FOREIGN LANGUAGE INSCRIPTIONS
RUHE SANFT IN FREMBER ERDE
This inscription is in German. John Matucha was an Austro-Hungarian citizen born in Bohemia where his parents, Wenzl and Maria Matucha, lived in Manetin vei Pilsen. According to his medal index card, he joined the British Army some time after the beginning of January 1916, served with the 7th Battalion East Kent Regiment and died of wounds in a Casualty Clearing Station near Poperinghe on 27 September 1917. His mother signed for his inscription, Ruhe sanft in fremde erde, rest peacefully in foreign earth.
All the above is fact, this is surmise. Matucha died in a Casualty Clearing Station, he hadn't been moved back to a base hospital so his wounds were likely to have been quite recent. The 7th Battalion had not been in the trenches during September. On 29 September they were in camp at Sint Jan ter Biezen, just west of Poperinghe. At 7.20 pm a German aeroplane dropped four bombs on the camp killing one officer and 26 other ranks and wounding three officers and 63 ORs. I would suggest that this was when Matucha was wounded. A soldier only had to have arrived alive at some form of aid post for it to be said that he had died of wounds. Even if his death followed soon after the wounding. Matucha must have died before midnight.
What was an Austro-Hungarian citizen doing in the British Army? This is even more of a surmise. Bohemia, post-war Czecho-Slovakia, wanted independence from Austria-Hungary. Some Bohemians joined the Czech Legions and fought with the Allies - most however did not. Some, and perhaps Matucha was one of them, joined the Allied armies.
PREZIDANTO DE BRITA KAJ
ASOCIOJ DE ESPERANTO
This is certainly the first and, probably, the only example of an inscription written in the universal language of Esperanto but then, as the inscription says, Harold Bolingbroke Mudie was the president of the British Esperanto Association.
Mudie, the son of Alfred and Annie Mudie of the Mudie circulating library family, was a member of the London Stock Exchange. A brilliant linguist who spoke fluent French, German and Flemish, he taught himself Esperanto in 1902. In 1908 became the first president of the Universal Esperanto Association and in 1910 of the British Esperanto Association.
Despite his international associations, Mudie joined up immediately on the outbreak of war. Commissioned into the Army Service Corps, he was in charge of a Remount Depot near Forges-les-Eaux. Remount depots were where requisitioned horses were trained and redistributed for the war effort. He was killed when the car in which he was a passenger in was hit by a train on a level crossing.
Most of this information comes from the site Great War London on which there is a very detailed article about Mudie.
Charles Desort was born Karl Dezort to a Bohemian father and a Dutch mother. His parents married in London in 1899 but at the time of the 1911 census Karl Dezort Senior was still an Austrian citizen, neither parent had taken out British citizenship, nor had they Anglicized their names. Yet Karl joined the army as Charles Desort and his father signed for his son's inscription as C Desort Esq.
The word 'Nezdar' means misfortune in Czech, although it's probably a word that doesn't translate properly into English as it has cultural resonances which we can't pick up. However, it's possible that what C. Desort Esq wrote was the word 'Nazdar'. It's a Czech word, a toast, meaning "to success", which had become associated with the Bohemian independence movement. Bohemians/Czechs were Austrian citizens but many would have preferred not to fight with Austria but against it in order to achieve their freedom. The Nazdar Company, whose battle cry was 'Nazdar', was a unit of the French army made up of Czech citizens, and the Nazdar Cemetery near Arras is where many Czech soldiers who died for France are buried.
Rifleman Desort's inscription comes with quotation marks round the word Nezdor, which makes me think it's a misspelling of the battle cry rather than the word for misfortune.
Desort served with the 13th Battalion Rifle Brigade and died of wounds at No. 3 Casualty Clearing Station, based in the Citadel at Doullens.
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
SA MORT A LAISSE
DANS NOS COEURS
UNE PLAIE PROFONDE
The French translates as, "His death has left a deep wound in our hearts". Sometimes relatives composed inscriptions in French because they wanted local people to be able to understand what they said. Others wrote in French because that was the language they spoke. Albert Lariviere's family were French speakers who came from Sainte Rosa du Lac, a French settlement in Manitoba.
Recruitment figures show that French-speaking Canadians were less likely to volunteer in what they saw as Britain's war than those who spoke English. This despite the fact that parts of France were actually occupied by the Germans. Some French-speaking Canadians had been in the country for more than a century; they were Canadians whose connection to France was in the distant past. The war in Europe was nothing to them - and nor was the British Empire. Many English speakers however were more recent arrivals. To them the Empire was worth fighting for, the motherland was in danger and that danger threatened them all.
Lariviere enlisted and served in the 16th Canadian Infantry Battalion, known as the Canadian Scottish. The war diary described events on 6 November:
In Billets. Working parties of 50 men furnished. No parades. 1st Brigade attacked this morning and carried all objectives. Weather wet. Enemy shelling area occasionally. Casualties: - 3 O.R's killed; 11 wounded; 1 accidentally wounded; 1 missing.
Albert Lariviere is buried in Track X Cemetery with two other members of the 16th Battalion, both also killed on 6 November 1917. Although not mentioned by name, he must have been one of the '3 O.R's killed' mentioned in the diary and perhaps they were part of the working party.
MI Y YMDRECHAIS YMDRECH DEG
This Welsh inscription, a quotation from 2 Timothy 4:7, translates as 'I have fought the good fight'. The verse continues, 'I have finished my course, I have kept the faith'. It's a popular inscription but strange as it may sound it appears to be only popular on officers' graves. I can't think of any reason for this.
Thomas Thomas was commissioned into the 13th Battalion, Welsh Regiment on the outbreak of war. Raised in Llanelli in August 1914 it didn't cross to France until December 1915. Initially in the Ypres sector it moved down to the Somme in June 1916 where it took part in the capture of Mametz Wood. It was then moved north again to Ypres. On 31 July 1917 it took part in the capture of Pilkem Ridge where it suffered heavy losses. After being rested, the battalion returned to the front line on 20 August, going into the trenches along the line of the Steenbeek. Thomas was killed by shell fire on the 23rd.
VIEGLAS SMILTIS SVESUMA
The language is Latvian and means 'may the earth of a foreign land lie light upon you'. I believe it's the Latvian equivalent of 'may he rest in peace', a relatively formulaic dedication Latvians use for graves and memorials. The phrase bears a striking resemblance to the Latin formula the Romans put on their graves and memorials, Sit tibi terra levis - may the earth rest lightly on you. It's a sentiment found in English epitaphs and poems too: 'Lie lightly upon my ashes gentle earth', (Tragedy of Bonduca, Beaumont and Fletcher), or as in the quotation on which Mark Twain's daughter's epitaph is based:
Warm summer sun shine kindly here;
Warm southern wind blow softly here
Green sod above lie light, lie light -
Oscar Abramson was born in Riga, at that time one of the most advanced and economically prosperous cities in the Russian Empire. He emigrated to Canada where he worked as a tailor in Kingston, Ontario. He enlisted in the 20th Battalion Canadian Infantry, the Central Ontario Battalion, in January 1916, naming his father, Adam Abramson in Riga, as his next-of-kin. And it was someone in Riga, 'Mrs W Pukit, Skulte House, Lokas-ley, Near Riga, Pr. Vidzis, Latvia' who chose his inscription.
Abramson was killed in an attack at Passchendaele on the last official day of the Third Ypres campaign. The battalion war diary describes the day, 10 November 1917: page 8 page 9.
FAIS CE QUE DOIS
ADVIENNE QUE POURRA
This is an ancient French proverb, which translates as 'Do your duty come what may' or, less formally, 'do what you must whatever the results''.
By August 1918, Captain Amory, as he was generally known, was serving on the Staff of 32nd Division when on the evening of 24 August a German aeroplane bombed their Headquarters. Amory died of wounds a few hours later.
His wartime diary has survived and has been published in 'Artillery and Trench Mortar Memories - 32nd Division', edited by R Whinyates. Here a friend describes him in the foreword of the diary as being "characteristic of the best type of Englishman, no man more happy in temperament, more genuinely friendly in disposition". The friend mentions particularly that Amory was always anxious to "carry out his duties to the utmost of his ability" - 'Do your duty come what may'.
Amory's wife, Mary, chose his inscription. The proverb is not meant to be fatalistic but just utterly pragmatic - do your duty come what may. But Mary Heathcoat-Amory could never have guessed what was to come. She and her husband had three sons; Michael, the second son, was killed in an air crash in 1936; Patrick, the eldest, was killed at El Alamein in 1942 and Edgar was killed in Normandy on 23 June 1944. Edgar is buried in Ranville War Cemetery. His inscription reads:
Fais ce que dois
Advienne que pourra
Do your duty come what may.
JAMAS TE OLVIDAREMOS
C.H. Cooke, whose Christian names I have not been able to discover, was the son of an Irish-born merchant trading in Chile and married to a Chilean wife. That's why his inscription is in Spanish. It means, 'you will never be forgotten'.
Cooke was seventeen when the war broke out. He immediately left Chile to volunteer for King Edward's Horse, the Imperial Yeomanry Regiment, which was gathering in London. Cooke was one of the many children of ex-patriate families living in Latin America who volunteered to fight in the war, for both the Entente and the Central Powers.
At some point he transferred to the Rifle Brigade, serving with the 2nd Battalion part of the 8th Division. On 20 September 1917 the Battalion took part in the 5th Army's successful attack on the Menin Road. Cooke was killed on the 21st in the German's fierce counter-attack.
ELSKET OG SAVNET
AF MODER OG SOSKENDE
Jorgen Kornerop-Bang was a Dane, a master builder from Silkeborg in Northern Jutland, a Danish national athlete, the winner of fourteen Danish decathlon championships, the holder of nine Danish javelin records who died as a Lance Serjeant in the British army.
Denmark was neutral in the First World War, a position she maintained with some difficulty. Mindful of Belgium's fate, she was keen not to give Germany any reason to invade across her southern frontier from Schleswig-Holstein. But many Danes still felt a residual hostility towards Germany over her occupation of these two provinces. Denmark mobilized her reserves, 50,000 men, to defend her borders. Germany called up the young men of Schleswig-Holstein to fight for the Fatherland. A small number of Danes, it's estimated to be in the region of about 85, joined the French army. It's not known how many joined the British but Jorgen Kornerop-Bang must have been one of them.
He served with the 17th Battalion the Royal Fusiliers, the City of London Regiment, who made use of his javelin skills by putting him in charge of grenade throwing. Unfortunately he was killed when a grenade exploded prematurely.
Kornerop-Bang's inscription is in Danish. It means, 'Loved and missed by mother and siblings'. It is said that one of his brothers, Johannes, also served in the British army and died at Verdun on 12 October 1918. However, none of Jorgen's siblings were called Johannes, there isn't a Johannes Kornorop-Bang in the War Graves Commission registers and if there were he wouldn't have died at Verdun since that is the one place where the French always fought on their own. It's possible that Johannes was a cousin, one of the 85 Danes who volunteered to fight in the French army.
Andrew Millymaki's inscription is in Finnish and means 'Rest in peace beloved, deeply missed'. Sapper Millymaki was born in Canada to Finnish parents. They were among the many Finns who emigrated to Canada in the later part of the 19th Century, Driven from Finland by the increasing Russianisation of the country and lured to Canada by the plentiful opportunities it offered.
Andrew Millymaki was born in White Fish, Ontario but his parents soon moved to settle in New Finland in Saskatchewan. He was studying Engineering at Queen's University, Ontario when the war broke out and enlisted almost straight away on 23 August 1914. He was killed on the Somme two years later.
This inscription is written in Maori and I had to apply to the Twitter community to find out what it meant. By return Mark Vent (@MarkVent) and S Disbrey (@dizzernp) replied that it meant Little Chief, their translation confirmed by Sharon Marris (@JournoKiwi). I had thought it meant something like noble fame but as you can see, it doesn't.
Had Lieutenant Cato not joined the Royal Flying Corps he would not have had a headstone inscription at all. The New Zealand Government objected to the imposition of a charge of 3 1/2d for each letter, believing it to be discriminatory, and so banned inscriptions for their soldiers. The Canadian Government felt the charge to be equally discriminatory but rather than banning inscriptions decided to pay for them all themselves. Cato's service in the Royal Flying Corps as opposed to a New Zealand regiment meant the ban didn't apply to him. British families could choose whether they wanted to pay for an inscription or not.
The War Graves Commission believed that families would welcome the opportunity of making some sort of contribution to commemorating their dead. However, I wonder whether the Commission realised just how poor some families were. Poverty is surely one of the reasons for the many blank headstones and the very short inscriptions like R.I.P. The Commission did waver the charge in numerous cases but some families will not have gone ahead in the first place because they knew they wouldn't be able to pay.
Geoffrey Walter Gavin Maidens Cato, who appears to have sometimes gone under the name Reginald Maidens Cato, grew up in Napier, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. He left for Britain in 1916 to join the Royal Flying Corps. He trained at Oxford Flying School, getting his wings in May 1917 at which point he went to France. He survived for six months despite crash landing twice.
However, on 6 November 1917, Cato took off at 2.55 pm. No one knows whether he completed his patrol or whether it was aborted but within half an hour of take-off his plane broke-up and crashed into Lake Dickebusch. Cato and the observer were both killed, drowned. It could have been enemy action or a fault with the machine but there was a suspicion that Cato, known for his fondness for 'stunts', aerobatics, had put the plane into too steep a dive and it had broken up.
KAERE SON VI MODES SNART
Private Vognsen's inscription is in Danish but the database can't cope with the inclusion of the Danish accents on the words 'son' and 'modes'. The inscription was confirmed by his father, who still lived in Denmark, and it means, 'Dear son we will soon meet again'. Kristian Vognes, who descibed himself as a seaman on his attestation papers, emigrated to Australia when he was 18 and a half. He was just 21 and a half when he was killed at Gallipoli on 26 June 1915.
There had always been a small Danish presence in Australia: seamen, gold prospectors and former soldiers following the disbandment of the Danish army in Schleswig-Holstein after the war of 1849-51. Prussia's annexation of these two provinces after the war of 1864 further fuelled Danish emigration, as well as a dislike of Prussian aggression. This meant that in 1914 there was great support among the Danish community for Australian participation in the First World War.
TYDI GAN HYNNY
MEGIS MILWR DA
I JESU GRIST
Private Tommy Thomas was a carpenter from Mackay, Northern Queensland. He was born in Llanfyrnach, Pembrokeshire, Wales, where his parents lived until after the war. He enlisted in the Australian Infantry on 9 March 1915 and embarked for Europe on the 29 June that year. He died of wounds in hospital in Rouen on 15 September 1916.
His Welsh inscription comes from the English-Welsh Duoglott Bible, from the Second Epistle of Timothy, Chapter 2 verse 3:
Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
Norman McDonald's inscription was chosen by his father, Alexander McDonald, who lived in Portree on the Isle of Skye. It is written in Scottish Gaelic and is a quotation from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy Chapter 29 verse 29:
"The things that are secret belong to the Lord our God."
Gaelic is not really a written language and the version of the quotation I found was spelt:
Buinidh na nithe diomhair do n' Tighearn ar Dia.
And what does it mean? One needs to see the context. Moses tells his people of the covenant with God, and of what will happen to them if they fail to keep it: the anger of the Lord will be kindled against them destroying their land and bringing sickness among them.
"The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law."
I think Mr Alexander McDonald believed that the war was God's punishment for nations not keeping the word of His commandments:
"And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass growth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zebolm, which the Lord overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath."
The words of Deuteronomy, describing the punishment God will visit on his disobedient people, seem to describe very well to the devastated landscapes of the First World War battlefields, especially the wasteland of the Western Front.
EI EWYLLYS EF A WNELER
'Dy ewyllys di a wneler' translates as 'Thy will be done' from The Lord's Prayer, 'Ei ewyllys ef a wneler' as 'His will be done'. Whatever the language this acceptance of God's will, sometimes amended to read 'Thy will not ours be done', seems to be the most common of all headstone inscriptions.
Bombadier David Davies's parents lived in Barry Dock, South Wales, which is where he was born in 1891. At some point he emigrated to Canada as that is where he was living when he enlisted.
GU BRISEADH NA FAIRE
Malcolm Fisher was a clerk in the Clydesdale Bank, Dundee. A married man, he enlisted in the 14th Battalion the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on 27 May 1915. After training, the battalion crossed to France in June 1916. Fisher died of wounds in a Casualty Clearing Station in Chocques five months later.
Serjeant Fisher's wife, Catherine, chose his Gaelic inscription; it translates as 'until day break'. It's not part of a quotation from the Song of Solomon 2:17: Until the day break and the shadows flee away. The Gaelic for this is: Gus am bris an la, agus an teich na sgailean.
PRO ARIS ET FOCIS
The word typed onto the form is definitely 'gahle' but I wonder if it was a mistake and the word should have been 'kahle'. I believe that the first line of this inscription is written in Zulu in which language lala-kahle means something like Goodnight or perhaps even rest in peace. However, I've no idea what 'umta-gwetu' means, if indeed this is what it's meant to say.
The second line of the inscription is the Latin motto of Maritzburg College, Aylmer Wales's school in Pietermartzburg, Natal. It comes from Cicero's De Natura Deorum 111.94 and translates as, for our altars and fires. This of course means much more than just altars and fires, it is what the Romans held most sacred, most worth defending, the equivalent of hearth and home, King and country.
Second Lieutenant Wales was 'commissioned in the field' just before his death. This meant that he was identified as officer material and promoted without returning to Britain for officer training. His father, Lieutenant Colonel ATG Wales, makes a point of mentioning this in the War Cemtery Register. Aylmer Wales was killed in Deville Wood where the South African Brigade suffered huge casualties during the Battle of the Somme.
Thanks to Stuart Sinclair I now know that the Zulu translates as 'Goodnight, sleep well'. The difference between ghale and kahle being explained by the transliteration of the Zulu words into Roman characters. Thank you!
"THUG THU BARRACHD
ANN AM BEUS"
Hugh MacInnes's inscription is a quotation from a Gaelic song, a lament, 'Cumha na-h-Oighe', 'Lament for a Maiden'. Despite my best endeavours I had been unable to find a translation for it until Stuart Sinclair saw my Twitter plea. He took it to a Gaelic speaker, Stewart Macleod, who sent a complete translation of the song. The phrase 'Thug thu barrachd ann am beus', from the second verse, means, 'you displayed superiority in manners'. Although the song is written about the death of a young woman, the grief it describes is just as applicable to those mourning the death of a young man. The inscription appears to have been chosen by Mrs Flora MacInnes, Hugh's mother.
Maid of my heart, maid of my love!
Cold today is your resting place,
Your leaves have withered, your bloom has faded,
And they have laid you in the earth.
I am so grief-stricken and wretched,
Missing you night and day.
They locked my joy in the grave,
And neither lamenting nor sorrow will release her.
You were gentle, you were kind;
Every element was in love with you.
It was your soft smooth brow,
That first enticed my love for you.
You displayed superiority in manners,
You were fairer than hundreds.
Your form was without fault or blemish;
Sad is my state, missing you.
You have vanished, star of virtues,
You left the sky too swiftly;
It was the cloud of death that tore you from me,
And ill starred and melancholy is my course.
You were as a guiding light to me,
Radiant star, jewel of my eyes,
I am now like a rudderless ship,
With no harbour in mind without you.
But there is a sky up in heaven
Over which passes neither mist nor cloud;
A bright sky of the greatest beauty
And you will be radiant there anew.
Shine down into my heart
And guide me to the land
Where it is my desire to be with you,
Forever, without want, without care.
Calum MacPharlain 1853-1931
Private MacInnes enlisted in Canada where he had joined the Canadian Bank of Commerce in January 1911. Born and educated in Oban, Argyll, where his father was a crofter and the ferryman for the Kerrara-Gallanach ferry, Hugh MacInnes enlisted in Manitoba in January 1916. He was killed in action on 30 October 1917 during the Battle of Passchendaele. He had already been wounded twice on that day but had voluntarily remained on duty.
UW WIL GESCHIEDE!
The inscription is Africaans for 'Thy will be done'. However, because Private Beneke's parents have specified the biblical reference we know that it's not the 'Thy wlll be done' of the Lord's Prayer but of Christ's agony in the Garden of Gethsemene. Christ, knowing that his betrayal, arrest and crucifiction are imminent, prays, "O My Father, if this cup may not pass away from Me, unless I drink it, Thy will be done". "Unless I drink it" ... for both soldier and next-of-kin there was no other option.
EI ABERTH NID A HEIBIO
- A' I WYNEB
ANNWYL NID A'N ANGO
The lines come from 'Not Forgotten', a brief poem written by the Welsh bard Hedd Wynn, Private Ellis Humphrey Evans, to commemorate a friend killed in action in the early months of the war. The friend cannot have been Evan Evans because he was killed on the same day as Hedd Wyn himself.
Written in Welsh, the lines translate as, 'Neither his sacrifice nor his dear face will be forgotten. Mother'. The poem is inscribed on a plaque fixed to a statue of Hedd Wyn in his home town of Trawsfynydd. In translation it reads:
Neither his sacrifice nor his dear face will be forgotten
Though the Germans have stained their fist of steel in his blood
A widowed father's farewell to his nineteen-year old son. The French for good-bye, in so far as it translates into English at all, means, until I see you again, or good-bye for the present. In this way Private Adams' father could be neatly indicating a belief in eternal life without being overtly religious ... or he could just be speaking French!
GUS AM BRIS AN LA
Hugh McGilp was one of three brothers killed in the war, only two of whom have graves. His father appears to have chosen his brother Archie's inscription, a factual account of the family's tragedy (see previous inscription). Hugh's mother chose his, a quote in Gaelic from the Old Testament, Song of Solomon 2:17, Until the day breaks (and the shadows flee away).
If I'm reading the cemetery records correctly, Hugh's body appears to have been exhumed on 23 January 1929. He had originally been buried with eight others as unknown British soldiers. By 1929 the War Graves Commission knew who eight of them were and according to the exhumation records could identify Hugh individually by his kilt and his size ten boots.