There is one aspect of British military headstones that we have yet to consider, and that is the personal inscriptions sometimes to be found at their base. The majority of headstones have no personal inscription, but a significant number do, and as, for some pilgrims, these are the most poignant aspect of a cemetery visit, it would be remiss of me to ignore them.
One simple reason why most headstones do not include a personal inscription is that there was a charge, per letter, for the privilege, and after the deprivations of the war years, I presume many people simply could not afford such extravagance – in 1920 a labourer might earn as little as fourteen shillings per week (today, the relatives of newly discovered and identified Great War casualties are offered the same for free). The two Imperial War Graves Commission forms above show seventeen identified men buried in Pond Farm Cemetery of whom only seven have a personal inscription on their headstones, as can be seen on the Comprehensive Report B Headstone Personal Inscriptions form on the right, where you will also find, detailed in the far right column, the cost of each personal inscription, from which you can work out the cost per letter, should you so desire. The red shading highlights the entries for the four men whose headstones are pictured in the first photograph of this post, one of whom has been added in red pen on the left and does not appear on the right-hand form, which is where you will also find the details for the two personal inscriptions you can see in the first shot.
Inscriptions are frequently religious, invariably solemn, often mournful, sometimes poetic or factual, occasionally quirky – the only stipulations were that the inscription ‘should not include references to family members or circumstances that the casualty would not have known, or repeat details engraved elsewhere on the grave marker e.g. date of death’. Incidentally, the New Zealand government decided not to permit personal inscriptions for identified men, and thus only unidentified New Zealand soldiers’ headstones feature any kind of inscription, Kipling’s ‘Known unto God’. And what think you about the central, largest headstone pictured immediately above? This is not the only example I have seen of a headstone with a religious personal inscription and yet no religious symbol, which always seems a bit odd to me.
Now, if I were to follow this spiel with a hundred photos of personal inscriptions on headstones, even collaged like these, I am not so sure I would retain your attention to the end. So I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll show you a few here, and then I’ll show you some more on occasions when there’s not much going on, or simply when I feel like it. And those of you who like them will be happy bunnies, and those of you who don’t, won’t so much, and the world will keep spinning……
All these collages will enlarge, if you concentrate very, very hard. Alternatively, click on ’em. And that really is it for headstones. For now.