Thursday, March 12, 2015

Epitaph: Neuve Chapelle

Neuve Chapelle Memorial
photo by Andrew Holmes
One-hundred years ago this week, on March 10th through the 13th of 1915, the British attempted to break through the German line of trenches at Neuve Chapelle.  It is estimated that 40,000 Allied troops were involved in the offensive.  Over 11,500 men were casualties of the battle, and no strategic effect was achieved.

Indian soldiers at Neuve Chapelle, 1915.
(Official British Military painting published in "The Great War" Ed. H.W. Wilson, 1916)
The role of the Indian Army in World War has often been forgotten. Over one million Indian troops served in the war: over 70,000 were killed, and nearly that many were wounded.  In the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, the 7th Meerut Division of the Indian Corps led the attack, suffering over 4,200 casualties.
Gabbar Singh Negi was one of those who died in the battle; he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for "his conspicuous acts of bravery and devotion to duty." His body was never found, but his name is recorded on the Neuve Chapelle Indian Memorial that lists the 4,742 Indian soldiers of the war who have no known grave.

H.W. Garrod wrote a poem on the battle (published in Worms and Epitaphs, 1919).  It's brevity and directness need no comment: they shape the meaning of the poem.

Epitaph: Neuve Chapelle

Tell them at home, there's nothing here to hide.
We took our orders, asked no questions, died.

Neuve Chapelle Memorial
CWGC photos


  1. In every way this epitaph sounds like a prequel to Rudyard Kipling's equally short poem 'Common Form'.

    The poem, which has this down-to-earth tone about it, 'just' states, and without any apparent feeling:

    'If any question why we died,
    tell them: because our fathers lied.'

    Kipling, who had been every bit an imperialist and a close friend of the British Royal Family, is said to have written this because he never seemed to be able to get over the loss of his beloved son John 'nicknamed 'Jack'), during the Battle of Loos 1915.
    All of this is described in the book-cum-movie 'My Boy Jack'.

    Best, from Flanders

  2. Thanks for another wonderful post. In her book Stand in the Trench, Achilles,Elizabeth Vandiver holds that Garrod's epitaph is modeled on that of Simonides for the dead at Thermopylae.

  3. I've dipped in and out of Vandiver's book, but you've convinced me I need to read it in its entirety. Thanks for the fascinating information!