In his poem The Soldier, Rupert Brooks wrote: ‘There’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.’
I was thinking of this verse when I visited Milton cemetery in Portsmouth researching another story and came across the wartime graves of 12 Australian soldiers.
I thought how apt to change the verse to ‘There’s a some corner of Portsmouth that will be forever Australia.’
The dozen headstones stand erect and in line as the soldiers themselves did one day in the distant past.
They came from far away places these lads, visiting a land to fight for a reason I doubt they even knew of.
They all fought on a foreign field in the First World War and were brought back to England suffering wounds and illness. One, George S C Wall, died of drowning.
No doubt the men were brought back by ambulance, train and ship from France. Perhaps they were cared for at the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham. The youngest was Thomas Owen Pearson, aged just 20. He came from Newmarket, Queensland and died on July 27, 1916.
Next youngest was John Henry Craig, aged 22, who died of wounds six days after the Armistice. He had come over from Killingworth, New South Wales, although he was born in Scotland. He, like the others, never saw his home again.
The eldest, Herbert Gray, was aged 35 at the time of his death on November 11, 1916 exactly two years before the Armistice. A gunner in the Australian Field Artillery, Herbert lived in Whittlesea, Victoria. Clarence Morgan Jones had come all the way from Oatlands, Tasmania and died on December 10, 1916. There is no record of his age.
Portsmouth Cemetery manager Gerard O’Brian tells me that every year on ANZAC Day, April 25, a party of officials attend a Service to the Fallen. Please put the date in your diary if interested and attend the service.
While on the subject of cemeteries and headstones, I cannot let this week go by without a mention of the awdul desecration of the Wall of Remembrance in Kingston cemetery in Portsmouth.
The theft of the name plaques containing the names of many killed in the Blitz on the city and interred close by is despicable. In my 60 years, I didn’t think there was much more that could upset me.
I’ve written about the people of Portsmouth who died during the war and have met many relations of civilians killed. So I was shocked when I visited the cemetery and saw what had happened.