Jo Vince, 551929, 1st/16th battalion London regiment (Queens Westminster rifles)
Charles Henry Vince, S4/128216, Army Service Corps
We cannot know the way their bodies fell,
even though they are our dead. Why some
are less than air and earth. My father’s cousin, Jo,
he is not found. He vanishes at Arras. It’s April,
four years in. A spring offensive on the Scarpe.
For this spot of France, the first of many battles,
but his last. 5 days after, Edward Thomas dies,
about whom many words are said. Jo rates
a mother’s grief, a mention on a plaque, these lines
that try to place him here. Lance Corporal Vince.
Late Essex Boy, Late Rifleman, Just Jo.
Charles Henry Vince lies buried in Baghdad.
Another cousin, in the Army Service Corps.
What ends he served are here as silent as his own.
On a November day in 1917
he dies, and with 5 others serving with the same.
No story passes on, except bare facts
of all their graves. A search and sort reveals them
as the company he must have kept that day.
Their cemetery is now a wasteland, too dangerous
to tend, to dry to hope for grass. Their corner
of a foreign field is now abandoned England.
So Charlie Vince, Staff Sergeant, late of
the Service Corps, a music scholar in your parents’
home, you lie and wait amongst dead friends.
Both boys, your anonymity protects. Were you
ranked cowards, runaways, or insubordinates,
your deaths at dawn would pin you to a mark
of courage as the bullets broke your hearts –
with every detail of your exploits held as proof of
their injustice and your victimhood. Your final
ends on duty mark you down for nothing – but
a nation’s gratitude and a summary forgetfulness.
So many apt and haunting phrases – ‘…abandoned England…’, ‘…the bullets broke your hearts…’ – that leave nothing more to say.