Posted 20 November 2007 - 01:51 pm
Alan Thomas wrote of Gilbert Carre’s death and the subsequent burial of five QORWK officers in his autobiography A Life Apart:
The next morning I saw Gilbert—lying on the ground. He had been carried from the place where he had fallen—near Lateau Wood—to the ruins of Pam-Pam Farm. In his eagerness he had rushed ahead of his men, careless of his safety. He had been killed instantly by a bullet through the heart. There was hardly any trace of the wound on his uniform, beyond a small hole. His eyes were dosed and his features were calm and unaltered.
His pockets had already been emptied by the stretcher-bearers, but they had left his whistle which still hung by a strap from one of the buttons of his tunic. It was one of the whistles I had handed out to him at Noeux and for which he had given me a receipt “Received four sirens”—I have that receipt still). I unfastened the whistle and did the tunic button up again.
For a little while I stood looking down at him, trying to understand what had happened. Then I came away.
But the worst eruption of this General’s temper occurred during Gilbert’s funeral. Five of our officers were buried that day, Alderman, Gilbert and three others. They were buried in a common grave. The funeral service was held at seven-thirty in the morning. A little knot of us, including the General, stood by the side of the grave while the Padre read the service. He was a nervous little man, the Padre, and his voice reminded one of a stage curate’s. That in itself was enough to irritate the General (and the rest of us, too, for the matter of that). Also it happened to be raining and we all of us wanted our breakfast—mitigations but not excuses for the General’s outburst.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” quoth the Padre, taking up a handful of earth and scattering it upon the first body.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” he repeated, taking up another handful of earth and scattering it upon the second body.
The General shifted from one foot to the other and heaved a very audible sigh.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” began the Padre, stooping for yet another handful of earth.
The General exploded. “That’s the third time you’ve said that!” he exclaimed. “Why must you keep repeating yourself ?”
Even the tough ones among us were shocked at this interruption of the funeral service. We took deep breaths and looked down our noses.
The Padre made a feeble attempt to stand his ground.
“The Church ordains, sir,” he said, “that those words shall be spoken over each body.”
The General shrugged his shoulders. “Get on with it,” was all he said.
To his shame the Padre funked the rest. Forsaking the ordinances of the Church he scattered his last handful of earth upon the three remaining bodies, hurrying through the words as best he might. In another two minutes the service was over.
I walked back with the General in silence.
At breakfast he turned to me suddenly and said: “You think I was right, don’t you, Thomas, to stop that fellow repeating himself like that?”
Fortunately, before I could answer, he retracted the question. “Oh, well. I daresay I was a bit impatient,” he grumbled. “Let’s forget it.”