The walls of St. Mary’s; Richmond’s parish church and home to the regimental chapel, are adorned with many memorials to those who served.
It’s fascinating to look around and wonder about the lives of those people whose names are immortalised in stone or brass. Who was Thomas Clarkson of the Richmond Forester Yeomanry? Why did the Royal Scots Fusiliers feel the need to erect a memorial tablet to the Yorkshire Regiment’s Private John Osborne who died at Aldershot in May, 1888? Stories, perhaps, for another day.
One memorial plaque ends its inscription with a single word, a biblical reference that during wartime became almost a plea, expressed by both departing soldiers and those they left behind. That word is ‘Mizpah’.
The memorial plaque to Lieutenant Colonel Walter Lorenzo Alexander ends with ‘Mizpah’. Alexander commanded the 2nd Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment, as The Green Howards were called at the time, in France. He was ‘killed by a shell fragment from one of own guns’ (regimental historian, Basil Wylly) on 14 May, 1915.
Walter Alexander left behind a wife, Alice and a son. Alice was the daughter of Maurice Tweddie, a Colonel in the Indian Army; she and Walter were married at Sitapur in Bengal in February 1902.
Mizpah is a Hebrew word stemming from the story of Jacob and his father-in- law, Laban in Genesis 31.49. Jacob and Laban contracted the marriage of Jacob to Laban’s daughter Rachel. Distrustful of each other they called on God to witness their bargain and to ensure each kept faith with it, they called for ‘The Lord to watch between me and you’.
Mizpah comes from the verb ‘to watch’ and is also used in the bible to describe watch-towers or a means of looking out. In more recent times the word has been used as a pledge between those forced to be separated from each other, implying; ‘May God watch over us if ever we are apart’.
The word Mizpah can be found on everything from headstones, engagement rings, brooches (pictured), trench art, book marks and silk postcards.
As Covid-19 continues to force loved ones to remain apart from each other, the sentiment behind this single, simple word seems as relevant as ever.
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