Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, June 20, 2014

Western Front Virtual Tour — Stop 23: Devonshire Cemetery

Near the entrance of this small cemetery stands this marker:


1st July 1916
The 8th and 9th Devons
Suffered Very Heavy Casualties
As They Left Their Forward 
Trench to Attack

Later That Day
The Survivors Buried Their Fallen
Comrades in That Same Trench
And Erected a Wooden Memorial
With the Words Which Are
Carved in the Cross Above

The best known burial in the  Devonshire Cemetery is that of Lt. William Noel Hodgson. Shortly before the battle he wrote the poem "Before Action".  It is a tradition for visitors to the cemetery to recite the poem over Hodgson's grave.

Before Action

By all the glories of the day
And the cool evening's benison
By that last sunset touch that lay
Upon the hills when day was done,
By beauty lavishly outpoured
And blessings carelessly received,
By all the days that I have lived
Make me a soldier, Lord.

By all of all man's hopes and fears
And all the wonders poets sing,
The laughter of unclouded years,
And every sad and lovely thing;
By the romantic ages stored
With high endeavour that was his,
By all his mad catastrophes
Make me a man, O Lord.

I, that on my familiar hill
Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Ere the sun swings his noonday sword
Must say good-bye to all of this; -
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.


  1. As an old Devonshire lad I was delighted with this entry. Several figures in WWI literature hailed from Devon, including Henry Williamson, who wrote several books based on his war experiences. Michael Morpurgo, the modern author of Private Peaceful and War Horse also lives in Devon.
    David Beer

  2. The 8th and 9th Devons were New Army, raised in Exeter in September 1914. Yet another Somme Battlefield where the "Kitchener" soldiers tried and died.

  3. Hodgson's wonderful poem was not written 2 days before the first day of the Somme and his death but published in Cecil Chesterton's 'The New Witness', dated 29 June 1916. When Bishop Hodgson edited his son's work for publication he put dates of publication on the published pieces but didn't explain that that's what they were; people saw the date, related it to the date of death and made the wrong connection. It was probably written earlier in June (closer, in fact, to the time they were preparing for the battle and examining Capt Martin's model of their battlefield which showed crossing arcs of machine gun fire, which indeed slaughtered the Devons) The poignancy of the poem is not diminished by its timing.