In Mitcheldean Churchyard, in the most eastern part of the Forest of Dean, amongst a crowded silent audience, I pick out the words: We do not know; we cannot tell; What pains he had to bear We hope in heaven to meet again And all its glories share. No more sorrow, no more pain But God shall wipe away all tears.
This was inscribed upon the headstone of Eddie Vimpany. He was 20 years of age. He enlisted in the Gloucestershire Regiment and died a Private of the 6th Battalion South Wales Borderers. He was killed in action on August 8th 1917 and is buried at Belgian Battery Corner Cemetery, south of Ypres.
On the 25th October 1916, eight men of C Company of the 13th Pioneer Forest of Dean Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment were killed near the Schwaben Redoubt on the Somme. It seems singular to imagine that in one foul swoop, eight men’s identities and lives could be extinguished. They were buried as one in that action. And as war sometimes does, their identities and graves were lost. Found once again, they became eight men of the Gloucester Pioneer Regiment; that was their identifier. Until sometime in the 1920s when those eight soldiers were identified. Identified as men once again; as a collective.
It must have been all too common. But the concept that families could send their menfolk off to battle and know that they would never return; but never know where they ended, never know their final moments, never see or even identify their place of death. On a gravestone headed by a tricolore of floral tribute, Elizabeth Reed is remembered. Dearly beloved wife of John Reed of Chipping Sodbury who died January 1st 1910. Below her name is written the name of her son; ordered there by his father.
It says: Remember ye with thanksgiving and with all honor before God and men those who went forth from this place in the service of their country during the years of the Great War 1914 - 1919 and returned not again, to those this window is dedicated.
Six long months after he was last seen alive on a battlefield in northern France, Mrs Elizabeth Longney of Drews House, Longney had final confirmation from a court of enquiry that her boy, her youngest boy was dead. And had been dead for over six months.
St Mary's Church at Frampton speaks of golden times. When the canal carried more trade than leisure-seekers; and when life in the climbs of this flatland of Gloucestershire was more of farming, goods and patronage. Hanging in the dim light of the church, the Roll of Honour perches, hand-scribed for the First and the Second World Wars. The flags of the Royal British Legion hang in solemn memorial overlooking the Roll.
Staunton Church is a little faded, suffering a little from age and the irrepressible conditions that life amongst the trees of the Forest sustains. But when I opened the door, the pure loveliness of this art to goodbye shone across the nave. Golden. Gilded. Graceful. Just two names scribed to perfection on it.