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The Gravestone That Saved Countless Lives

During the late 18th century, Thomas Thetcher was a much-respected soldier by his fellow grenadiers in England. He was so revered that when he tragically died, his fellow soldiers commissioned a gravestone to memorialize his untimely demise. His death was not only untimely, but very bizarre, as it was not by sword, or gun, or cannon fire, but a drink that killed the soldier.

In a corner of the graveyard belonging to the Winchester Cathedral, Thetcher’s gravestone marks his final resting place. It also features this inscription:

In Memory of Thomas Thetcher a Grenadier in the North Reg. of Hants Militia, who died of a violent Fever contracted by drinking Small Beer when hot the 12 May 1764. Aged 26 Years.

Here sleeps in peace a Hampshire Grenadier,

Who caught his death by drinking cold small Beer,

Soldiers be wise from his untimely fall

And when ye’re hot drink Strong or none at all.

An Honest Soldier never is forgot

Whether he die by Musket or by Pot.

Many years later in 1918, an American soldier stationed in Winchester visited the cathedral and came across Thomas Thetcher’s grave. The soldier, Bill Wilson, was deeply affected by the inscription that even years after returning from the war, it may have saved his life.

Wilson became a successful businessman shortly after returning home, but within a few years his life was controlled by heavy drinking. His drinking was so detrimental to his health that it was believed the only way to save his life was to lock him away. Against all odds, Wilson along with a fellow group of alcoholics found a way to achieve and maintain sobriety. He eventually wrote a book about his experiences, a book that is world-renowned, Alcoholics Anonymous. Wilson would go on to co-found Alcoholics Anonymous. He considered the gravestone to be a major influence on his own recovery.

Editor’s Note: There is debate among medical professionals as to the cause of Thetcher’s death. Some medical professionals have proposed that Thetcher’s death was the result of fainting when a cold liquid is consumed on an extremely hot day. Others say that it is most likely that he passed from cholera or typhoid from a contaminated beer. Regardless of the cause, his death inspired the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous which has saved thousands of lives worldwide.

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