Their Name Liveth For Evermore

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As the First World War’s bloodiness took its toll, the practical challenges of dealing with death on a vast scale grew – from locating remains and identifying bodies, to burying the dead. For Great Britain, the human cost was such that it has never been surpassed in any subsequent conflict. Around three quarters of a million British servicemen were killed in action as a result of the conflict. When combined with deaths sustained by Commonwealth forces, the toll grew nearer to approximately one million, including thousands of women who were killed while volunteering as nurses or for female branches of the armed services.

As the death toll mounted, a hard decision was taken in 1915. Human remains would not be brought home for burial. Even when families understood that repatriation was not practical in the midst of the ‘great war’, many were deeply aggrieved that the decision held firm in peacetime.

Establishing permanent burial grounds for British and Commonwealth soldiers became a core responsibility of the Imperial War Graves Commission, which was established in 1917.

Thiepval Memorial in France bears the names of 72,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed during the Battle of the Somme, and whose graves are not known.

The solution:

Rudyard Kipling recommended the inscription: ‘Their name liveth for evermore’ for each Stone of Remembrance, a biblical text taken  from the King James version of the bible, forming the second half of the  text from The Book of Ecclesiasticus, Chapter 44; verse 14. These words are widely inscribed on war memorials after the World War I. In full, verse 14 reads ‘Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore’. The full text of verse 14 was suggested by Rudyard Kipling as an appropriate inscription for war memorials, with the intention that it could be carved into the Stone of Remembrance proposed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Imperial ( now Commonwealth) war cemeteries. Lutyens was initially opposed, concerned that someone might inappropriately add an ‘s’ to ‘peace’, but relented when the phrase was shortened to just the second part of the verse, omitting the reference to bodies resting in peace. Another reason, apparently, for not using the first part of the verse, was that it was considered unsuitable for soldiers of every religious tradition.

 Kipling also proposed a simple tribute for gravestones marking   the graves of unidentified or unknown soldiers: ‘A soldier of the Great War. Known unto God.

The memorial phrase, ’lest we forget’, is taken from Kipling’s poem ‘Recessional’ – ‘Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet / Lest we forget—lest we forget!’

 By Richard Farrar

Picture notes:

  1. The Never Forget Book of Remembrance of Royal British Legion, which includes the name of Bridget Farrar. This book is kept at Hague House in London
  2. lt David Irving (kia) Somme, January 1916, aged 20 [3rd Battalion,  Royal Scots Fusiliers]
  3. lt Alfred Irving (kia) Mesopotamia, October 1918, aged 19 [14th Battalion, King George’s  Own Ferozepore Sikhs]
  4. Capt. Jim Irving MC,  awarded Military Cross in 1917 [ 7-8 th Battalion, The Kings Own Scottish Borderers]. Jim survived the war, though badly wounded at the Somme in 1916.