Wandering around Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension Nord last year, a particular headstone caught my eye. It is hard to miss; situated at the end of a row, it stands out because almost the entire headstone is taken up by the epitaph. It is certainly the longest one I have seen first-hand in my travels.
The headstone is that of Lieutenant Alfred James Lawrence Evans, who served with the 3rd Battalion Canadian Infantry was who died on 7 December 1915, aged 26.
His epitaph reads:
In loving memory of Lieutenant Alfred James Lawrence Evans. B.Sc. McGill. 1st Canadian Division 7th December 1915. Aged 26 years. Born at Quebec. Died of wounds received on 23rd November 1915 while in command of 1st Bde Mining Sec. 3rd Btn. front line trenches, Belgium. Mentioned in despatches for gallant and distinguished conduct in the field. “The brave die never, being deathless they but change their country’s arms for more, their country’s heart.”
The quote is from the poem ‘Festus’ by Philip James Bailey (1816–1902). In total the epitaph is 455 characters (including spaces) – somewhat longer than the 66 characters that was allowed!
Alfred was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Lorenzo Evans, of 65, St. Ursule St., Quebec, Canada. He was born in Quebec in 1889 and after graduating from McGill University he worked as a mining engineer. He enlisted September 1914 as a Sapper in the Engineers, went to France in October 1914, and was promoted in August 1915. He was Mentioned in Desptaches in the London Gazette of 22 June 1915.
On 23 November Alfred was in trenches in the vicinity of Dranoutre. He and Lieutenant Chevalier (officer commanding 3rd Battalion Mining Section) were wounded by a rifle grenade, Alfred suffering wounds to his head, chest and arm. He was taken by No.2 Canadian Field Ambulance roughly four miles to No. 2 Casualty Clearing Station at Bailleul and died there two weeks later.
Unfortunately the CWGC ‘headstone’ document attached to his casualty record on the website does not shed any light as to why such a long epitaph was permitted, as it refers to a separate schedule. Perhaps the answer lies in the CWGC archive.
So was Alfred’s epitaph the longest? The closest I have been able to find is that of Captain Guy Charles Boileau Willock who was killed at Loos on 25 September 1915 and is buried at Dud Corner Cemetery; his epitaph at 257 characters, whilst still impressive, is still 200 characters shorter.
A couple of other longer than standard epitaphs have been pointed out to me:
Private Edward Rust – Seriously wounded while advancing with his regiment in the fighting near St. Julien Sat. April 24. 1915 he was taken to the field hospital but was so eager to uphold the honour of his regiment and to serve his country that he returned next day to the firing line and remained with his comrades until they were relieved and died on April 30th courageous to the end and beloved by all who knew him (395 characters. With thanks to Mark Banning).
Lieutenant Robert William Sterling – Scholar of Pembroke College Oxford author of Newdigate prize poem 1914 killed in action at Ypres and in memory of his brother Second Lieutenant John Lockhart Sterling Royal Scots Fusiliers killed in action at Loos 28th September 1915 (233 characters. With thanks to Paul Hilferink).
Lieutenant Eliot Burt – He was an inspiration of radiant brightness and greatly beloved In proud memory of the above and also of A. Gordon Burt passed away at sea 4th Sept. 1919 after much suffering from wounds received while serving in France now glorified (233 characters. With thanks to Michelle Young).
If you know of a longer one please comment below or contact me on Twitter @ww1geek_andy