Remembrance Day

Today, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we remember all those members of our armed services who fell in war. Today’s remembrance is even more poignant, marking as it does the centenary of the year the First World War started.

Chap and I went for a walk on Sunday around Dinton Park, in Dinton in south Wiltshire, and we also visited the church next door. There in the churchyard, alone against the stone boundary wall, was a military grave. It is the final resting place of Private Edgar Walter Cuff.

The headstone of Private E W Cuff, who died on

The headstone of Private E W Cuff, who died on 11 May 1917.

Private Cuff was in the Dorsetshire Regiment. I don’t know anything else about him, but he gave his life in World War I. As he is buried in the churchyard rather than in a military cemetery in France or Belgium, close to the battlefields, I assume he was injured or became ill and was brought back to England, where he succumbed. Rest in Peace, Private Cuff. Thank you for your sacrifice.

There is a war memorial in the churchyard—as there is in most churchyards throughout the country—and it lists the names of the men of Dinton who died in both World Wars. For such a small village, the toll is great: eight men in World War I and three in World War II. It shows the scale of the loss: this picture is repeated in every village around the country.

The war memorial in Dinton churchyard, Dinton, Wiltshire.

The war memorial in Dinton churchyard, Dinton, Wiltshire.

The plaque on the war memorial at Dinton listing those who died in the two World Wars.

The plaque on the war memorial at Dinton listing those who died in the two World Wars.

20050613-019-poppy (2)

A poppy, the symbol of remembrance. Photo by Gary Houston.

Lest We Forget.

100 years ago today

100 years ago today, the United Kingdom, and with it the Commonwealth, entered the conflict that became known as the Great War, and in time, World War I. From that point, life in this country was indelibly changed. The horrific loss of life affected every family, every community. Family members, friends, neighbours—no-one was immune from loss. The mechanisation of war, with machine guns and tanks, poison gas and bombs, meant that the killing was on a horrific scale.

Our village suffered huge losses among its young men. The large part of a generation, wiped out.

There is a wonderful project by the Royal British Legion, Every Man Remembered, to memorialise every person from the Commonwealth who died in the conflict. You can memorialise someone you know, or select someone with no commemoration and add a message of remembrance and gratitude.

Poppies, the symbol of remembrance. Photo by David Wijnants.

Poppies, the symbol of remembrance. Photo by David Wijnants.

Lest We Forget.

A World War I graffito on a beech tree

In the woods near our village is a large beech tree with an interesting graffito cut into the bark of the trunk. (Click on all photos to enlarge).


The graffito. 

Underneath a noose hanging from a gallows is a man wearing a spiked helmet, wearing a uniform with a belt and buttons down the front.  He might have a moustache (possibly upturning) on his face, but this is less clear. By the figure is written ‘THE KAISER.’, and underneath is written ‘YOU ARE A BUGER.’ ‘Buger’ seems likely to be a mis-spelling of ‘bugger’.

Detail of the figure with his spiked helmet, belt and buttons.

Detail of the figure with his spiked helmet, belt and buttons. 

We assume this refers to Kaiser Wilhelm II and was carved into the beech tree sometime during World War I (1914-1918), perhaps by someone who had lost a family member who was serving in the Armed Forces during the war. It could be that ‘The Kaiser’ was the nickname of a local character from our village or the surrounding area and this was carved by someone who was disgruntled with him. I don’t suppose we will ever know for certain, but it is interesting to speculate.

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Spot the similarity? I think with the eye of faith I can even see an upturning moustache on it ...

Spot the similarity? I think with the eye of faith I can even see a moustache on him … 

I have contacted Chantal Summerfield, whose PhD at Bristol University is on the graffiti carved into trees by soldiers during World Wars I and II, a lot of it on Salisbury Plain Training Area, and she has expressed an interest in our example, so I hope we might get a chance to show it to her at some point.

We were first shown it by a friend about 20 years ago. We have been keeping an eye on it since then, stripping the encroaching ivy off it at every visit. It is on the very edge of the wood (managed woodland for timber) and so we hope it won’t get chopped down—or that even if it is marked for felling, it might be spared because of the graffito. It used to have holly bushes growing near it and these have recently been cleared, making access easier (and less painful!)


The tree and graffito a few years ago (2009). 

The tree in 2014. 

Whatever the story behind it, it is a wonderfully evocative voice from the past.

“Adlestrop”, by Edward Thomas

Adlestrop station sign, now in the bus shelter at Adlestrop. Photo by Graham Horn.

Adlestrop station sign, now in the bus shelter at Adlestrop. Photo by Graham Horn.

Almost exactly one hundred years ago, a man caught a train from Oxford, heading north-west to Worcester. Nothing special about that, you might think. The train stopped at the small station of Adlestrop in the Cotswolds, waited a while, and then moved on. Again, nothing untoward there. But the circumstances of that stop made such an impression on the passenger, the poet Edward Thomas, that he later wrote what was to become perhaps his most famous poem:


Yes, I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Rosebay willowherb growing alongside railway tracks (Photographer David Wright on Geograph:

Rosebay willowherb growing alongside railway tracks. Photo by David Wright.

I adore this poem.

It is so poignant for so many reasons. The journey was made on 23 June 1914. Five days later, on 28 June, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, an event which is generally considered to have precipitated the First World War. The UK entered the war on 4 August 1914. Thomas enlisted in the Army, and was killed at the Battle of Arras on 9 April 1917. The poem conjurs up that lost, innocent period before the horrors of global and mechanised warfare devastated Europe and decimated a generation.

It also summons up the midsummer heat of a lost, rural England. The station of Adlestrop was closed in the 1960s, during the Beeching cuts that finished off so many of the small rural train lines. Haycocks are no longer made; songbirds are in desperate decline. But the beauty of the poem is everlasting.

What is interesting too about this poem is how its skeleton can be so clearly seen in Thomas’s field notes for that day:

23 June 1914. A glorious day from 4.20 a.m. and at 10 tiers above tiers of white cloud with dirtiest grey bars above the sea of slate and dull brick by Battersea Park. Then at Oxford tiers of pure white with loose longer masses above and gaps of dark clear blue above hay-making and elms.

Then we stopped at Adlestrop, through the willows could be heard a chain of blackbirds‘ songs at 12.45 and one thrush and no man seen, only a hiss of engine letting off steam. Stopping outside Campden by banks of long grass, willowherb and meadowsweet, extraordinary silence between two periods of travel—looking out on grey dry stones between metals and the shining metals and over it all the elms willows and long grass—one man clears his throat—a greater than rustic silence. No house in view. Stop only for a minute till signal is up.

(The Collected Poems of Edward Thomas, edited by R George Thomas, Oxford University Press 1981 (1985 reprint), 135-6)

Thomas wrote the poem sometime between 1 January and 24 May 1915 (op. cit., xvii); it preserves perfectly those small, still moments in late June 1914 before all hell broke loose.

Lest We Forget.

A male blackbird singing. Photograph by Malene Thyssen.

A male blackbird singing. Photo by Malene Thyssen.