Memorial service 'a sincere mark of homage'

[Beds & Herts Tuesday Telegraph: July 29th, 1919]

A contribution by an unnamed “one in the crowd” described what it had been like to be present at the drum-head service at Luton Hoo Park on July 27th, 1919. The writer said:

One came away from the Hoo on Sunday afternoon with mingled emotions. On had, with thousands upon thousands of other Lutonians, paid a silent but sincere mark of homage to those who, having undertaken the Great Adventure, have crossed the Rubicon – and gone on.

It was a wonderful day – and one uses the adjective with a full measure of restraint. Much that is best among the town life was gathered on the gentle slopes, consumed with but one purpose: quietly, without ostentation but in real reverence, to mark their sense of appreciation for those of their dear ones who are now no more.

In surroundings such as those at the Hoo – with Mother Nature in her glory triumphant over all – one gets back to realities; the inanities and superfluities of the strenuous modern life are stripped clean. Only fundamentals remain.

Here one realised the sublime character of the answer which had come from almost countless numbers of our fellow citizens when the great and bombastic challenge rang out upon a startled world.

In the name of King and Country, with all the panoply and pageantry associated with a great army, countless thousands had marched away, leaving behind them all which make life worth while. With a smile on their faces, a son on their lips – heads high, facing the grim unknown – they had gone forth in the defence of liberty, of honour, of truth, of civilisation itself.

Not for them the solemnity of a public funeral, the last sad rites attended by those they loved and were loved by. Not for them the well-kept final resting place – cared for outwardly and reverenced inwardly by those who stayed behind and mourn. But their the sudden call in the dim hours before the dawn, the gallant response, and – the unknown. Theirs the narrow grave in a foreign land: laid to rest in the spot where, facing the foe, they gave unto life itself for home and motherland - “they died that we might live”.

So it was meet that Luton should have an opportunity to demonstrate its recognition of the debt owed to the memory of this gallant band – men who, no one can doubt, have found their resting place amid the “goodly company” of heroes gathered in ethereal regions.

No form of tribute could have been devised which would better have synchronised with the motive and spirit of the purpose in view. The simple grandeur of the drum-head formula went deep home in the hearts and memories of those who participated.

No element was there of a theatrical character, none of idle curiosity. It was in very truth a multitude with but a single thought; and as the tragedy, the pathos, inseparable to the severance of young life in full flower came upon them, women wept and men's lips closed tightly. This was no sign of weakness, of hysteria. It was a case where deep called upon deep; and the response was immediate.

From start to finish the service was on the highest plane. Clergy, choir and musicians rose to the heights required of them. Mr Mahon's address was perfect in its phrasing, its eloquence, it delivery, its appeal: his glowing tribute to the sacrifice made by those around whom the day's function centred found the completest of echoes in the hearts of his hearers.

The sound of thousands of massed voices, soprano and contralto blended with the resonant baritone and bass, rose on the air with remarkable effect. 'O God, Our Help in Ages Past' and 'Rock of Ages' – hymns favourite among the English-speaking peoples the world over – breathing a fervent appeal and an ever-present hope swelled forth pregnant with meaning and with confidence.

The prayers voiced the thoughts of the multitude; and, when, following the pronunciation of the Benediction, the bugler sounded 'The Last Post,' every head was bared. The ringing notes of the familiar call rose clear above the throng, floated over all the scene, and died away in gentle cadences across the uplands beyond. Poignant in their opening, the chords are extraordinarily expressive of human mentality and outlook in the sense that they seem always to embody a rich and abiding faith in the actuality of that “sure and certain hope” without which men and women, faced with such crises as that but recently surmounted, must assuredly falter and fall by the way.

It was a memorable service in every respect. Apart altogether from its atmosphere of simple homage and deep sincerity, it demonstrated that the populace of Luton is completely sound at heart. Ebullitions of feeling break bounds in every circle on occasion; in the recent instance hereby our town has suffered so grievously, extraneous influences and circumstances carried the outburst to an extent undreamed of.

But unless we are profoundly at fault in our estimation of our fellow citizens, we are assured that Sunday's ceremony brought men's minds back to the verities of life – local as well as national; restored again to them from which it is impossible to forget that, confronted with the memory of those who have “gone to the bourn from which no traveller returns,” there are chargeable upon us all duties and obligations which cannot be denied.

It is well with our town.