Poetry & Legacy: The Great War

By Roman Bharati

In light of the recent Remembrance Day ceremony, I would like to share the full poem that you may have heard fragments of in yesterday’s assembly. As part of the Military History Immersion Program I participated in (click here for a summary by Lachlan Boyle), I was assigned research on one William Eberts Brown. He was an Old Boy that died in the Great War.

(Above) Photo of William Eberts Brown (C/O 1903). Photo courtesy of The Canadian Virtual War Memorial.

The poem itself, entitled William’s Sacrifice, is a rather sombre exploration of the afterlife and the perspective of a ‘typical’ – if such a term can be derived – UCC Old Boy veteran. Special thanks to Mr. Bauld who graciously provided feedback at multiple stages of the creation process.

The poem ends with the confirmation of Brown’s stunning epitaph:

He lies content with that high hour in which he lived and died.

(Above) Photo of William Eberts Brown’s Gravestone. Photo courtesy of The Canadian Virtual War Memorial.


Lieutenant William Eberts Brown ‘03 was born on July 11th 1884 in Owen Sound, Ontario, the same birthplace as Billy Bishop. He was the son of William and Cornelia Brown and later became husband of Agnes Master Levan Brown of 144 Balmoral Avenue, in Toronto. As is the case with many of the Old Boy soldiers the group has covered, not much is known about his early life. However, it can be concluded that he was fairly wealthy for the time, as he was able to attend law school after high school.

Brown attended Upper Canada College between September 1902 to April 1903, after transferring from Owen Sound Collegiate Institute. From there, he attended the Osgoode Hall Law School, the law school of York University, between 1904 and 1909. After being called to the bar in 1909, he worked for a number of law firms around Ontario, working full-time as a barrister-at-law.

According to The War Book of Upper Canada College, Brown voluntarily enlisted in the British army in February 1916 in the 227th Battalion. His officers’ declaration paper indicated that he joined as lieutenant just days after the battle of Mount Sorrel on the Ypres Salient, which cost the Canadians some 8,000 casualties. Especially after the Canadian counterattack on June 9th, and its characterisation in the British Official History of the War as an “unqualified success”, the motivations for enlistment become appreciably apparent.

Brown continued his military career overseas in March 1917 to join the 8th Reserve Battalion of England, and then joined the 58th infantry battalion of the Canadian Central Ontario Regiment in September 1917. He was killed in action at Quarry Wood near Bourlon on September 28th, 1918 at age 33. At the time of his death, it is known that he had “one small child” at home – in Canada.

William’s Sacrifice

Here, I lie, in this French, alien soil
Far from my wife’s hands, my barrister’s gown
Around my grave, the blooms, and weeds have grown
I am not afraid, my blood does not roil
So dear, don’t cry, for there is no turmoil –
I smile and laugh and still am not alone:
Bitterly content, entombed sons, moss-grown
Let the noble wrath of War, like a wave, boil – over.

In burning cities once engulfed in smoke
Grey meadows where the God of War rumbled,
Duty for King’s Country never stumbled –
Devotion to empire never once broke.
But the painful cost, cadet overcoats – blood-soaked
O dreadful cost of young talents, humbled
How frightful men’s cries for mothers mumbled
All evoked in a raven’s hoarse croak – at dusk.

Still – mother and father silently weep
A son’s soft eyes impressed
On mind and soul – soundless agony unexpressed
For eternity. My dear, live on while I sleep.
I know that my death gnaws deep,
But don’t let it be in vain, my final rest
My body moulders without contest
Let kin remember me, so I may – sleep.

Yet, I am untroubled, the earth my shield
Only haunting memories persist in honour
In ghastly trenches; along the bloodied field
A righteous passing will calm her
And it is true, I lie content with that high hour –
In which I lived and died.