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13 November 2014

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Remembrace Day wreath

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O Valiant Hearts

Both the tune and the words of one of the best known hymns sung on Remembrance Sunday were written by local men.

Remembrance Day services have their own particular music – hymns that are rarely sung at any other time. This is especially true of the hymn O Valiant Hearts, which has words written by a Herefordshire MP, to a tune by a vicar from the same county.

The words are by Sir John Stanhope Arkwright, a grandee from a family with long connections to Herefordshire, who was MP for Hereford from 1900-19.

O Valiant hearts first emerged in a collection of poems he published in 1919, called The Supreme Sacrifice.

Sir John, who lived for many years at Hampton Court in Herefordshire, was a noted orator, as you would expect from a man who was by profession a barrister and an MP.

During the First World War he toured the country, giving recruitment speeches, and he wrote these poems on the many train journeys he took to engagements.

He was already an established poet, having won the Newdigate poetry prize in 1893, while at Oxford University – previous winners included John Ruskin and Oscar Wilde.

Rudyard Kipling had also praised the poems he had written at the time of the Boar War.

Words and music

The tune his words are set to was composed by Dr Charles Harris, who was the vicar of Colwall.

Catherine Beale, who has written a history of the Arkwright family, believes that Sir John first heard the tune at a service in Bodenham Church, and recognised its potential as a war hymn.

The combination of Harris' tune and Arkwright's words was an immediate success – the hymn was sung at the dedication of the tomb to the unknown warrior in Westminster Abbey on November 11 1920.

Both men knew the pain of losing a loved one first hand - Dr Harris lost a son in the First World War, and one of Sir John's two sons was killed in a submarine accident in World War II.

Sir John received many requests to have some of his words used as the inscription of the gravestones of soldiers who died in both world wars.

It also forms part of the inscription on the war memorial in Leominster.

Catherine Beale's book on the Arkwright family is called Champagne and Shambles.

If you have an interesting story about World War 1, involving a member of your family, we'd love to hear it.


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last updated: 13/11/2008 at 15:50
created: 13/11/2008

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