Passing ‘out of the sight of men’
As we approach the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War on the 4th September, many will be reflecting on its effect on Bermuda and the families who lost sons in that global conflict, now called the First World War.
The population of the Island around the beginning of the War in 1914 was about 19,000 souls, of which number more than 500 men volunteered independently, or from the two local forces, the Bermuda Militia Artillery and the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps, to go overseas to serve nearer the front lines of the combat.
Starting with William Edmund Smith on HMS Aboukir (sunk a mere 18 days into the War with the lost of 527 men), 80 Bermudians lost their lives overseas while in service and ten died here serving in the local forces. As was eventually stated in memoriam, those volunteer fighters “passed out of the sight of men” in the conflict that saw the passing of more than a million men and women of the British Forces.
One of the Bermudians lost in France on the Western Front was William James Tite, who had only just obtained his majority, but was killed on 16 July 1916, being No. 17156 of the 1st Battalion, the Lincolnshire Regiment.
William was the son of Charlotte (née Powell) and Frederick Tite of Court Street in the City of Hamilton.
He was predeceased by the husband of his sister Jessie, Serjeant Herbert Pope Truscott, on 13 March 1916, being No. 193 of the 12th Field Ambulance of the Royal Army Medical Corps, who is ‘Remembered with Honour' at the Grangegorman Military Cemetery in Dublin, Republic Of Ireland. (We are grateful to Michael and Leslie Archer of Warwick for supplying information on the Tite Family and for donating Great War objects and documents to the military collections of the National Museum.)
William James Tite has no such burial place, being among the thousands who lost their lives in action and whose mortal remains were also lost or could not be identified after the fact of death, some decaying into oblivion in dangerous zones of No Man's Lands between the German and Allied forces on the Somme.
Those lost men are honoured at the Anglo-French ‘Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme', in France.
Private Tite, of the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps and Linconshire Regiment, was one of the 72,194 British Forces lost in the Battle of the Somme: “Over 90 percent of those commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial died in the 1916 Battles of the Somme between July and November 1916”, including William Tite who was killed in action in the middle of the former month, aged 21.
As presented here, families of the lost soldiers received three items from the King and the British Government, a couple of years after the end of the War.
One was the Memorial Scroll, which contained the text: “He whom this scroll commemorates was numbered among those who, at the call of King and Country, left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty and self-sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom. Let those who come after see to it that his name be not forgotten.”
After suggested wording from some of the greatest British writers of the age, the chosen text was composed by Dr James Montague Rhodes, then Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, “apparently produced by return of post”. Rhodes was also the author of ‘chilling ghost stories'.
The scrolls were printed by the woodblock method and the name of the deceased was added by hand at the bottom: blue ink was used for the Royal Navy and Merchant Marine, while red was for members of all other forces.
A letter was also sent from King George V to the families of the fallen.
The third item was separately received in its own envelope and that was a bronze memorial plaque, later known as a ‘Dead Man's Penny', after the large one-penny coin then in circulation in Britain (and Bermuda).
A little larger than four inches in diameter, the plaque contained the name of the deceased, with the text “He died for Freedom and Honour”: some 600 were issued to commemorate that ‘She died…', being for the British women lost in the conflict.
It is not presently known if plaques were given to the families of soldiers lost in Bermuda during the Great War, but some 80 should have been received by the relatives of the men of the BMA and the BVRC, as well as those of men who signed up independently, along with the King's Letter and the Memorial Scroll.
Julie Dunne in her evocative 2012 article, Dead Man's Penny: a biography of the First World War Bronze memorial plaque ends with this note of the cultural and heritage significance of the medallions: “These tokens of remembrance for individual families, now part of the matériel remains of the devastating collective experience of industrialised warfare, are part of the narrative carrying the weight of millions of deaths not only in the great War, but in all other conflicts since.”
Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Director of the National Museum. Comments may be made to firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-5480.