Lest we forget

noel-hodgson

Lt. William Noel Hodgson

Serving with the 9th Battalion the Devonshire Regiment, Lieutenant William Noel Hodgson was on the battlefield near the French village of Mametz in June 1916, preparing for what history now records as the Battle of the Somme. The scheduled date for the start of the battle was originally to be August 1916, but had been brought forward to the 29th June, 1916. Owing to bad weather in the week building up to the battle the date of the attack was postponed at 11.00 hours on 28th June and moved by two days to the morning of 1st July 1916.

It is believed that Noel Hodgson (who was the son of the Bishop of St. Edmundbury and Ipswich and before the war had been studying classics at Christ Church, Oxford) wrote the poem Before Action on 29th June.

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.

Within an hour of the attack it is said that Lieutanant Hodgson was killed. He was aged 23. He would never again see a sunset.hodgson-grave

That night Lieutenant Hodgson’s body was retrieved and brought back into the British Front Line position, along with over 160 of his comrades. They were buried in the vicinity of a little wood called Mansell Copse which was in the British Front Line trench position at the start of the day.

A ceremony was held at the burial site on 4th July. A wooden cross was put up at the time by the survivors of the 9th and 8th Battalions of the Devonshire Regiment. Carved on the cross were the words: “The Devonshires held this trench, the Devonshires hold it still.” The graves were left in this position when the cemeteries were rebuilt after the war. 163 graves are now contained in the cemetery which is named “Devonshire Cemetery”. All but one of the casualties are men of the Devonshire Regiment. Lieutenant Noel Hodgson is buried in Grave reference A. 3.

Thirty-three years on from Lt. Hodgson’s supreme sacrifice his fellow Englishmen were again called upon to give their lives in a second European civil war.  Fast forward another six or seven decades and their great-grandchildren were despatched to Iraq and Afghanistan in further wickedly destructive conflicts, which like those 20th century wars are leaving our nation in a worse state – morally, financially and strategically – despite a seemingly endless blood sacrifice.

The England First Party salutes the memory of those who will never grow old.  We hope that their legacy will be a commitment to rebuild an England that they would have been proud of, while ensuring that present and future generations do not share their fate.

GermanSoldiersFlandersWW19141918

German soldiers in Flanders during World War I: Lt Hodgson's fellow Europeans, drawn into a bloody and pointless civil war with their English cousins

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