It was 5th May and last day of Founders. I was hanging out with Murad in the new Junior School Building and he had changed into his rig for the Beating of Retreat. As there was still a good half hour before he had to report to the Band Room, I went for a walk with him to the Cem.
All of us have taken this walk a number of times – both by day and night in those far off days. Murad tells me that they still go down that track though he could not tell me exactly why. Thinking of it, even I can’t exactly tell what is so fascinating about going to Cem. Even that day, I had no plans but that track seemed to beckon. If truth be told, I find cemeteries, especially old ones and where soldiers have found their final resting place, quite fascinating. Reading the head stones with names, dates and, in case of soldiers, the campaigns in which they fell, is always a deeply moving experience. I have spent hours in cemeteries in Shimla, Dalhousie, Bucklow, Dehradun, Lansdowne, Meerut, Delhi and a few other old British stations because some of the silent dead who lie buried there were very much alive and heroes in so many books that I loved to read in school. Standing near these graves and reading their names etched in fading letters seems to transport me back to the their times and I often lose track of the here and now. May be it is because the setting allows me to briefly share the lives and times about which I have only read in books. And no matter how many times one has been to the same cemetery, one tends to find some thing new and fascinating in every subsequent visit. Perhaps it is the frame of mind on any particular day which makes you stop at some point and read the head stones with more deliberation. I had this experience on the 5th with Murad.
Many Lawrencians (Old and current) must have crossed this grave a number of times on some jaunt or the other. It is just next to the walk leading up to the statue on the left side. I’m sure I must have seen this grave more times than I can remember, but it was only on that day that I stopped and read the complete inscription. As I read the words, I immediately realized that there was something special about this grave. For one, it is the grave of the wife of an ex Principal of the school. But it is what is written on the lower slab which I found most striking. I was looking at the grave of a woman who had lost four sons (Noel, Fred, Claude and Dick as they read) in the Great War, now almost a century ago. In itself this is quite extraordinary. I’ve seen lists of siblings killed in the two wars and there are a few incidents where three brothers have fallen on the same day. But losing four sons is, I’m sure, a rarity and here I was looking at the evidence, right there in our cem at Lovedale. An array of thoughts clouded my mind, all at the same time.
I first seemed to connect with the long dead woman lying under that stone. I seemed to experience the enormity of her loss. The grave says she died aged 67 (or is it 87) in 1924. If 67 then she died within 6 years of the war. Was her death pre mature on account of her loss? Did her brave sons study at Lovedale? If yes then their names should figure on the Honor Board (with the legend “Pro Patria Mori” – it is sweet and glorious to die for one’s country) which used to hang outside large hall but which, sadly, is no longer there. This board had the names of OLs killed in the Great War and I used to stare up at those names in awe when in school. I know that Rev Atkinson was the Principal at Lovedale till 1907. Did the couple carry on living at Lovedale till 1924 for her to have found her final resting place there? If so, where did they live? Or was it that a deep connection with Lovedale caused her to be brought there from some place else? That deep connection could have been the memory of her sons growing up at Lovedale. If she was 67 in 1924, then her sons must have been in their thirties or early forties when they died. Were they officers or enlisted men? Being the sons of a Reverend, though the Principal at Lovedale, these men would most likely have been in an Infantry regiment of the line. If they were officers, they would have been senior subalterns or even company commanders, which means that they would have been at the business end of the action. Did they serve and die in Europe or were they on the Turkish Front or the Middle East?
The inscription on this head stone seemed to reach out across mortality. I don’t know about others but for the few minutes that I contemplated, I saw, in my minds eye the family, the young boys growing up at Lovedale and then marching off to the war. I know that all this could just be conjecture because may be these men never grew up at Lovedale leave alone studied there. Yet I spoke their names out aloud, which seemed to have induced Murad to tug at my arm and say “Papa, I can hear the bugles. The band room is open, we got to go.”
And, in parting, I remembered the words found so often inscribed in war cemeteries, in honor of fallen comrades:-
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old, Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn; At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, We will remember them…………..””