John Maxwell Edmonds

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John Maxwell Edmonds
Born 21 January 1875
Stroud, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
Died 18 March 1958(1958-03-18) (aged 83)
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom
Occupation Classical scholar

John Maxwell Edmonds (21 January 1875 – 18 March 1958) was an English classicist, poet, and dramatist who is notable as the creator of celebrated epitaphs.

Biography[edit]

Edmonds was born in Stroud, Gloucestershire on 21 January 1875. His father was a schoolmaster and later the vicar of Great Gransden, while his mother was the daughter of a self-made Cornish cloth manufacturer. He was educated at Oundle School before going up to Jesus College, Cambridge in 1896 as a Classical Scholar. He was taught at Oundle by R.P. Brereton and J.H.Vince and at Cambridge under Edwin Abbott Abbott. Periods of illness which had originally made him initially delay his university career later forced him to be sent down from university for several terms, but he nevertheless recovered to take a first in his tripos in 1898.[1]

Epitaphs[edit]

"When you go home tell them of us and say: for your tomorrow we gave our today" inscribed on a war memorial in Westbury-on-Trym

Edmonds is credited with authorship of a famous epitaph in the Kohima Allied war cemetery.

When you go home, tell them of us and say
For their tomorrow, we gave our today.

He was the author of an item in The Times, 6 February 1918, page 7, headed "Four Epitaphs" composed for graves and memorials to those fallen in battle – each covering different situations of death. The second of these was used as a theme for the 1942 war movie Went the Day Well?:

Went the day well?
We died and never knew.
But, well or ill,
Freedom, we died for you.

That epitaph was regularly quoted when The Times notified deaths of those who fell during the First World War, and was also regularly used during the Second World War. It appeared on many village and town war memorials.

There has been some confusion between 'Went the day well' and Edmonds’ other famous epitaph published in the same 1919 edition of inscriptions:[2]

When you go home, tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrows these gave their today.

This epitaph was inspired by an epigram of the Greek poet Simonides of Ceos to the fallen at the Battle of Thermopylae, and was later used (with a misquote) for the memorial for those who fell at the Battle of Kohima. Some resources incorrectly give Went the day well? as being the translation of the Simonides epigram.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Twelve War Epitaphs Chelsea 1920
  • The Fragments of Attic Comedy After Meineke, Bergk, and Kock Leiden 1957

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Fragments of Attic Comedy, Volume 1 ed. John Maxwell Edmonds, p.iii (Biographical note)
  2. ^ Noakes, Vivian (ed.) Voices of Silence: the Alternative Book of First World War Poetry, History Press 2006. ISBN 0750945214