Tag Archives: Poetry

Hatton War MemorialLt Commander Locker Madden, RN (ret.), a member of a well-known naval family and descendant of Captain William Locker, Nelson’s first captain, has recently become interested in the UKNIWM and has been energetically photographing war memorials in the north of Scotland.  A published poet, he was moved to write ‘The Talking Wall’ after recording the war memorial in Cruden West Parish Church.

Our thanks for permission to reproduce the poem. 

The Talking Wall 

I was reading the dead: their names
‘In affectionate remembrance’
when the wall spoke, “William Fraser,
George Johnstone”, killed by blind chance
of war; “John Leslie, George Minty.”
I was unprepared to make reply
to the stone tones, “Duncan McLeish”
it continued. I wondered why
the wall (“Adam Rollo” it recited and
“David Sangster”) should talk the terror
of these deaths from one Great War;
“Doctor William Smith”. It underlay the horror
which each one of those families had felt,
“James Spence, Alexander Thomson”, no solace
that I had read for myself the final name:
the heroic resonance of “William Wallace.”
That’s bad enough; a tiny community
unmanned. I asked the wall
where were the next war’s names
and silence fell. There were no dead at all
and I remember an old woman saying “There wisnae loons tae coort.*”
after that First War and therefore no new
generation which could have loved and fought.

*There were no young men to court

Richard, one of our volunteers, writes the following…

The American Major Olmsted’s contemplation of his own death on active service sent me searching for an example from an earlier conflict.

When a young naval lieutenant, David Tinker, was sent to the Falklands he requested that if he were to be buried in earth the following be inscribed on his grave: 

“He wears
The ungathered blossom of quiet; stiller he
Than a deep well at noon, or lovers met,
Than sleep, or the heart after wrath. He is
The silence following great words of peace.”

Although Lt Tinker was familiar with the work of Wilfred Owen (whose unsentimental war poetry has been more in favour in modern times), it is interesting to note that the quotation is from the work of a poet often regarded as more idealistic and patriotic, Rupert Brooke’s ‘Fragments written during the voyage to Gallipoli April 1915’. (see A Message from the Falklands: The Life and Gallant Death of David Tinker, Lieut. R.N., compiled in 1982 by his father, Professor Hugh Tinker).


Damage to the port side and helicopter hangar HMS GLAMORGAN caused by an Argentine Exocet missile on 12 June 1982.In the event, David Tinker was killed by the Exocet attack on HMS GLAMORGAN on 12 June 1982, and buried at sea with twelve of his comrades the same day. 


Consequently, it is only with the recent unveiling of the Armed Forces Memorial that he is officially commemorated, although he appears on local memorials at Great Hampden (Buckinghamshire) and Clungunford (Shropshire).  The losses on HMS GLAMORGAN are commemorated by a window in Portsmouth Cathedral and on the Falklands Naval memorial on Plymouth Hoe.



The photograph above shows the damage to the port side and helicopter hangar of the destroyer HMS GLAMORGAN caused by an Argentine Exocet missile on 12 June 1982.  The missile was launched from a land-based mobile launcher near Port Stanley, some 18 miles away. Radar systems failed to detect the missile but in the few seconds available after making visual contact, GLAMORGAN was able to turn rapidly and the missile struck the hangar instead of the ship’s side. Thirteen lives were lost but the damage failed to put GLAMORGAN out of action, making her the first British warship to survive an Exocet missile strike.

Richard, one of our volunteers, writes the following… 

Sometimes we are asked to identify the source of inscription on war memorials: Rupert Brooke’s ‘red sweet wine of youth’ comes to mind.

I have been reading The Winter of the World: Poems of the First World War, the useful new anthology edited by Dominic Hibberd and John Onions and came across some familiar lines:

“All you had hoped for, all you had, you gave
To save Mankind- yourselves you scorned to save.”

They appear on 13 memorials on our database, and are from ‘The Supreme Sacrifice’, a hymn in the metre and rhyme scheme of ‘Abide with Me’ by J S (later Sir John) Arkwright (1872-1954). The editors comment that it was ‘regularly sung at Remembrance Day services – until the 1950s, when it began to be condemned as sentimental, even unchristian, for its implied faith in salvation by death in war.’

Daniel Radcliffe and David Haig, John and Rudyard in My Boy JackOpening this month at Imperial War Museum, London, is the first exhibition to tell the full story of Rudyard Kipling’s only son, John, who was reported missing in action at the age of 18 in the Battle of Loos in 1915.  Rarely seen items from the Imperial War Museum’s archives will be on display, including John’s last letter to his family. The exhibition coincides with a new ITV1 drama, My Boy Jack, which stars Daniel Radcliffe as John.

John Kipling, a Lieutenant in the Irish Guards, is named on Wellington College Roll of Honour.  John’s body was never recovered in Rudyard’s lifetime, but in 1992 the Commonwealth War Graves Commission reported that it had located John’s burial place (see CWGC record).  However, there remains controversy over whether this identification is correct and if the officer buried there is, in fact, Jack.

Several verses written by John’s father, Rudyard, were used as inscriptions on war memorials.  This includes the well-known phrase, ‘Lest we forget’, popularised by Kipling in his poem, Recessional.  Written originally for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897, it came to be used on a great many memorials after the First World War.  We current list 649 memorials on our database that include it. 

Gordon, one of our volunteer fieldworkers writes…

For a while now I have had an interest in inscriptions and one in particular. When I was recording our local memorials some years ago, I noticed in our local parish church the Latin inscription “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” which means “It is a sweet and glorious thing to die for one’s country“. The quotation comes from the 1st Century Latin poet Horace.

Portrait of Wilfrid Owen (Neg Q 79045)At first I did not think too much about it, until my wife who is a good Latin scholar, reminded me about the poem written by the First World War soldier Wilfred Owen (1895 -1918). His poem is titled “Dulce et Decorum est” in which he mocks this sentiment. On reflection I agree with Owen’s view.

I wondered how many memorials used this quotation and so I decided to do some desk research based on the UKNIWM database.  400 are listed on the UKNIWM site, mainly in Latin but also 8 in English.  This represents 0.75% of the total of 55,000 memorials so far recorded. Analysing the 400 I have found the following:

WW1 memorials: 275 entries
WW2 memorials: 61 entries
Other memorials: 64 entries (including Crimea, Zulu, Boer and Korean wars)

The earliest inscription I found was at Melton Constable, Norfolk, for a victim who died at sea in 1778. However it is not clear when the monument was erected. It seems many monuments were erected decades after the event. There are two monuments to French prisoners of war from the Napoleonic wars, one was erected in 1914 at Norman Cross, the other at Dartmoor prison in 1865.

The Horace quote seems to have been used for the first time around the late 18th century and then on various occasions, reaching a peak during the First World War.

I am surprised that the grand total was not a lot higher than 400. Probably more will be found among the memorials still to be recorded. I suspect that the novelty was fading after WW1, especially when Wilfred Owen’s poem became widely read. It would surprise me if this inscription is used again for recent wars. However I could be wrong.

Here are the last lines of “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen:

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, –
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

It would be interesting to get the opinions and thoughts of others involved in the war memorial project.

August 15th is Burma Star Day at Imperial War Museum Duxford.  There you will be able to meet and hear the first hand accounts of veterans who fought in the Far East during the Second World War. 

Read more about Burma Star Day at Duxford

The Burma Star Association is very active in erecting memorials commemorating those who served and died in the Far East.  We have currently recorded at least 68 memorials erected by the Assocatiation, many of them plaques such as this one in Plymouth.

The Kohima Epitaph is widely used on these memorials.

When you go home
Tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today

The Epitaph was composed by Major John Etty-Leal, adapted from a similar epitaph written during the First World War, which may itself have been inspired by an Ancient Greek epitaph, commemorating the Battle of Thermopolae against the Persians in 480 BC.

Read more about the origins of the Kohima Epitaph

While using the database today I came across an inscription that I hadn’t seen before on a memorial.  It struck me with its unusually vivid imagery.

These laid the world away/ Poured out the sweet red wine of youth/ Gave up the years to be

Using the Advanced Search on our database, it’s possible to search memorial inscriptions.  By doing this I found several other memorials that used the same verse.  The lines are actually from a poem entitled III. The Dead, written in 1914 by Rupert Brooke. 

Brooke, a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, would himself become a war casualty.  He died from acute blood poisoning  on 23 April 1915 while on route to Gallipoli and was buried on the Island of Skyros in Greece.

 Read the whole of III. The Dead

Brooke also wrote one of the most famous poems of the First World War, which begins “If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.”