November 11, 2019 marks 101 years since the end of the Great War. The topic of war is something that, for the vast majority of us, we learn through our history books. We spend painstaking hours trying to remember which general lead what army; the significance of each battle the Canadians, Australians, French, British or other allied forces fought in; and the different technological advances that came about as a result of the war.
Many of us may be able to recite the countries of the Triple Entente or Triple Alliance, when the Canadian Expeditionary Force was first led by a Canadian general (Sir Arthur Currie at Hill 70), or when mustard gas was first employed as a war tactic (the second battle of Ypres). However, what history books and history class often fail to teach us, or remind us of, is the basic humanity of the Great War. Thus Remembrance Day serves as such an important reminder for us to reflect, empathize and honour all of those who left their regular lives to fight in the Great War and who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Immediately following the Great War, the sacrifice made by these men was honoured and commemorated through various monuments and memorial sites. Soldiers belonging to the commonwealth were honoured in cemeteries built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, at the time known as the Imperial War Graves Commission. Family members of the soldiers were given the chance to choose an epitaph or inscription to be carved on the headstone of their loved one. These epitaphs capture both the sentiment that drove many soldiers to fight in the Great War and most of all the love that family members felt for those they lost.
I have had the privilege and honour of working in the North of France at both the Canadian National Vimy Memorial and the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial as an interpretive guide. Below are photos taken by myself and co-workers of some of the most striking epitaphs. As you read them take time to reflect and honour each of these men who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Pte. J. MC Farlane – Greater love hath no man than he who gives all
Pte. W.J Carpenter – Our hearts are buried here with our boy who died so that the world should be free
Second Lte S.S Gemmell – Thou hast no sorrow in thy song no winter in thy year
Sgt. J. Wilkinson – Daddy only those who have loved and lost can understand
Pte. J.J Morier– Your memory like the ivy clings
Photo credits: Louisa Simmons and Rory Ngah