Written to commemorate the dead of the First World War (it was first published in 1919), the relatives of the Second World War dead would have often heard the very moving and romantic hymn “O Valiant Hearts” during the twenty years left to run of the peace. Many then recalled it when the time came to find an epitaph for a loved one killed in the Second World War.
On my AFTERMATH website, there is an item about a 105 Squadron crew lost at Bergen in Norway in 1941. (105 Squadron would join the Pathfinders in June 1943.) When the time came to replace the wooden cross with the permanent War Graves Commission stones for the individual crew members, the epitaph chosen for Arthur North was:
All you had hoped for, all you had, you gave, yourself you scorned to save.
It is an adaption from two lines in the hymn O Valiant Hearts.
O Valiant Hearts, who to your glory came
Through dust of conflict and through battle-flame,
Tranquil you lie, your knightly virtue proved,
Your memory hallowed in the Land you loved.
Proudly you gathered, rank on rank to war,
As who had heard God’s message from afar;
All you had hoped for, all you had, you gave
To save Mankind – yourselves you scorned to save.
Splendid you passed, the great surrender made,
Into the light that nevermore shall fade;
Deep your contentment in that blest abode,
Who wait the last clear trumpet-call of God.
Long years ago, as earth lay dark and still
Rose a loud cry upon a lonely hill,
While in the frailty of our human clay
Christ, our Redeemer, passed the self-same way.
Still stands his cross from that dread hour to this
Like some bright star above the dark abyss;
Still through the veil the victor’s pitying eyes
Look down to bless our lesser Calvaries.
These were his servants, in his steps they trod,
Following through death the martyr’d Son of God:
Victor he rose; victorious too shall rise
They who have drunk his cup of sacrifice.
O risen Lord, O shepherd of our dead,
Whose cross has bought them and whose staff has led-
In glorious hope their proud and sorrowing land
Commits her children to thy gracious hand.
The most memorable instance I know of a quotation from this hymn being used for an RAF gravestone is that of Ernest Deverill, the much decorated bomber pilot who died on Black Thursday, 16/17 December 1943.
Ernest was buried at Docking in Norfolk on 22 December, in the churchyard of St. Mary The Virgin. It seems very likely that this hymn was sung at his funeral, as his widow Joyce chose it for his gravestone.
St Mary the Virgin, Docking, is probably where Ernest and Joyce had married in 1941. After Ernest died, Joyce never remarried.
JENNIE MACK GRAY
Below: Ernest and Joyce on their wedding day.