28 September 2017

6 poetic stories from the CWGC archives

The Commission has many links to poetry, not only in the great war poets who are buried or commemorated at our various cemeteries and memorials around the world, but also in the use of poetry and verse within the very fabric of some of those sites.

 

Poetic verses can be seen engraved at a number of CWGC sites in the form of a memorial inscription as part of the overall architectural and also in personal epitaphs engraved on individual headstones.

Numerous works of prose have also been inspired by visits to Commission cemeteries and memorials written by recognised poets, members of the public, and Commission staff, but all generated by the experience of walking among the graves or reading the lists of engraved names.

The Commission’s archive team has delved through the archives and selected a handful of poetic stories to mark National Poetry Day.

Rudyard Kipling

By the outbreak of the First World War, Kipling was a poet and author of world renown. In 1915, Kipling’s only son John was killed in action at the Battle of Loos. Kipling joined the newly founded Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission in 1917, and was the first Literary Advisor to the Commission.

It was Kipling who chose the inscription for Edwin Lutyens’ Stone of Remembrance. The phrase, ‘Their Name Liveth For Evermore’ was taken from the biblical Book of Ecclesiasticus. He also chose the wording for the headstones which marked the graves of unknown casualties, ‘Known Unto God’.

Kipling wrote a number of works connected with the First World War – My Boy Jack, The Gardener, The Irish Guards, and The King’s Pilgrimage.

In May 1922 King George V visited a number of cemeteries in France and Belgium in what became known as the King’s Pilgrimage. Kipling was asked to write a piece – The King’s Pilgrimage – to mark this event, which was initially published in The Times newspaper on the 15 May 1922. The poem was also printed in the book about the pilgrimage, which was published later that year – with all proceeds from the sales going to organisations engaged with helping bereaved relatives travel to the cemeteries and memorials.

The fifth verse of the poem makes particular reference to ‘a carven stone’ and ‘a stark Sword brooding on the bosom of the Cross’ – otherwise known as the Stone of Remembrance, designed for the Commission by Edwin Lutyens, and the Cross of Sacrifice, designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield.

 

Nancy Barden

In 1967, Nancy Barden, a retired employee of the Commission, composed a poem to mark the 50th anniversary of the Commission’s foundation. In our 100th year, it seems fitting to share this it.

 

Jack Kingston

Jack Kingston joined the Commission in September 1920. He had served in the First World War, and witnessed one of his best friends being killed. A gardener before the war, Jack decided to stay in France after the war to work for the War Graves Commission.

Jack’s notebook from his time working in France, along with other related documents, were recently donated to the CWGC archive by Jack’s granddaughter. Among the lists of plants and gardening supplies jotted in the notebook, Jack had written a short verse, in the nature of a love poem – no doubt with the intention of later writing it out in a letter back home to a sweetheart.

“Tho the Great divide doth part us,

And happy be your lot

Those days we spent together love

Will never be forgot.

 

May you live as long as you want to

May you want to as long as you live

If I’m asleep when you want to, wake me

If I’m awake and don’t want to, make me

Kiss you.”

 

Poetry and verse also forms an integral part of a number of CWGC cemeteries and memorials around the world.

Castiglione South African Cemetery in Italy features a quote taken from the poem O Valiant Hearts, written by Sir John Stanhope Arkwright. The poem was subsequently turned into a hymn, and is now commonly used at services of remembrance. The cemetery at Castiglione incorporates two panels within the memorial building, bearing the inscription, both in English and Afrikaans.

 

At Wimereux Communal Cemetery a memorial seat features the following lines from the poem In Flanders Fields, by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, who is buried in the cemetery.

 

CWGC Runnymede Memorial, which commemorates 20,000 airmen and women who were lost in the Second World War and have no known grave, features a number of architectural and decorative elements. Looking out on to the meadows at Runnymede, and to London’s Heathrow airport, the poem Memorial composed by a local student, Paul H. Scott, is etched across the glass. 

To mark National Poetry Day, CWGC staff and volunteers will read a selection of well-known war poems written by poets the CWGC commemorates, which we will bring to you live from CWGC Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey, via our Facebook page throughout the day. Click here to see the live readings.

 

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