John Maxwell Edmonds won’t be too familiar a name to most people. Despite this, some of the English classicist’s compositions will be instantly recognisable to millions around the world. In particular around this time of year, when we remember our fallen in worldwide services of remembrance.
The Stroud born poet is celebrated for his moving and thought provoking epitaphs. Amongst his more famous work he is attributed with the widely known epitaph in the War Cemetery in Kohima, which commemorates the fallen of the Battle of Kohima, India in April 1944:-
When you go home, tell them of us and say for their tomorrow, we gave our today.
In the final year of the First World War (1918), Edmonds composed ‘Four Epitaphs’, which were published in The Times newspaper. They were penned for graves in memorial of the fallen, the second of those was a poem titled ‘Went the Day Well?’
Went the day well?
We died and never knew.
But, well or ill,
Freedom, we died for you.
Edmonds wasn’t the only poet producing poignant, thought provoking and melancholic prose at that time. Rupert Brooke, an established and respected poet at the outbreak of the First World War, also received acclaim for his war prose. In particular, his collection of War Sonnets, a series which included ‘The Soldier’:-
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
As usual, during this upcoming remembrance weekend, I’ll watch the Service of Remembrance from The Cenotaph in London on TV. Undoubtedly, on witnessing the laying of wreaths and the veteran march past, sensations of humility will manifest themselves.
The marching are stoic men and women who’ve survived the conflicts in which they participated. Only now their companions are the consequential mental and physical scars of battle, as opposed to fallen colleagues.
Through their sacrifice, I have the freedom to overtly peddle my literary offerings on any subject I desire. That may not sell it to you as a good idea, but the maxim also applies to good authors.
During remembrance weekend, I often recall some of the more poignant lines from Richard Curtis and Ben Elton’s TV black comedy Blackadder Goes Forth, which wasset during WWI.
Despite the dark subject matter, from the trench soil it’s writers unearthed several whimsical gems. In particular, in their swipes at the trench warfare strategy employed during that conflict. Amongst those jibes was the assignation that Field Marshal Haig utilised the tactic of going ‘over the top’ so he could move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin.
That obviously wasn’t the objective of Allied military leaders, however it’s difficult not to conclude that trench warfare strategy between 1914-1918 displayed little regard for proletarian human life, regardless of a troop’s affiliation.
The look of resignation of almost certain death prior to Blackadder and his unit ‘going over the top’. A look no doubt seen on the faces of millions of men between 1914-1918