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Remembrance Day – The Graphic – Saturday 13th November 1920


 By Hannen Swafrer.



THEY wandered over the scarred war fields of Verdun. The grass was black with powder and with fire that had long gone out. Things that had been men– things now Unknown Soldiers– were lying everywhere, and, where once harvests had ripened in God’s sunshine, was blood and wreckage. Overhead, smoke gathered into a pall, and the groans and curses of the dying echoed where larks were wont to sing of summer. “This is the end of all things,” said one in an agony of hopelessness,  “all that we strove for and dreamed of, all that God meant to us, all that of which we built up our hopes of Heaven. The Devil, indeed, has won.”

But his friend, even amid the horror, was smiling. He had seen, bursting among the chaos, the petals of a flower the promise of another springtime. “God’s work is still going on,” he said. “And as it is with the stricken earth, so ‘tis with the souls of men!”


And now this little bit of No Man’s Land has been transplanted to the centre of the world, and, smiling down upon it, are the marbled faces of the mighty dead welcoming to the great Valhalla an unknown shape of clay, whose unknown name will live for ever.

Sweet is the place with incense -the incense of a great small life and the incense of a man’s martyrdom.

Only the young can grow old; only the dead can become immortal. Men cannot live for ever till they die!

Not far from this tomb, filled with a mortal-ness that has put on immortality, is the Cenotaph which stands a great Empire’s memorial — surrounded by those who rule us. Right in the centre of Whitehall, west of the Unknown Warrior, is the Treasury, where the cost of it all mounts up. On the same side, but on the other side, is the Foreign Office, where Diplomacy, once the unseen smiles of politicians, has become the unmasked blunders I of silly old men. Between these two is Downing Street, where wars are won, where peaces are lost where the difference between War and Peace becomes such a little trivial thing, and where you can have five little wars going on in peace-time, at the same time, without your knowing anything about them.

And immediately fronting that empty tomb is the mighty pillar on which Nelson stands and at the feet of, which four silly lions lie. Right under that mighty column, King Charles I rides a silly metal horse. One might write, thus, what these two adjacent, strangely contrasted figures think:


Right in the heart of London Town

This lesson shall be always read:

The Man who lost his arm looks down

Upon the King who lost his head.


What is a Cenotaph? It is an erection of stone, named by two Greek words to express one meaning. It means an empty tomb, and yet, although its stony emptiness suggests as great a thought as the Symbol of the Cross, it is a word concerning which the world’s greatest minds have had nothing to say.

The standard encyclopaedias dismiss it in a few lines. The brilliant knowledgians who compiled the “Encyclopaedia Britannica” wrote down just this – and then stopped:

Cenotaph (Gr. kenos, empty, taphos, tomb), a monument or tablet to the memory of a person whose body is buried elsewhere. The custom arose from the erection of monuments to those whose bodies could not be recovered, as in the case of drowning. Unknown Warriors are growing fewer. Originally, it was said that there were 275,301 missing then, on August 5 of this year, it was stated that the number was fixed officially at 100,245. Since then the figure has been raised to a rough 180,000. This figure will grow, or shrink, as statistics mount up or fresh dead are found. Because in every British battlefield where you dig, you find an identification disc, a photograph, a means of recognition. And then you know again.


During this year, we shall spend £1,491,000 on the maintenance of the graves of British soldiers who fell in the war. What are we going to spend so that no move British soldiers shall need graves?


The Cenotaph is a symbol of the world to-day as nothing else could be. It stands there, always empty. And this is now an empty, barren world, empty almost even of faith -empty of the ideals, empty of the beliefs, without which Life is mere Existence.

Yes, the lesson of the Cenotaph is that men do not live for ever till they die – that real survival is when your memory lives.

Love is only an empty tomb when it is not filled with a memory.


Wreaths for the graves of British glorious dead in a war cemetery amid the battlefields of France.


Sergt. A. J. Greamy, late of the Irish Guards, laying a wreath before the Cloth Hall, Ypres. on behalf of the Ypres League-


The Unknown Warrior

November 11, 1920


What Mother’s son is this that they bring here

With such high honour that in all its ways

A nation halts, and dreams of fateful days

The while deep thoughts now beat about the bier?

The son of every mother, far and near,

Who lost a lad in war, and gently prays.

This is the boy brought home – this hour repays!

The mothers comforted though falls the tear.

O bring him on with music – bring him on

While we recapture for a little time

The glory of the hours when first we flung

Our banners high with hope the world upon.

He speaks of bloody sweat in every clime,

And strong love known the fighting-men among.



Captain Henderson Bland, who was in the Gloucesters, made a deep impression with his verses on the Scots Guards Heroic Stand in these columns on August 14, 1915.


The Graphic – Saturday 13th November 1920

November 11, 2020 Posted by | Social History, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment