Those of you who’ve followed this site for a few years now might know that, although I’m not really a collector as such, I do have some battlefield relics I’ve picked up over the years on my travels, and I do splash out on the occasional Memorial Plaque, or Death Penny if you prefer, such as the one pictured above that came into my possession only today. I broke a golden rule in buying it, in that I have never, up to now, bought one that is not unique. How many John Smiths are there? There is nothing else on a Death Penny, other than a name, to distinguish one from the next. That way lies madness. And bankruptcy. And for me, the whole point of owning these evocative items is the direct link with a specific soldier who gave his life for me, for us, however indirectly. Nonetheless, I knew that Hayat could not possibly be unique, but I don’t own an Indian Penny, and the price wasn’t excessive, so I bought it.
On returning home, after some very quick research and a lot of imagination, how’s this for a theory? This is the page from the CWGC website with all the Hayats listed; the first two are discounted as they are Second World War burials. Three men are on the Basra Memorial and one is in Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery, all in present-day Iraq, and one is named on the Delhi Memorial. All a long way away. The other, Sepoy Hayat, of the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis, is the only one who died in France, on Christmas Day 1914, and guess where he’s buried? Rue-David Military Cemetery, Fleurbaix. And where were we just last post?
The Graves Registration Report from 1925 names him as Sepoy Muhamed Hayat, and, notwithstanding the No 5. written in pen next to the typed word ‘Memorial’, the final row shows his grave reference as number 4…
…as does the Cemetery Register, which, interestingly, for our purposes, names him simply as Sepoy Hayat.
So here are the six Indian special memorials that we saw last post in Rue-David Military Cemetery…
…and here is headstone number four in close-up, where we find that Hayat has become Mayat, and for this there is no explanation other than error. I wonder whether, at some point, his headstone has been replaced – it looks in fine condition – and the error occured then? His service number has also now become 3128 (as opposed to 312 on both the Graves Registration Report and Cemetery Register), and by the time of a third document from the CWGC website (see below), dated 1928, an eight has indeed been added, making the prime suspect a transcription error (also note that Muhamed has now become Muhammad).
Quite probably this is all just fable, nothing more. You could shoot it down like a blazing Zeppelin if it was presented as any sort of serious thesis. And although I have shown you the CWGC website page with all the Hayats, there are fifty five Hayat Muhammads or similar. But I rather like the idea that some hidden hand guided me to this particular Hayat’s Memorial Plaque today – there was another Indian one that I could have chosen instead – and however much imagination may have been used in my story, you can’t dismiss the Rue-David Military Cemetery coincidence. Well you can, but it makes it no less of a coincidence.