The Sorley Signpost
Just above Minal, taking the road up to Rabley Wood, is the Sorley signpost. It was erected in memory of Charles Hamilton Sorley, the schoolboy war poet, who recollected his cross country runs across the Marlborough downs and the original signpost he passed on his way back to school in one of his poems.
Charles Hamilton Sorley was killed by a sniper's bullet in the final battle of Loos in 1915. He was just 20 years old when he died, but had already by then in his short life established such a reputation for his poetry that John Masefield was able to maintain that Sorley was potentially the greatest poet lost in the war.
Sorley has no known grave, like so many of those who fought at Loos, but is commemorated on the Loos Memorial at Dud Corner cemetery.
Charles Hamilton Sorley was educated at Marlborough College, and came from a family of academics, writers and clergymen.
As a boy and enthusiastic cross-country runner he grew to love the countryside around Marlborough, a love reflected in a poem he wrote from the trenches to one of his former teachers at Marlborough, John Bain, a classicist and master in charge of the Army Class, himself something of a poet who Sorley referred to as the 'Marlborough Laureate':
Marlborough and Other Poems was published posthumously in January 1916 and immediately became a critical success, with six editions printed that year. His Collected Letters, edited by his parents, were published in 1919.
And soon, oh soon, I do not doubt it,
With the body or without it,
We shall all come tumbling down
To our old wrinkled red-capped town.
Perhaps the road up llsley way,
The old ridge-track, will be my way.
High up among the sheep and sky,
Look down on Wantage, passing by,
And see the smoke from Swindon town;
And then full left at Liddington,
Where the four winds of heaven meet
The earth-blest traveller to greet.
And then my face is toward the south,
There is a singing on my mouth
Away to rightward I descry
My Barbury ensconced in sky,
Far underneath the Ogbourne twins,
And at my feet the thyme and whins,
The grasses with their little crowns
Of gold, the lovely Aldbourne downs,
And that old signpost (well I knew
That crazy signpost, arms askew,
Old mother of the four grass ways).
And then my mouth is dumb with praise,
For, past the wood and chalkpit tiny,
A glimpse of Marlborough --!
So I descend beneath the rail
To warmth and welcome and wassail.