Their Country’s Honour

York is not a city I know well, and I had never noticed before, just by the Minster, this handsome monument to those who died in the Boer War.

I was struck by the Gothic styling of the top half, whch contrasts rather with the plainness of the slabs of names at eye level. It is as though the eyes are led from the plain facts of death, up through some heroic figures of stalwart sevecemen, and up further to realms of the ideal.

I was even more struck by the wording on the tablet in front.

My photograph may not make this easily legible, so here is the inscription:

Remember those loyal and gallant soldiers and sailors of this county of York who fell fighting for their country’s honour in South Africa 1899 to 1902 and whose names are inscribed on this Cross erected by their fellow Yorkshiremen A.D. 1905.

Does any Great War memorial use the formulation that that the men had died ‘for their country’s honour’? None that I can think of. Isn’t the common form that they died for their country, simply? Or sometimes for Civilisation. For something more crucial even than honour?

I was in York to go to the theatre, to see Ralph Feinnes remarkable performance of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. I have writen about it elsewhere.


  1. David
    Posted July 30, 2021 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Hi George.
    I’m currently writing a novel and in one of the scenes my characters attend the unveiling by Sir George White of Liverpool’s Boer War Memorial – September 9, 1905.
    The inscription reads : ‘This monument is erected by the officers / non commissioned officers and men of the regiment and by the grateful contributions of the people of Liverpool in memory of their comrades and fellow citizens who died during the campaign in Afghanistan 1879-80, Burma 1885-87 and South Africa 1899-1902. Some fell on the field of battle, some died of wounds and some of disease but all gave for their lives for the honour of the regiment, their city, and their country.’
    Hope that helps.
    Best wishes
    David Whitehall

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Posted July 30, 2021 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for this. It suggests that ‘for the honour of…’ may have been a standard formulation on memorials during the Boer War. But it does seem to have dropped out of use after 1914.

  2. Posted July 30, 2021 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Curious. I looked up the wording on the Boer War memorial in Saltwell Park Gateshead, near where I grew up. It uses the formulation ‘country’s service’. ‘In Grateful Remembrance
    of the Gateshead Men who lost their lives in their Country’s Service this Memorial was erected by their
    fellow Townsmen. October, 1905’

  3. Posted July 30, 2021 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    The wording is rather curious but as is almost always the case, piercingly moving.
    Peter Drake.
    Playwright and teacher
    Hexham Northumberland

  4. Roger Allen
    Posted July 30, 2021 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    Is there an echo of the monuments in Housman’s poem:

    Here dead lie we because we did not choose
    To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
    Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
    But young men think it is, and we were young.

    or an echo of the poem in the monuments? Housman’s brother died in the Boer War.

  5. Posted July 30, 2021 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    Oh to have one tenth of Houseman’s command of language.
    Peter Drake
    Playwright teacher
    Hexham Northumberland

  6. Tom Deveson
    Posted August 13, 2021 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    The one I saw nearly every day growing up in Bedford is more soberly worded:

    There are 230 names, quite a lot for what was then a small town.

    Very many died of enteric fever and other illnesses.

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