before its author, Captain Henry Platt Coldstream Guards, was killed in Flanders whilst out on a wiring party. Mrs Platt quoted from it for her husband's inscription just as Mrs Pooley did for hers. But I wonder how Mrs Pooley came across it as it seems that Eton played no part in the lives of the Pooleys and I can't see that the lines were published anywhere else.
In 1891 at the age of 18, Pooley was a private in the 5th Dragoon Guards stationed at Aldershot. Twenty-three years later he was the Regimental Serjeant Major and the 5th Dragoons were back in Aldershot. From here they were immediately mobilised for war and crossed to France ten days later, 15 August. Within six weeks Pooley had been commissioned Second Lieutenant "for services in the field". The following January he was awarded one of the very first Military Crosses for "meritorious service", was promoted Lieutenant and appointed Adjutant in May 1915 and by February 1918 was an Acting Staff Captain attached to the 2nd Cavalry Brigade Headquarters.
On 8 August 1918 the Brigade took part in the opening day of the Battle of Amiens. The war diary gives an almost hour by hour, sometimes a minute by minute account of events between the 8th and the 10th, reporting that at 2.55 pm on the 9th:
"The valley from Caix to the station was being heavily shelled by 5.9s. One of these landed in the midst of Bde. H.Q. killing Capt. Pooley MC (Staff Capt.) Lieut. H. Fry (Signalling Officer), Lieut. G. Hulbert 18th Hrs (Galloper tot he G.O.C.) and two O.R.s and wounding Major Walter(O.C. 2nd M.G.S.) and Lieut. Frere 2nd M.G.S. besides causing about 10 casualties to the horses."
Charles Pooley sounds like a valuable man to have around, an excellent soldier from the very beginning of the war to just within sight of victory. I like to think that his inscription suited him - don't say fancy things about me, just say I tried.
HE TOOK MY PLACE
No other hope, no other plea;
He took my place, and died for me;
O precious Lamb of Calvary!
He took my place, and died for me.
This is the chorus of a hymn by Eliza Edmunds Hewitt (1851-1920) an American hymn writer. The 'he' who 'took my place' is Christ who died on the cross to save mankind.
I have to say that when I first saw this inscription I assumed that 'Father' was saying that it should have been him that died, not his son. It should have been him who went to war and got killed. The background fitted, father, Colonel George Thairs, the bursar of Ridley College, Ontario, had founded the embryo OTC, the Ridley Volunteer Cadet Corps, in his very first term there in 1889. And, when the Cadet Corps came into being in 1907, Thairs continued as the Contingent Commander, fostering in the pupils a martial spirit and a respect for drill.
His son, Edward Thairs, had been a pupil at the school. In 1916 he was working as a bank clerk when he joined the newly formed 176th Infantry Battalion, the Niagara Rangers, on 7 October 1916. The regiment was based in Thairs' home town, St Catharines, Ontario. The battalion left for Britain on 24 April 1917 where it became absorbed into the 12th Reserve Battalion, which provided reinforcements wherever they were needed. At the time of his death Thairs was serving with the 3rd Battalion Canadian Infantry, which took part in the capture of the town of Demuin on 8 August 1918, the day Thairs was killed.
Despite the fact that I can see that "He took my place" is a quote from a hymn, I don't discount the fact that Colonel George Thairs did actually feel that it should have been him that died rather than his son. After all, why wouldn't he?
"IF ONLY" FROM MUM
This could be the lament for the whole war, the lament of everyone. If only there'd been no war, if only it had been over before my son reached the age of military service, if only his regiment hadn't been in the front line, if only he hadn't been killed, if only ...
Richard Burr was the third of Herbert and Emily Burr's six children. Herbert was a milkman and the family lived at 6 Browns Road, Walthamstow E17 in a house that the 1911 census says had 5 rooms for the eight of them. Floor plans on RightMove show that there would have been two bedrooms, a kitchen and two reception rooms in the house.
Burr's medal card gives no hint as to when he first entered a theatre of war but as he would have been conscripted when he became 18 in October 1916, he would have been old enough to go to the front in October 1917. He was killed on 8 August 1918, the first of the Battle of Amiens. But Burr's regiment, the 1/4th London Regiment Royal Fusiliers, were not involved in the attack. The regimental diary brackets the days 4th-8th August 1918 with the words:
"Battalion in front line trenches. The period passed unusually quietly, there being very little artillery activity by the enemy. Our patrols were very active during the hours of darkness. Defences were strengthened and trenches improved."
So what happened to Private Richard Burr? Who knows, but ... "if only".
HE GAVE HIS LIFE
THAT WE SHOULD LIVE
Albert Wellington Jarman was born in Leicester and died in Leicester thirty years later. In the intervening years he had gone to Canada to live and work, returned to Europe to fight, and come back to Leicester to die. He is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's section of Leicester's Walford Road Cemetery, which is less than a mile from his father's home in Havelock Road.
Albert's parents were William and Priscilla Jarman. William Jarman was a shoe maker - as was much of the population of Leicester. Priscilla died and in 1896 William remarried. Eleven-year-old Albert was still living at home with his father and step-mother in 1901, but by 1911 he had gone to Canada. He settled in Londesborough, a small community in Ontario, from where he enlisted in February 1916, describing himself as a farmer.
Jarman joined the 161st Huron Battalion, part of the Western Ontario Regiment. On the night of the 9 October 1916 the 777 Huron County men of the 161st Battalion dined, drank and danced at the Bedford Hotel and the Oddfellows Hall in Goderich before marching to the station the next day and embarking for Europe - 551 of them would not return.
Jarman died on 1 April 1919, almost five months after the end of the war. His death is described in the cemetery register as 'following wounds'. Unfortunately that is all I have been able to discover about his death. There is no indication as to where or when he was wounded, nor the nature of the wounds. However, for general purposes the war was deemed to have ended on 31 August 1921. This meant that those who died of wounds incurred during their military service before that date are counted as having died during the First World War.
I don't imagine that Jarman died at home. Leicester was the location of the 5th Northern General Hospital, which had more than 2,600 beds and occupied several buildings in Leicester and North Evington. It admitted more than 95,000 casualties during its existence, of which 514 had died. Some of these will be among the 344 casualties buried in the Walford Road Cemetery; perhaps one of them was Alfred Jarman.
Alfred's father chose his inscription - 'He gave his life that we should live'. This is very close to the opening line of a poem by someone who was probably the most popular poet of the First World War, and is probably someone you have never heard of - John Oxenham, the pseudonym for William Arthur Dunkerley (1852-1941).
They died that we might live,
Hail and Farewell!
- All honour give
To those who nobly striving nobly fell,
That we might live!
The poem is a strange combination of the Roman poet Catullus's lovely tribute to his brother's grave, Ave Atque Vale, and the Christian concept of sacrifice. Christ's sacrifice for mankind was equated in many people's minds with the sacrifice the hundreds of thousands of young men made who died for the safety and security of the British Empire. According to the narrative, they 'gave' their lives so that people might be able to live - to live free from the threat of German militarism.
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".
WENT OUT NOT KNOWING
WHITHER HE WENT
There's a scene in Hislop and Newman's Wipers Times where General Mitford informs Captain Roberts that Madame Fifi, owner of the local brothel, has just been executed by the British as a German spy. General Mitford hopes that Roberts never imparted any military secrets about the war to her. Roberts replies that he couldn't, he doesn't know any secrets, he just sits in his trench and has no idea what's going on.
I wondered whether this was the implication behind Corporal McNeill's inscription, a covert criticism of the fact that so many soldiers went blindly to their deaths not knowing what was going on. However, I wasn't sure that McNeill's father would have used the old-fashioned word 'whither', so I looked the sentence up and discovered that it comes from Hebrews Chapter 11 verse 8:
"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went."
Abraham put his trust in God, he had faith in Him, he obeyed His instructions just as Noah had done, and Moses, and numerous other characters from the Old Testament. None of these people knew what God had in store for them but their faith had brought them to a "better country, that is an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God for he hath prepared for them a city".
This is therefore not an unusual inscription for a God-fearing Scot to choose, but I'm still not one hundred per cent convinced that there's no hint of criticism in it. Many people did use the words of the bible and the prayer book to make covert criticisms of the war. For example, Lieutenant Robert Carpenter's inscription: An only son / "To what purpose is this waste?" / S. Matt. 26.8.
John McNeill was born in Gargunnock, Stirlingshire, where his father was the gardener to the Stirling family of Gargunnock House for forty years. McNeill was a bank apprentice when he joined up in February 1916 at the age of 18. He served with the 11th Battalion Royal Scots and was killed in action on 12 October 1917, the opening day of the Battle of Passchendaele.
IN LIFE I FEAR FOR MYSELF
I FEAR FOR MY MOTHER
Thomas Hanson's mother wanted to demonstrate her son's consideration towards her in the inscription she chose for his headstone. Presumably he had expressed these fears to her, fearing how she would cope with his death.
Hanson, a sheep overseer whose family emigrated to Australia sometime after the 1901 census, enlisted in October 1916. He reached Britain in July 1917, embarked for France in September and was killed in October.
On 22 March 1918, Driver FJ Brophy told the Red Cross Enquiry Bureau:
"I did not see the casualty, but I saw his dead body soon after it happened. He was unloading a waggon just in front of Zillebeke, when he was caught by a piece of shell, which entered his back and went through his heart, death was instantaneous. I knew him very well, he was the only man of this name in the battery."
Gunner AS Miller reported on 8 March 1918:
"I saw him killed at the Half-way House, near Ypres. He was caught by pieces of shell which hit him about the chest, death being instantaneous. He had not been with the battery very long, as he was a new reinforcement."
And how did Thomas Hanson's mother cope with his death? In May 1920 she sailed to England from where she went to France to visit his grave, something very few Australian mothers would have been able to afford to do.
It's strange how you can build up a picture of a person - and be wrong. I had Mrs Hanson down as a poor widow and Thomas as her only son. Thomas was her only son but Mrs Hanson was a remarried divorcee. The information comes from a reply to a letter the army authorities had written asking for clarification about Thomas Hanson's father. Her new husband replied:
"I have to inform you that the father of the late soldier is still alive, as far as I know, but am absolutely ignorant of his address. I also have to inform you that Mrs Hanson divorced her husband some years ago and has been married to me since then."
Mr FW Gregory 24 May 1920
IT ALL LOOKS NOW
What a strange inscription. I wonder what Private Milner's wife had in mind when she chose it. I can only imagine that it was her reaction to a photograph of her husband's grave, probably still with its original wooden grave marker since by the time the permanent headstones were erected she would have chosen her inscription. Gaza was far away and received very few visitors, even the St Barnabas Society didn't organise battlefield pilgrimages there, apparently there was no demand. However, the Graves Registration Unit and the War Graves Commission tried to send a photograph of a grave to the next of kin if they requested it, and since the Commission's aim was to make their cemeteries look peaceful, well-cared for places, unlike the surrounding battlefields, Mrs Milner's comment would not be surprising.
Before the war William Foster Milner had been a civil servant working in the Inland Revenue. His medal card shows that he was not entitled to the 1914-15 Star so he was not a volunteer, or not one who entered a theatre of war before 1916. But the records do show that he had served with the Kings Royal Rifle Corps before being transferred to the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
Milner was killed on 7 November 1917 the day the ruined and deserted city of Gaza eventually fell to the Allies at their third attempt.
I can't tell how long William and Alice (Olga) Milner had been married but, as his wife, Alice was entitled to choose her husband's inscription. I wonder what his parents might have wanted to say - William was their only child.
Je t'aime - I love you. I've seen declarations of affection on headstones before but I've never seen such a plain declaration of love. And the fact that it is in French means that Mrs Clough, assuming few English speakers would ever visit Tyne Cot Cemetery, decided to write it in the language of the country where her husband was buried. Not of course that Tyne Cot Cemetery is in France, but it's close, 16 kilometres away, and everyone would have known what she meant anyway, just as we do.
Serjeant Clough was a Yorkshireman, and from what I can tell so was his wife, Mabel. He served with the 9th Battalion London Regiment (Queen Victoria's Rifles), a territorial battalion, and is commemorated on the Hendon, Middlesex war memorial, so must have been living in London when the war broke out. His army number indicates that he was a September 1914 volunteer but his medal card says that his period of service in a theatre of war - France and Flanders - only spanned 21 March to 16 August 1917.
Clough was one of the many casualties the 9th London Regiment suffered on 16 August when the Fifth Army's offensive operations in the Ypres Sector were resumed. The battalion war diary describes how:
"In spite of big progress at the outset under cover of a terrific creeping barrage, the 169th Infantry Bde was compelled to withdraw to the original front line at dusk. The casualties in the Bn were severe."
After the war, when the battlefields were cleared, Clough's body was found at map reference J7G80x40 in June 1920. George William Clough is also commemorated on the Moor Allerton memorial in Leeds, Yorkshire
MY COUNTRY CALLED ME
AND I WENT
There are only two First World War servicemen buried in Laillang Communal Cemetery and the record states that they are both buried in the same grave. I have come to recognise what this means - they were airmen whose plane crashed and burnt with them inside, making their bodies indistinguishable from each other.
At 08.05 on the morning of 18 August 1917, Second Lieutenant Louis Harel and his observer Captain William Walker, serving with 11 Squadron and flying a Bristol F2b A7191, were shot down by Lieutenant Viktor Schobinger, a victory that gave Schobinger his 3rd 'kill'.
William Hope Walker had been born in Earlston, Berewickshire in 1892. At some point after 1901 his parents emigrated to Canada. Walker enlisted on 14 July 1915 and originally served with the Canadian Infantry before transferring to the Royal Flying Corps.
His mother, Helen J. Sinclair, formerly Walker, chose his inscription. It comes from a very obscure prayer (piece of verse) so obscure that it only appears twice on the Internet, both times in an Australian newspaper in December 1915. It must however have been better known for Mrs Sinclair, living in Canada, to have known of it. I feel that like many emigrants both she and her son must have felt the pull of the mother country following the outbreak of war.
God, who art love, be kind, be kind to all
Thy children, who must hear the sudden call;
Hot from their haste, their hate, their lust, their din,
Must open wide Thy door and enter in.
Cleanse from their feet the stains of dust and wear;
Take from their hearts what is not pure and fair;
For they, Thy children, they have trusted Thee
In death to save. This is their only plea -
"She called, my country called me, and I went" -
With this much, God of love, be Thou content.
PRAYER FOR THOSE KILLED IN BATTLE
Edith A. Talbot, in the 'Christian Guardian'
It may be fairly appalling verse but can you see what Edith Talbot was saying to God? Forgive these young men who are coming straight into your presence from hating and killing people, their justification for their behaviour being, "She called, my country called me, and I went".
GONE FOR EVER
This is a fairly bleak inscription - no, let's be frank - this is a very bleak inscription. There is no comforting mention of meeting again, no reference to everlasting life, no honour, no glory, no pride, just the hard fact - gone for ever. George Farley's grandmother chose it; she was his next of kin. Was she being phlegmatic? I don't think so; it sounds bitter and angry to me.
I can see that in the 1901 census George Farley lived with both his parents and his grandparents in Caister-by-the Sea, Norfolk. In 1911 he still lived there but only with his grandparents, Walter and Elizabeth George. I can't find any trace of his parents.
Farley served with A Battery 276th Brigade Royal Field Artillery. He is buried in a Field Ambulance cemetery in Vlamertinge, 4 kilometres to the west of Ypres.
THE MORNING STARS TOGETHER
AND ALL THINGS ARE AT REST
The Internet kept trying to persuade me that these words came from the Book of Job Chapter 38 verse 7. But this is what Job says:
"When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy".
It's close but it's not exact. Nor is this:
"Where sing the Morning-stars in joy together,
And all things are at home."
But nevertheless I think that this is the source of the inscription and if so it's rather interesting. The lines are close to those in The Open Secret, a poem written by Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) and published in 1905 in the fourth part of his book Towards Democracy. Carpenter was an extraordinary man: a radical free thinker and socialist writer, a vegetarian and a teetotaller, and a defender, even a proponent of, homosexuality, who lived openly - if remotely - with his homosexual lover for many years at a time when it was illegal to do so. The Open Secret promotes his other great passion, the simplification of life, living in the open:
Sweet secret of the open air -
That waits so long, and always there, unheeded.
Something uncaught, so free, so calm large confident -
The floating breeze, the far hills and broad sky,
And every little bird and tiny fly or flower
At home in the great whole, nor feeling lost at all or forsaken,
To Carpenter it is only man who hides himself away behind walls:
He, Cain-like from the calm eyes of the Angels,
In houses hiding, in huge gas-lighted offices and dens, in ponderous churches,
Beset with darkness cowers;
While man surrounds himself with 'ramparts of stone and gold',
... still the great world waits by the door as ever,
The great world stretching endlessly on every hand,
In deep on deep of fathomless content -
Where sing the morning-stars together,
And all things are at home.
Norman Boyd's father chose his inscription, changing the last word from 'home' to 'rest'. His son now rests in the wide open world, in eternity.
Norman Boyd was born and brought up in Burley-in-Wharfdale in Yorkshire where his father was an insurance agent. In 1898 he emigrated to Canada, from where he enlisted in February 1916. He served with the 2nd Canadian Infantry the Eastern Ontario Regiment. On 6 October 1917 the regiment went into the trenches at Lievin where working parties undertook repairs to the trench system and where they were periodically shelled and bombed. The war diary makes no mention of casualties. Boyd is buried at a Field Ambulance burial ground a few kilometres from Lievin.
THE DAUNTLESS HEART
THAT FEAR'D NO HUMAN PRIDE
O ye whose cheek the tear of pity stains,
Draw near with pious rev'rence, and attend!
Here lie the loving husband's dear remains,
The tender father, and the gen'rous friend;
The pitying heart that felt for human woe,
The dauntless heart that feared no human pride;
The friend of man - to vice alone a foe;
For "ev'n his failings lean'd to virtue's side".
ON MY EVER HONOURED FATHER
Robert Burns 1784
Burns composed this beautiful epitaph for his father's headstone in Alloway Kirkyard in Ayr, Scotland. Dr George Oldershaw quoted from it for his son's personal inscription in Coxyde Military Cemetery, Belgium.
Like his father, Leslie Oldershaw was a doctor, as was his older brother, George Francis Oldershaw. Leslie Oldershaw, who had qualified as a doctor by the age of 21, took a commission in May 1915 in the Royal Army Medical Corps and served for six months in the 1st Western General Hospital in Liverpool before being posted to Gallipoli in November 1915. After the evacuation he served in Egypt and then returned to Europe in the spring of 1917. Whilst home on leave in April 1917 he married Ruby Gorman whose sister, Elsie, was married to George Oldershaw Jnr. Six months later he was killed by a piece of shrapnel that struck his head. A fellow officer related to his parents how:
"He and I were walking down the road from the trenches in Nieuport, and when we had gone about a mile the accident occurred. All I remember is a flash, and then I was lying in the road and Leslie was lying by me. He never moved or spoke, and I think was killed instantaneously ... I have since been told that it was an aeroplane bomb that dropped close to us that did it."
Six days later Ruby and Elsie's brother, Howard Gannon, was killed in Salonika. Ruby served as a VAD in Western Europe from August 1918 to January 1919. In 1927 she married William Penman, a fifty-year-old widower. He died three years later. She died in 1969.
"SCATTER THOU THE PEOPLE
THAT DELIGHT IN WAR"
PSALM 68.30 VERSE
I wonder which people Mrs AM Blackwood had in mind when she chose this inscription for her son? Was it warmongers in general or did she have some specific people in mind? I have a feeling that it was the latter. The reading of the psalm implies that God's people are people of peace and that it is only necessary for the people of war to be crushed for there to be no more war. This was the reasoning behind the claim that the 1914-18 war was the war to end all war. In other words, it was only necessary for German militarism to be utterly crushed for there to be no more war. For this reason I believe that to Mrs Blackwood the people who delighted in war, the people who needed to be scattered, were the Germans - the people of peace of course being the people of the British Empire!
Leonard Blackwood had been a boot clicker before the war, the person who cut the uppers from the leather skins. He enlisted on 26 January 1916, embarked from Australia in April and left Britain for France that August. Blackwood was wounded in the Australian attack at Broodseinde Ridge on 4 October 1917. According to the records of No. 2 Casualty Clearing Station, Lijssenthoek he had a fractured skull and gun-shot wounds to his face. He died of his wounds three days later.
GIVE UNTO ME ...
THE SPIRIT OF SELF-SACRIFICE
What is self-sacrifice? It's giving up one's own interests, happiness and hopes for the sake of duty. This inscription is a salutary reminder that the men who fought in the First World War weren't naive enthusiasts for war but were doing their duty - and some men had to submit themselves to it. At the distance of a hundred years many people today can comfortably assume that those who fought were in some way different from themselves, they wanted to go, they wanted to fight, they were happy to give up their current lives, they were even happy to give up their lives. But this inscription shows the firmness with which some men had to speak to themselves in order to do their duty.
The lines come from Wordsworth's Ode to Duty. The poet claims that there are some people who just naturally do their duty - "Who do thy [duty's] work, and know it not". And then there are other's, like him, who "deferred the task, in smoother walks to stray". But now, recognising the peace that comes from knowing that you are doing your duty, he asks:
Unto thy guidance from this hour;
Oh, let my weakness have an end!
Give unto me, made lowly wise,
The spirit of self-sacrifice;
Edmund Cullingford was a volunteer. He served with the 9th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, which was raised in York in September 1914. According to his medal card, he went with the Battalion to Egypt in December 1915. In July 1916, it returned to Europe and on 9 October 1917 it took part in the attack at Poelcappelle.
The British barrage was terrific, it moved at a rate of 100 yards in four minutes with the soldiers advancing behind it over ground that had been churned into an endless mass of shell holes and mud so as to be almost impassable. However, despite the fierce barrage the German gun emplacements remained virtually impervious and the British troops were met by murderous machine gun fire from these 'pill-boxes', which relentlessly thinned their ranks. At the end of the day the 9th West Yorkshires had lost 12 officers and 203 other ranks killed, wounded and missing. Cullingford was one of the missing, his body located at map reference V.20.a.3.8 in September 1919 and identified by his disc. Think of what he faced and think again about the inscription his father chose for him, "Give unto me ... the spirit of self-sacrifice".
THOUGH LOST TO SIGHT
TO MEMORY DEAR
Until I did the research for yesterday's inscription, it would never have occurred to me that this was a quotation. 'Though lost to sight to memory dear' is so popular on both civilian and military headstones, and it appears so regularly on In Memoriam cards and the In Memoriam columns of newspapers that I had just assumed it was something that you said, no author required. But this appears not to be the case. The words are in fact the first line of a song written by George Linley (1798-1865) who wrote it originally for Augustus Braham (1819-1889). This is the first of its seven verses:
Tho' lost to sight, to memory dear
Thou ever wilt remain;
One only hope my heart can cheer -
The hope to meet again.
Some have argued that Linley didn't compose the first line he just quoted from what was already a popular headstone inscription. It is possible that this was the case. Certainly there's another poem, strictly speaking I suppose it's verse rather than poetry, where it's the final line of both of the two verses - the authorship is disputed but it postdates Linley. This is the second verse.
Sweetheart, good bye! One last embrace!
O cruel fate, two souls to sever!
Yet in the heart's most sacred place
Thou alone shall dwell for ever.
And still shall recollection trace,
In fancy's mirror ever near.
Each smile, each tear, that form, that face,
Though lost to sight to memory dear.
However, I am perfectly prepared to admit that the many hundreds of people who chose this inscription, and it is one of the most popular, had no idea that they were quoting either Linley or anyone else. To them it was just a conventionally popular headstone inscription.
In this instance it belongs to Gunner Robert Samuel Barber, who before the war had been helping his father on his dairy farm in Yandina, Queensland, Australia. Barber enlisted on 23 September 1915, embarked from Australia on 11 May 1916, arrived in Britain on 10 July and embarked for France on 24 November. He was killed by a shell on 3 October 1917.
A witness (Sergeant H. Canfield 18849) who described Barber as "about 5 feet 6 inches high, nuggety build, clean shaven, fair complexion, aged about 25", told the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing File what happened:
"Informant states that they both belonged to the 25th Battery, 7th Field Artillery Brigade, Barber being a lumber gunner and under Informant's charge. On or about 3.10.17 the Battery was in front of Ypres in action, firing at different targets. Barber was working with him and left him to go over to his gun, No. 1, and went into a little dugout that he was building alongside the gun. He had only been there about a minute when a stray shell came over and killed him instantly. Informant was only a few yards away at the time and saw his body. He was buried not far from the Battery and informant made a cross for his grave."
The cross survived and after the war it was found with Barber's body at map reference I. 6. b. 8. 1. just as Sergeant H. Canfield had made it, inscribed with the words:
In memory of
No. 18641 Gunner Barber R.S.
C of E
Killed in action 3-10-1917
EVER OF THEE
AM I FONDLY DREAMING
Harry Small's inscription, chosen by his wife Ethel, comes from an old love song composed in 1858 by Foley Hall with lyrics by George Linley. This is the first of its two verses:
Ever of thee I'm fondly dreaming,
Thy gentle voice my spirit can cheer;
Thou wert the star that mildly beaming,
Shone o'er my path when all was dark and drear.
Still in my heart thy form I cherish,
Ev'ry kind thought like a bird flies to thee;
Ah! never till life and mem'ry perish,
Can I forget how dear thou art to me;
Morn, noon and night where'e'er I may be.
Fondly I'm dreaming ever of thee,
Fondly I'm dreaming ever of thee!
Although more than 50 years old at the time of the First World War, the song's popularity was revived in 1915 when Edison recorded it as a duet beautifully sung by Elizabeth Spencer and Thomas Chalmers, which you can listen to here.
At the time of the 1911 census, Harry Small was an assistant at Affleck and Brown a large drapery store, later a department store, in Manchester. He lived in Ardwick Hall Residence for Shop Assistants where he was one of its 156 residents. I am assuming that he was a territorial soldier as he served with the 1st/4th a territorial battalion of the Royal Scots. He went with them to Gallipoli in June 1915. After the evacuation the 4th Royal Scots served in the Suez Canal region before going to Palestine. Small was killed during the Third Battle of Gaza.
I have found no trace of his wife Ethel, who chose such a loving inscription for her husband.
Ever of thee when sad and lonely,
Wand'ring afar my soul joy'd to dwell;
Ah! then I felt I lov'd thee only;
All seem'd to fade before affection's spell.
Years have not chill'd the love I cherish;
True as the stars, hath my heart been to thee;
Ah! never till life and mem'ry perish,
Can I forget how dear thou art to me;
Morn, noon and night where'e'er I may be.
Fondly I'm dreaming ever of thee,
Fondly I'm dreaming ever of thee!
MASTER, CAREST THOU NOT
PEACE, BE STILL
"And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm."
MARK Chapter 4 37-9
"Master, carest thou not that we perish"? This is the question the disciples woke Christ to ask when they were caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Mrs Ellen Richardson, Corporal Richardson's mother, must have wondered whether Christ was 'sleeping' when so many hundreds of thousands of people died during the war - did neither he nor God care? Mrs Richardson will have chosen her inscription well after her son's death, and well after the end of the war. Is "peace be still" a plea for a lasting peace, one that Christ will oversee?
In 1911 Mrs Richardson was a widow working as a charlady. George, her fifteen-year-old son, one of her six children, worked in a shoe factory in Olney, Buckinghamshire where most of the population were involved in the shoe trade.
George served with the 5th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment and went with it to Gallipoli, disembarking on 10 August 1915. His service with the 5th indicates that he had been a territorial soldier before the war. Evacuated with the rest of the British forces in January 1916, the 5th Bedfordshires served in the Suez Canal region until March 1917 when they went to Palestine. Here it took part in all three battles of Gaza. Richardson was killed in the Third.
READY IN HEART READY IN HAND
TO MARCH TO DEATH
FOR HIS NATIVE LAND
Frederick Golding's eldest sister created a rhyming couplet from some lines in Tennyson's poem 'Maud'. In the poem the narrator hears Maud singing in a meadow:
"A passionate ballad, gallant and gay
A martial song like a trumpet's call
Singing of men that in battle array
Ready in heart and ready in hand
March with banner and bugle and fife
To the death, for their native land.
Maud was written in 1855 at the time of the Crimean War (1853-56) when Tennyson could write that Maud was "Singing of death, and of Honour that cannot die". Tennyson, the most popular of the nineteenth century poets, seems from the evidence of this project to be the most popular of the poets quoted in personal inscriptions too. You can see how deep the association of war and honour and death must have run in British society, contributing to a culture that associated the concept of fighting and dying for your country with a noble death.
Frederick Thomas Golding was the son of a wheelwright in Chelmsford, Essex. In 1911 Golding was working in an ironmongery warehouse. Four years later he entered a theatre of war on 12 August 1915. He was killed in the 3rd Battle of Gaza whilst serving with the 1st/4th Battalion Essex Regiment.
ONE OF THAT INCOMPARABLE
THE BRITISH SUBALTERN
The dictionary definition of a subaltern is a junior army officer below the rank of captain. In other words a First or Second Lieutenant. However, in the context of the First World War that does not capture the full meaning of the word.
In his book, 'Six Weeks - the Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War', John Lewis-Stempel admitted how much he had come to admire these young subalterns during the time he spent researching his book and quoted one former soldier, Private AM Burrage, who wrote, "I who was a private, and a bad one at that, freely own that it was the British subaltern who won the war" [War is War by Ex-Pte X Gollanz 1930]. So who were these subalterns and how did they 'win' the war?
In the early days of the war many young officers were volunteers or territorial soldiers, in other words not professional soldiers, and almost all of them had been to public or grammar schools. RC Sherriff, author of Journey's end, claimed that early in the war you had to have been to a public school in order to qualify for a commission, saying that he himself was turned down because he had been to a grammar school. But I have heard Gary Sheffield say that it wasn't the fact of the public school that mattered but whether or not your school had had an OTC of which you had been a member that counted. Public schools were much more likely to have had an OTC pre-1914 than many grammar schools.
But to Sherriff:
"these young men never turned into officers of the old traditional type. By hard experience they became leaders is a totally different way and, through their patience and courage and endurance, carried the Army to victory after the generals had brought it within a hairsbreadth of defeat". [The English Public Schools in the War, RC Sherriff in Promise of Greatness ed. George A Panichas, Cassell 1968].
Later in the same article Sherriff wrote:
"Without raising the public school boy officers onto a pedestal it can be said with certainty that it was they who played the vital part in keeping the men good-humoured and obedient in the face of their interminable ill treatment and well-nigh insufferable ordeals".
Unlike junior officers in the German army, British subalterns lived with their men in the trenches, cared for them, shared their hardships, led them into battle and died with them. As EA Mackintosh says in his extremely powerful poem, In Memoriam, inspired by the letter of condolence he was writing to the father of one of his soldiers killed in the recent fighting, :"You were only David's father but I had fifty sons". Aware of the responsibility he had for them, Mackintosh writes:
Oh, never will I forget you,
My men that trusted me,
More my sons than your fathers'
For they could only see
The little helpless babies
And the young men in their pride
They could not see you dying
And hold you while you died.
Happy and young and gallant,
They saw their first-born go,
But not the strong limbs broken
And the beautiful men brought low,
The piteous writhing bodies,
They screamed "Don't leave me sir",
For they were only your fathers
But I was your officer.
"My men that trusted me" - there's a lovely letter quoted in Laurence Housman's War Letters of Fallen Englishmen from Lieutenant HM Butterworth, which illustrates this trust beautifully:
"... no digging or wiring party party ever goes out without an officer, that is the way to get the men along. If one takes out a party of men somewhere they don't know - in the open probably - to dig, they'll go like lambs as long as they've got an officer with them. The curious thing is that in civilian life they've probably cursed us as plutocrats, out here they fairly look to us. The other night some time ago, I had some men and had to get somewhere I'd never been before in --; as a matter of fact it wasn't difficult and we had ample directions so before we started I was told to send the men with a sergeant. Said the sergeant to me, 'I wish you were coming sir, I don't know the way.' I said, 'My dear man, nor do I.'To which he made this astounding reply, 'Very likely not, sir, but the men will think you do and they know I don't'."
In a deferential age the soldiers expected their officers to come from a higher social class. But as Sherriff concluded, this didn't mean they were toffs:
"It had nothing to do with wealth or privilege. Very few of the public school boys came from the landed gentry or distinguished families. For the most part they came from modest homes, the sons of local lawyers, doctors and schoolmasters - hardworking professional men."
This was just the class that William Steele Young came from. His father, Archibald Young, was a cutter and surgical instrument maker. William and his elder brother, Archibald, were educated at George Watson College a fee-paying day school in Edinburgh. Archibald, a territorial soldier serving with the Royal Scots, was mobilised on the outbreak of war. William, studying engineering at Edinburgh University and a member of the University OTC, volunteered and was gazetted second lieutenant on 1 September 1914. Archibald was killed in action in Gallipoli at Saghir Dere on or about 28 June 1915. He is commemorated on the Helles Memorial. William, who also served in Gallipoli and then Egypt and Palestine, was killed in action on 2 November 1917 during the Third Battle of Gaza.
Arthur Young was proud of both his sons, proud that they had both been members of that "incomparable brotherhood the British subaltern".
"SO HERE SHALL SILENCE
GUARD THY FAME"
TENNYSON'S IN MEMORIAM
According to the War Graves Commission, 'Iringa is on the top of a mountain, 505 kilometres west of Dar-Es-Salaam' in what is now Tanzania. It's a long way from England and all things English. The cemetery holds 131 graves from the Empire forces. Many of them belonging to Africaaners, Dutch Boers, with inscriptions like 'Ono dink aan jou', which I have an idea means I think of you, probably the equivalent of 'not forgotten'. And many of them belong to British South Africans born and brought up in the country. But some of them belong to men who were born and brought up in Britain as Sergeant JM Evan's makes plain: '1, Alban Square, Aberayron, S. Wales'.
A Mrs VH Flemming chose Barrett's inscription, perhaps his married eldest sister whose Christian names were Violet Helen. She quotes a line from Tennyson's In Memoriam, giving the reference as if to make sure that anyone reading it in that faraway place would know where it came from:
So here shall silence guard thy fame;
But somewhere, out of human view,
Whate'er thy hands are set to do
Is wrought with tumult of acclaim.
Hugh Treherne Barrett was born in Cheshire in 1883. His father, a commercial traveller, was dead by the time of the 1891 census. The next time Hugh Barrett appears in the record it's in the London Gazette of 9 June 1916 with the announcement that as from 23 March 1916 he has been granted the temporary rank of lieutenant in the Nyasaland Field Force. This newly formed force was made up of soldiers from various South African and Rhodesian military and police forces. Barrett's medal card shows that he joined a theatre of war on 5 September 1914 indicating that he had been in some form of military service before the formation of the Nyasaland Field Force in which he served as Chief Intelligence Officer.
Barrett's next appearance in the record is again in the London Gazette. The 26 April 1917 edition records the award of a Military Cross for an action on 27 October 1916 during fighting near the border of German South West Africa:
"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He reconnoitred the enemy's position, and subsequently guided a column three miles by night, enabling them the deploy unobserved between picquets of the enemy to within 250 yards of the position"
The three miles was over swampland that the Germans had thought impassable but through which Barrett found a way.
Barrett died on 6 November 1917. His body was originally buried in Mahenge but after the war the graves from here were concentrated in Iringa.
ALSO IN MEMORY
OF 23202 L/CPL R GARDNER
AND 30264 PTE A.V. GARDNER
KILLED IN ACTION
I said in yesterday's inscription that 'Also' was a very ominous way to begin an inscription because it always meant that another brother had been killed. Today's remembers two brothers killed in addition to the one on whose headstone they are remembered.
I don't know how James Gardner died but his two brothers were both killed in action: his elder brother, Alfred, serving with the 2nd/4th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, at Passchendaele on 10 October 1917, and his younger brother, Reginald, of the 8th Battalion King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, in the Battle of Arras on 9 April 1917. Neither brother has a grave. Alfred is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial and Reginald on the Arras Memorial. I like the way the parents have included the brothers in the order in which they died rather than in order of seniority; Alfred was 30 and Reginald 20.
James, the middle of the three Gardner brothers, died a month after Alfred. He was a member of the 49th Battalion Training Reserve. So many men were called up following the introduction of conscription in January 1916 that the army couldn't cope with them. The reserve battalions of the various regiments couldn't incorporate them all either so a Training Reserve was created, which was not attached to any of the regiments. Men were trained up and then placed wherever they were needed, rather than as before waiting to be placed in the regiment they had joined. James died whilst with the Training Reserve, whether from illness or accident I haven't been able to find out. All I do know is that John and Annie Gardner lost all three of their sons between April and November 1917. They had five surviving daughters.
ALSO 8903 L/C ROBERT NEY
2ND CAMERON HIGHRS
KILLED HILL 60
23RD APRIL 1915
"Also ..."; it's a horribly ominous way to begin an inscription because it always means that another brother has been killed - and it usually means that the other brother has no known grave, which is why the parents commemorate him on the headstone of the one whose grave they do know.
Robert and John Ney were the two oldest sons of Robert and Mary Ney who lived in Overgate, a densely populated area of Dundee where Robert Ney senior was a street lamplighter. Both sons look as though they enlisted on the outbreak of war, although Robert's medal card gives 19 February 1914 as his date of entry into the war, which looks as though it's a mistake. John's says 10 January 1915.
Robert Ney, who served with the 2nd Battalion Cameron highlanders, was killed in action on 23 April 1915. The 2nd Battalion diary records that at "About 1.30 am the Battalion relieved the 1st Devon Regt in trenches 38 to 45" at Hill 60 just south of Ypres. All was fairly quiet until 10 am when, "enemy commenced firing minenwerfer & howitzer on right & centre of line. Many casualties, much damage ...". Among the 'many casualties' the diary lists 44 men killed, including Private R Ney. He was 24.
Eighteen days later his younger brother, John Ney, died of wounds in hospital in Boulogne. There isn't any documentary evidence as to when he was wounded but I would suggest it was on 9 May 1915 when the 1st Battalion Cameron Highlanders took part in the attack on Aubers Ridge. The fact that John Ney died of wounds two days later is circumstantial but persuasive. He was 19.
Mr and Mrs Robert Ney senior had four sons and five daughters. It looks as though their son Allan, born in 1907, chose his brother John's inscription. He would have been eight when his brothers were killed.
KING AND COUNTRY
WITH HIS BROTHER
There are several puzzling things here. Firstly, despite what his father put on his headstone, I don't think Roland Whitehorn was 17 when he died. In fact I'm sure he wasn't as his birth is recorded in the second quarter of 1898. This would mean he was 19 when he died in October 1917.
I came across a story on a family history site, which said that Whitehorn's wife brought their six-week-old daughter to visit him in hospital in France before he died. I thought this unlikely if he was only 17 when he died, even though you could legally be married at 16. The records show that he married Elizabeth Collins in the second quarter of 1916, at which time he would have been 18. It's not unlikely that his wife was allowed to visit him. It wouldn't have been possible if he had been in a Casualty Clearing Station closer to the front but Roland Whitehorn was in one of the base hospitals near Boulogne and the authorities did allow next-of-kin to visit. Perhaps the 'Age 17' on his headstone refers to how old Roland Whitehorn was when he enlisted.
His brother, Albert John Whitehorn, was also very young when went to war. His medal card shows that he qualified for the 1915 Star having entered France on 19 March 1915. He'd been born in the fourth quarter of 1896 so that means he was 18. Albert Whitehorn died of wounds two months later on 11 May. But there's something strange here too: Albert served under an alias, he called himself Albert Whitehall. Was this because at 18 he would have needed parental permission to serve abroad and he didn't believe his parents would grant it?
Albert Whitehorn's inscription in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery is identical to his brother's except for the age:
Age 18. Died for
His King and Country
With his brother
A MAN SHALL BE
AS AN HIDING PLACE
FROM THE WIND
It may not be immediately obvious but this inscription is one of the numerous ways that next-of-kin declared their trust in God. The words come from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, 32:2 and were chosen by Sergeant Wallace's fiancee, Ruth Wright.
"And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."
In other words, this man, who will be our shield from the wind, our shelter from storms, who will be like refreshing water on dry land or shade from the burning sun, will be the Messiah, Jesus Christ. And it is in Jesus that Sergeant Wallace's fiancee will find her 'hiding place from the wind', her comfort in her grief. It's a very beautiful image.
According to a letter in his Red Cross file, Wallace died from gas poisoning:
"His dug-out at Hill 40 was blown up by a gas-shell on the 19th. He not only got himself out but he managed to get his mate Serg. Murray out as well and this is what killed him; he had no business to do it when he was gassed. The flesh was blown off Murray's feet and Wallace dressed him and then noticed the gas; but it was too late then. He came over to my dug-out about 2 am. I had two tubes of ammonia and gave him that and some tea and kept his mask on (you get more gas from the clothes than from the air) and kept him there the rest of the night and then sent him to the D/S [dressing station] in the morning. He died in Hosp. on the 27th but I do not know what Hosp. and I was too sick myself with the gas to make much enquiry at the time.
He was a School-teacher at Greenbushes; his people live at Jarradale Junction. He was engaged to Miss R. Wright; I have just got her address (Kenilms, Shenton Road, Claremont, W Aus) from his brother and I will write to her myself. "Ronnie' Wallace was a 'white man'; he would have had a commission but got on too well with his men. He was thoughtful for everyone. He had said to me 'I would not call you up; you have done your bit and there are plenty of big Sergts to do the work!
I was a Rifleman at that time; now S/B. He was C Co.
Ronald Wallace's eldest brother, Corporal Stephen Hubert Christian Wallace, was killed in action at Bony on 29 September 1918. His body was never found and he is commemorated on the Villers Bretonneux Memorial.
I SWEAR HE IS TRUE-HEARTED
AND A SOUL NONE BETTER
IN MY KINGDOM
People often ask me if there's a difference between the inscriptions chosen by the families of officers and those chosen by the families of soldiers. In answer I say that it would be less usual for an officer's family to choose something like, "Too dearly loved to be forgotten", or "A silent thought a secret tear will keep his memory of ever dear" but that doesn't mean that the more literary inscriptions come from officers' families. Private Walls' is a case in point.
Mrs Mary Jane Walls chose her husband's inscription and it comes from Shakespeare's Life of King Henry VIII, Act 5 Sc. 1. The King says of Archibishop Cranmer, in his presence, that:
"He's honest, on mine honour. God's blest mother!
I swear he is true-hearted; and a soul
None better in my kingdom."
The context is not relevant to Private Wall's inscription, which doesn't alter the fact that the choice of this quotation is not only very appropriate but also very original.
William Walls was a coal miner, a hewer of coal, so someone who actually worked underground at the coal face. He volunteered when he was 37, before the introduction of conscription, and entered a theatre of war on 25 September 1915. He served with the 20th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers. This was originally a bantam battalion, one that was formed from men below the minimum height requirement for a soldier. This varied over the first few months of the war, originally being 5'3" before settling on 5'2". Many of Walls' fellow soldiers were also miners.
Walls was killed in action on 22 October 1917 in the British attack on Poelcapelle.
WHEN HIS COUNTRY NEEDED HIM
HE MADE NO APPEAL
William Taylor was proud of his brother. How can I tell? Look at the inscription he chose for him. Thomas Hugh Miller was 33 when the war broke out, a self-employed, married man whose household consisted not only of his wife and at least one child but his widowed mother too. His commitments prevented him from volunteering but once conscription was introduced in January 1916 "he made no appeal", meaning he didn't make an appeal to a tribunal to try to get himself excused military service but obeyed the call. He was "a man when his country needed him".
William Taylor himself was 45 when the war broke out. The upper age limit for conscription was 41 until April 1918 when it was extended to include men up to the age of 50. By this time William Taylor was 49; he would never have been expected to serve abroad.
Thomas Miller joined the 7th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment on their return from the Mediterranean theatre of war in July 1916. The battalion took part in the Somme Campaign before moving to Ypres. I can't be sure but he could have been wounded on 4th or 5th October when the battalion war diary recorded: "Attack carried out on enemy positions round Poelcapelle". On the 7th the diary summarised the casualties: 5 officers killed and 2 wounded; 41 other ranks killed and 169 wounded. Miller's name however isn't among the list of wounded. Instead, the Nominal Roll records his death (died of wounds) on the 21st, a day when all the war dairy says is:
Noeux-les-Mines. Battalion relieved 14th D.L.I. in reserve in the AUGUSTE sector. QM stores, 1st line Transport etc. proceeded to MAZINGARBE. 2/Lieut H.W. Ford joined the Battn for duty & posted to B.Coy.
TO HAVE LOVED AND LOST
TO HAVE LOVED AT ALL
6 November 1917
"A gloom was cast over the city this morning with the announcement of the death in action on October 18 of Wilfred Read Eidt, eldest son of Dr and Mrs E Eidt of Cambria Street. The young soldier was one of Stratford's popular young men, with a bright and promising career, but he sacrificed all in the cause of King and country ..."
The Eidt family originally came from Germany. Dr E Eidt, a dentist, was a well-known local politician, an Alderman of the city of Stratford, Ontario. Wilfred Eidt was training to be a teacher when the war broke out. He joined up in November 1916 and served with the 1st Canadian Siege Battery in France. On 18 October 1917 the battery's war diary recorded:
"Oct. 18th 3.50 pm 335007 Gr Eidt WR was killed by a stray shell of 4.2 calibre. Two other men who were alongside of him, at the time, were untouched.
Oct. 19th 3.00 pm The above mentioned was buried in Bully Cemetery where a service, attended by the reliefs off-duty, was held."
Further, rather gruesome, information comes from the diary of a fellow gunner in the battery, Gunner Frank Byron Ferguson, who reported that Eidt had been walking up to the guns at Philosophe with the preacher, a man called Wilson, when a shell hit him, leaving the preacher "with little other than a shrapnel helmet and a cloud of red mist".
Dr Eidt chose his son's inscription. It comes from Tennyson's 'In Memoriam A.H.H.', his extended meditation on life and death, which followed the death of his friend Arthur Hallam in 1833, when Hallam was 23. The relevant canto, no. 27, reads:
I hold it true, what'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most:
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
YOUR LAST FAINT WHISPER
WE THEN SHOULD HAVE HEARD
This is an inscription about the pain of not being present when the person you love dies. To begin with I couldn't imagine what one earth it meant but a search of the In Memoriam columns in early twentieth-century local newspapers provided the context:
Could we have been there at the hour of your death
To have caught the last sigh of your fleeting breath,
Your last faint whisper we then should have heard
And breathed in your ear just one loving word.
Only those who have lost are able to tell
The pain of the heart at not saying farewell.
Twenty-year-old John Haworth's wife, Sarah, chose his inscription; not only could she not be with him when he died but she may never have known how he died and she could neither attend his funeral nor visit his grave. 'The pain of the heart at not saying farewell' must have made 'closure' very difficult.
Haworth had been married in Padiham Parish Church during a leave in July 1917, three months before his death on 17 October. On the 31st, the following appeared in the Burnley Express:
Haworth: In loving memory of Pte. John Ed. Haworth, East Lancashire Regiment, killed Oct. 17th. aged 20 years.
He marched away so bravely
His young head proudly held
His footsteps never faltered
His courage never failed.
From his sorrowing wife and sister Betsy 6, Back Guy Fold, Padiham
John Haworth had been 17 and 6 months when 'he marched away so bravely' with the 1st/5th Battalion on 10 September 1914, not just young but too young to serve abroad. The battalion joined the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in Egypt, its initial task to guard the Suez Canal. In May 1915 it got drawn into the Gallipoli Campaign, was withdrawn in January 1916, returned to Egypt, and then in March 1917 was sent back to Europe. Frederick Gibbon, the author of the 42nd Division History, of which the 1st/5th were a part, noted that:
"The voyage westward across the Mediterranean was made under conditions widely different from those of the outward journey of September 1914, when "the glory of youth glowed in the soul," and the glamour of the East and the call of the unknown had made their appeal to adventurous spirits. Familiarity with war had destroyed illusion and had robbed it of most of its romance."
In September 1917 the battalion was at Nieuport, marking a waterlogged, 6 km line from Nieuport to the sea. The ground was too flooded for either side ever to attack but both sides' artillery kept up a constant bombardment. I don't know how Haworth met his death but an entry in the Marquis du Ruvigny's biographical register of the war dead, which ran out of steam after he'd recorded about 25,000 biographies, says Haworth was killed in action. It also says:
"A letter written on behalf of three of his friends stated: 'He was one of the most popular lads in the company for his cheerfulness and willingness in every work he undertook, and he will be greatly missed by his comrades'."
VESTIGIA NULLA RETRORSUM
I can give you the literal translation of these Latin words - footsteps do not go backwards - but I can't tell you exactly what Cyril Beattie, Malcolm Beattie's father, meant by them. To the 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, whose motto it is, the words mean 'we do not retreat'. To the Earls of Buckingham, whose motto it also is, the words mean, 'we never go backwards'. To some it means that you've taken a step you can't go back on, to others, rather more romantically, that you can't call back time. Looking at Cyril Beattie's family history, I rather wonder whether he meant don't look backwards.
Cyril Robert Beattie was born in Britain but in 1871, aged 7, he and his elder brother Malcolm Hamilton Beattie, 8, were boarders at a school in Kingston, Surrey. This suggests to me that their parents lived abroard, I would guess India. Nine years later Cyril began four years indentured service with the Merchant Navy. In 1893, he emigrated to New Zealand and in 1901 founded Beattie, Lang and Co, dairy and general produce merchants which did a huge trade with Britain. His brother Malcolm went to India where he served with the Bengal Pilot Service on the Hooghly River. Both brothers married and both had sons who they each called after the other.
Malcolm Bartlett Beattie, born in New Zealand in 1896, was educated at Wanganui Collegiate School, which he left in 1914. He sailed for England in February 1915 with the intention of studying medicine but he joined up instead. Commissioned second lieutenant in the 5th Royal Berkshire Regiment on 5 September 1916, he went with it to France the following month. Awarded the Order of the Crown of Belgium and the Belgian Croix de Guerre in August 1917 for rescuing a soldier from the German lines, he was wounded two months later on 15 October and died the next day.
There is another possible explanation for Cyril Beattie's choice of inscription, perhaps he had in mind a poem by the Scottish born, Australian poet William Gay (1865-1897) called Vestigia Nulla Restorum. If so, Cyril Beattie meant that however dark the road you can only keep going forward:
O steep and rugged Life, whose harsh ascent
Slopes blindly upward through the bitter night!
They say that on thy summit, high in light,
Sweet rest awaits the climber, travel-spent;
But I, alas, with dusty garments rent,
With fainting heart and failing limbs and sight,
Can see no glimmer of the shining height,
And vainly list with body forward bent,
To catch athwart the gloom one wandering note
Of those glad anthems which (they say) are sung
When one emerges from the mists below:
But though, O Life, thy summit be remote
And all thy stony path with darkness hung,
Yet ever upward through the night I go.
TO MEET SOON IN HEAVEN
IS THE DESIRE OF YOUR
FOND MOTHER, MARY MAGUIRE
Redmond Maguire was his mother's eldest son; she had two other sons and three daughters but you can see the effect Redmond's death had on her. The comforting belief that families would be reunited in heaven is obvious in many many inscriptions but somehow Mrs Maguire's is particularly affecting.
The family came from Co. Cork. The Irish census is interesting because, unlike the English one, it asks your religion - the Maguires were all Roman Catholic. It also asks whether you can read and write; Michael and Mary Maguire, Redmond's parents, could both read and write. And it asks what languages you speak; Michael and Mary both spoke English and Irish. All the children, those who were old enough to speak, only spoke English.
Redmond doesn't appear with the rest of the family in the 1911 census. Aged 15 he was away working somewhere. Three years later he joined the army on the outbreak of war - his army number, 6308, indicating that he joined before January 1915. He served with the newly formed 2nd Battalion Irish Guards and went with them to France on 17 August 1915. He died of wounds in 2 Canadian General Hospital, Le Treport on 15 October 1917. I would imagine that these were received during the 2nd Battalions's participation in the Third Ypres Campaign at Poelcapelle. When it came out of the front line on 13 October, having been there since the 9th, the Battalion had suffered one officer and 20 other ranks killed, and 89 other ranks wounded.
TONY AND LEILA'S
DARLING ONLY CHILD
LOVED AND MOURNED BY MANY
Well, this wasn't what I was expecting. From his personal inscription, which his mother chose, I had created an image of a cherished only child at the heart of a loving family. Instead of which I found that Leila Percival had divorced her husband (Tony) in 1909 for "adultery coupled with cruelty".
In 1901, at the age of 9, Percival was living - the census says nephew not visitor - with his uncle, Arthur Strauss, at 1 Kensington Palace Gardens, even then one of the best addresses in London. Arthur was married to Leila's sister Minna Cohen. 'Tony', a photographer, and Leila lived in Maida Vale. By the time of the 1911 census Anthony Percival had emigrated to Canada. At which time his mother, now a widow, was living alone in London. Hardly the happy family I'd envisaged from the inscription.
From Canada, where he worked in a bank, Percival enlisted on 24 October 1914. From information Leila Percival gave to the Imperial War Museum when she sent it a photograph of her son for their collection, she says that he served initially with the 28th Saaskatchewan Battalion, Canadian Infantry, then in August 1915 received a commission in the 14th Battalion Middlesex Regiment before transferring in March 1916 to the Machine Gun Corps. He went to France in August that year, served with the 95th Company and died of wounds in hospital in St Sever on 15 October 1917. There is no information as to where, when or how he was wounded.
"At the usual evening hour the chapel bell began to toll, and Thomas Newcome's hands outside the bed feebly beat a time. And just as the last bell struck, a peculiar sweet smile shone over his face, and he lifted up his head a little, and quickly said, "Adsum!" and fell back. It was the word we used at school, when names were called; and lo, he. whose heart was as that of a little child, had answered his name, and stood in the presence of The Master."
The Newcomes 1855
William Makepeace Thackeray 1811-1863
This is a very touching and many-layered inscription. The fictional Colonel Thomas Newcome, who died at The Charterhouse, was educated at Charterhouse School, just as Thackeray had been - and Cyril Beachcroft too. 'Adsum' is the word Carthusians answered and still answer to their names at registration. It means 'present', and on a gravestone it implies still living and present with Christ.
The name Colonel Newcome became a byword for a virtuous man, a gentle, even perhaps a literary, soldier. So much so that when in 1906 the playwright Michael Morton adapted The Newcomes for the stage under the title 'Colonel Newcome', there was much public speculation about which actor might be worthy enough to play the role - and much dubious criticism when Herbert Beerbohm-Tree was chosen. Some people thought his German ancestry made him unsuitable; the idea of his 'guttural accents' uttering the famous 'Adsum' was too much for them to contemplate. In the event, Tree was a triumph in the role. The play was even more popular when it was revived during the First World War. Tree, still in the title role, toured with it through the United States and Canada during the winter of 1916-17. The ostensible aim of the tour was to raise money for Britain's wounded soldiers, but presumably it was hoped it might also raise support for Britain's war.
In 1914, Cyril Beachcroft, a solicitor with the family firm of Beachcroft, Thompson, Hay and Ledward, was married with two daughters. Having been a member of the Inns of Court OTC between 1909 and 1912 he rejoined it immediately on the outbreak of war. By October 1914 he had been commissioned into the Dorset Yeomanry where he spent the three years on home service, training troops. In July 1917 he requested a transfer to the Household Battalion, an infantry battalion drawn from reserve units of the Household Cavalry, so that he could be sent to the front. Within six weeks of his arrival he was dead, killed leading his men into an attack at Poelcapelle, his body not recovered from the battlefield until December 1919.
It was his wife who chose his inscription, linking him through a single word with Charterhouse, the Resurrection and a fine, even though fictional, English gentleman.
Beachcroft, who had managed to survive for the junior officer's classic six weeks, also earned a classic tribute from one of his fellow officers:
"We all feel we have lost a man who can never be replaced ... Quite fearless, and always cheerful; he is an example of all one loves best in a man."
There you have it - fearless and cheerful, it's what soldiers most admired in each other.
Cyril Beachcroft's elder bother, Eric, served with the Dorset Yeomanry in Palestine where he was severely wounded in November 1917. Invalided home, he remained in hospital and then convalescent until discharged from the army in 1919.
"SECOND TO NONE"
Second to none, in other words, in a class of his own, unmatchable. It's a lovely inscription for a father to choose for his son. As it's in inverted commas, I thought it must have been a quote from something like a letter of condolence but then James Kerr (@JamesKerr125) pointed out to me that it is in fact a translation of the Coldstream Guards' motto 'Nulli Secundus'.
Ralph Babington was the youngest of five sons. One gets the feeling that he was not robust. In fact one of the reports following his death refers to the fact that "In that small body there was a giant heart". He seems to have been intended for a career in the navy but after spending some time as a cadet at the Royal Naval College, Osborne his health broke down when he was 14 and it was a year before he recovered enough to be sent to Eton. In 1916, when he was 17, he went to Sandhurst, all the time desperate that the war might be over before he'd had a chance to take a part in it. His chance came soon enough and unfortunately it was his life that was over before the war was.
Babington's medal card says that he first entered a theatre of war on 9 October 1917 and that he was killed in action on the 9 November but the 9 October was the date of his death so it's not really possible to say how long he'd been at the front. He was killed when the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards took part in an assault near Ypres between "Broembeke and Houlthoulet Forrest". According to a report in the Eton Chronicle: "He was leading his platoon to the forming-up area on the night of October 8-9, when a German shell burst close to him, killing him instantaneously, and many of his men".
Babington was one of the 5 officers and 35 other ranks killed that day.