PRIVATE ALBERT BETHEL
ARMY SERVICE CORPS
10TH NOVEMBER 1918 AGE 27
BURIED: ST SEVER COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION, ROUEN, FRANCE
'The Glorious Dead', these are the only words on the London cenotaph, the British Empire's memorial to its one and half million service dead of two world wars. Designed by Sir Edward Lutyens (1869-1944) in 1919, the cenotaph - an empty tomb to represent the absent dead - today receives universal approval. However, the inscription is often seen as 'problematic'. Why? Because we know there is absolutely nothing glorious about being killed in battle. It's a filthy, cruel, agonising and revolting business.
Yet, the word glorious is not meant to apply to the manner of death but to the dead themselves. The dead have acquired glory through their duty, courage and endurance. They have become glorious.
It's a clever choice of word combining Christian, classical and military associations. To the Christian, glory is associated with God; it's His magnificence, His majesty, in which the righteous all share at their own deaths. In the classical world, glory is renown, a good name acquired by noble actions. In Homer's Iliad, glory, kleos, is acquired on the battlefield, fighting bravely, risking death, dying. It's an intangible quality, something that only exists in the minds of others. It cannot be bought or awarded it can only be earned. And once a good name has been earned it bestows a form of immortality - their name liveth for evermore.
The Internet is confused as to who chose the words, some claim it was Rudyard Kipling, others Lloyd George but according to a document in the National Archives, it was Lutyens. In 1930 he wrote: "'The glorious dead', the words I put on my original sketch, also survived unchanged".
It's not an original phrase. The glorious dead had been used before to describe the illustrious dead. John Dryden, Pope, Shelley, Wordsworth all speak of the glorious dead, as did Laurence Binyon, whose poem The Fourth of August, published in The Winnowing Fan at the end of 1914, has the verse:
For us the glorious dead have striven,
They battled that we might be free.
We to their living cause are given;
We arm for men that are to be.
Albert Bethel's wife, Isabella, chose his inscription, no doubt influenced by the huge emotional attention the cenotaph attracted in the immediate post-war years. The couple had been married for four years and had two daughters. Albert, the son of Ralph and Hannah Bethel, was born and brought up in the town of Atherton, Lancashire. In 1911 he was a cotton piecer later becoming a spinner. He was still a spinner when his youngest daughter was baptised in June 1917.
Bethel served in the Mechanical Transport Company of the Army Service Corps. His company, attached to the 19th Siege Battery Royal Garrison Artillery, were responsible for hauling the heavy guns and keeping them supplied with ammunition. He died in a hospital in Rouen but it hasn't been possible to tell from what cause.
The initials I.H.S. are a sacred monogram based on the first three letters of the name Jesus in Greek.