A Strange Memorial
Poppies, at the Tower of London, turning the moat blood-red. A wonderful memorial to the British and Commonwealth servicemen who died in the First World War.
One of them was my great-uncle, Henry Dodson Noon. We've always referred to him as "Uncle Dodson", so Dodson is the name I shall use in this post.
Dodson was born in 1894 in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, the son of George Henry Noon and his wife Mary Catherine Noon, my great-grandparents, who were farmers. In 1911, at the age of 17, he emigrated to Australia. My mother always said it was "because there was no money in farming in Britain". Indeed, farming was at that time in long-term decline: Dodson was not the only farmer's son to emigrate. Nonetheless, he doesn't seem to have become a farmer in Australia either. His Australian Army papers show his occupation as "butcher".
In 1914 he joined the 16th Battalion AIF. After training near Perth and Melbourne, he embarked with the rest of the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade to join the Anzac force in Egypt. He fought and was wounded at the battle of Gallipoli in 1915, receiving a bullet through the nose. The wound became infected and he was invalided home to England.
He later returned to his battalion. At some point he was promoted, since his embarkation papers for Egypt show his rank as "Private", but his war grave records show his rank as "Sergeant". He fought at Mouquet Farm on the Somme, where he disappeared and was listed as "missing" on August 31st 1916. After extensive enquiries on behalf of his mother and the Rector of Eastwood, his death was finally confirmed six months later. The exact circumstances were not established until May 1917, when Sergeant-Major Blimman in the 16th Battalion wrote this:
Sgt. Noon was killed on the night of 29th-30th August 1916. He was not buried in a soldier's cemetery. His body could not be found, but it was buried by shell fire in a German trench. I knew Sgt. Noon well and I think I was the last person to speak to him before his death.
Although Dodson's body was never found, he is remembered both on the Australian war memorial at Villiers-Bretonneux in France, and on the Northumberland Road war memorial in his home village of Eastwood, where he is listed as "H. Dodson Noon" (third from the bottom).
Dodson was George & Mary Catherine Noon's only son, and with his death the name Noon died out in Eastwood. But in a strange way, it lives on - and not just on war memorials or in the memories of his family. For this, we have to thank Eastwood's most famous son - the writer D.H. Lawrence.
D.H. Lawrence knew the Noons. Indeed there seems to have been some animosity between them. Family legend has it that when they were children, my great-aunt Maggie (Dodson's older sister) was not allowed to play with Lawrence because her mother thought he was a "nasty little boy".
In 1920-1, D.H. Lawrence wrote a short story called "Mr. Noon", which was published posthumously in 1934. But his work on "Mr. Noon" didn't end there: he gradually developed the story into a novel, though he never completed it. The unfinished novel was eventually published in 1984 in a critical edition compiled by Lindeth Vasey. The chief protagonist of Lawrence's story is Gilbert Noon, a twenty-six year old mathematics teacher with musical talent. On the basis of the initials G.N. and the character's behaviour, Vasey concluded that Gilbert Noon was modelled on Lawrence's friend George Neville. And indeed there are obvious similarities, although in many ways Gilbert Noon is also Lawrence's own alter ego. "Mr. Noon" is widely recognised as Lawrence's most autobiographical work.
But Vasey seems to have made no attempt to identify the provenance of the name Noon. For me, this is a grave omission. G.N. are the initials not just of George Neville, but also of Dodson's father, George Noon. George Noon, as an independent farmer, was a small businessman with money - like Gilbert Noon's father. And Dodson, had he lived, would have been twenty-six in 1920, the year Lawrence started work on "Mr. Noon". The Noons were a musically talented family: we do not know if Dodson had musical talent, but his sister Maggie was a professional pianist and other girls in the family sang and played the piano to a high standard. Indeed, I owe my own musical talent to my Noon ancestry.
So despite the untimely death of Henry Dodson Noon, the name lives on - in literature. Lawrence's unfinished autobiographical work is perhaps my great-uncle's strangest memorial.