Epitaphs of the Great War
Distributed for Uniform Press
This book brings together one hundred epitaphs from headstones marking the graves of British soldiers who died in the battle. The Imperial War Graves Commission limited epitaphs to sixty-six letters, including spaces, a constraint that left little room for flowery sentiment and rendered these commemorations stark and unforgettable. Lieutenant Dillwyn Parrish Starr’s epitaph reads merely “Of Philadelphia, U.S.A.,” while Lieutenant Richard Roy Lewer’s reads “For England.” The headstone of South African Private John Paul however, asks “Did He Die in Vain?”
Sarah Wearne has selected epitaphs that cover a range of approaches and emotions, from soldiers famous and forgotten, each one simultaneously a personal tribute to an individual and a marker of the era, the culture, and the sacrifices it expected. As the centennial commemorations of World War I continue, this book brilliantly reminds us that its staggering costs, while marked in the millions, ultimately reduce down to the individual.
"All battlefields are personal. For proof of this look no further than this gentle book by Wearne. I like it because it lacks any judgement. Quite clearly she has deep feelings about the war, but they do not intrude. But the author sticks to the personal inscriptions of the bereaved made a century ago. Their grief, their tributes do not need further enhancement. Explanation: yes. Interpretation: no. The device is simple as it is brilliant. Take an inscription from a soldier’s grave and make him real for a new generation. Wearne achieves this here."