MAJOR OWEN DAYOT ATKINSON MC
27TH OCTOBER 1918 AGE 24
BURIED: Y FARM MILITARY CEMETERY, BOIS-GRENIER, FRANCE
Owen Atkinson's father, Lieutenant-Colonel George Charles Atkinson, Indian Army, quotes from a poem by Rudyard Kipling for his son's inscription. Called The Nativity, the poem compares the anguish of the Virgin Mary over her son's death with that of a mother whose son has been killed but who has no known grave, "she knows not how he fell", nor "where he is laid".
Published in the Daily Telegraph on 23 December 1916, the poem echoes the Kipling's own grief. John Kipling had gone missing during the Battle of Loos on 27 September 1915. His body was never found and his parents had to face the agony of having to believe he was dead but hoping against hope that he was alive.
George and Margarita Atkinson did know that their son was dead. Wounded on 21 October 1918, he died six days later and was buried in the grounds of the Hautmont Abbey; his body exhumed and reburied in Y Farm Military Cemetery in February 1920.
Atkinson had already followed his father into the army before the outbreak of war. He attended the School of Military Engineering in Chatham and was gazetted a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers on 1 April 1914. He crossed to France with his unit, the 200th Field Company, on 15 November 1914 and served with them for one month short of four years, rising to the rank of major.
He was wounded on 21 October 1918 and died six days later. The Engineers were trying to bridge the River Scheldt near Helchin and according to the war diary, Major O.D. Atkinson was "wounded while making reconnaissance for bridge across Schelte near Helchin". The Allies didn't manage to cross the River Scheldt until the beginning of November and by then the war was virtually over.
Kipling's poem has an interesting number of religious references for a man who was generally considered not to have believed in a Christian God. The phrase in the poem, "Is it well with the child" is a quote from 2 Kings 4:26. One day the prophet Elisha has an unexpected visit from the Shunammite woman, a wealthy woman who has befriended him. He sees her from a distance and sends his servant to ask:
"Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child? And she answered, It is well."
In fact the Shunammite woman's child is dead but her words indicate that whatever God does 'it is well', and that 'it is well' with those who are dead too since they are with God. The last verse of Kiplng's poem indicates that this is how this mother also feels. Her child has died in God's cause, so it is well with him:
"But I know for Whom he fell" -
The steadfast mother smiled,
"Is it well with the child - is it well?
It is well - it is well with the child!"