Architecture First World War Historic photography Second World War

6 Sites of Memory for Overseas War Heroes

The First and Second World Wars were truly global in scale and involvement.

The First and Second World Wars were truly global in scale and involvement. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers died supporting the British army, including troops from the colonies, and European countries that had been invaded by enemy forces.

Here are 6 sites in England which pay homage to the enormous contribution made by foreign soldiers during the First and Second World Wars.

1. The Polish War Memorial, Hillingdon, Grade II listed

A photograph of a war memorial
The Polish War Memorial, Hillingdon. © Matt Buck via Flickr.

Completed in 1948, this memorial bears the names of Polish pilots killed in action, with the crests of the RAF squadrons they served in. Polish pilots made up the largest non-British group within the RAF and were integral to victory in the Battle of Britain.

Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, said ‘Had it not been for the magnificent work of the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of battle would have been the same’.

2. The Chattri, Brighton, Grade II listed

A photograph of a war memorial with a tall, domed pavilion
The Chattri in Brighton. © Historic England Archive.

Built overlooking the city of Brighton, The Chattri stands where Hindu and Sikh soldiers who died during the First World War in the military hospital at the Royal Pavilion, were cremated.

Indian architect, E. C. Henriques, designed the memorial which was officially unveiled in 1921 by Edward, Prince of Wales. The inscription gives thanks ‘to the memory of all the Indian soldiers who gave their lives’.

3. The Muslim Burial Ground Peace Garden, Woking, Grade II listed

A photograph of a memorial garden with a long pond
A black and white photograph of a person standing beside the entrance to a memorial garden
Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din (1870 to 1932) standing beside the chattri. © Historic England Archive. View image BL23738/006.

Over a million troops from India (including what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh) fought for Great Britain in the First World War. Under pressure from German propaganda, which implied that Britain was burying its Muslim soldiers in a disrespectful way, the government built a burial ground in Woking, close to Britain’s only purpose-built Mosque.

Nineteen Muslim soldiers were buried here in the First World War and a further five in the Second. Vandalism meant that the burials had to be moved to the military cemetery at Brookwood, but the site has recently been restored and is now a Memorial Garden for all Muslim soldiers who fell in the World Wars.

4. The Hollybrook Memorial, Southampton

A photograph of a graveyard
The Hollybrook Memorial, Southampton. Courtesy of The Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
A black and white photograph of King George V in uniform inspecting troops.
King George V, centre, inspecting the South African Native Labour Corps. © IWM (Q 5623).

Located in the Hollybrook Cemetery, the memorial was built to commemorate the 1,897 servicemen and women of the Commonwealth ‘whose graves are not known’.  It remembers a number of vessels that sunk during the First World War, and almost a third of those memorialised were members of the South African Native Labour Corps (SANLC) who were killed when their ship, the SS Mendi, sank in 1917.

These men were non-combatants, part of a huge but poorly-treated labour force that built railways, trenches, camps and roads to support the Allies. Many had joined the SANLC hoping that by showing their support for the British Empire they might gain a voice in South Africa.

5. Bush House, London, Grade II listed

A black and white photograph of a very large multi storey building in a classical style
Bush House, London. © Historic England Archive. View image BL27011.

In 1941 the BBC World Service moved to Bush House in central London, and for the remainder of the Second World War broadcast across occupied Europe. The Free French (the French Government in exile in London), used the BBC’s Radio Londres broadcasts to counter Nazi propaganda within France, and also to send messages to the French Resistance.

In 1944 an alert to the resistance about the imminence of the D-Day landings was broadcast across the airwaves in coded ‘messages personnels’ – short lines from poems and literature.

6. Memorial to the Woman’s Transport Service (FANY) and Noor Inayat Khan, London

A black and white photograph of Noor Inayat Khan in uniform.
Noor Inayat Khan.
A photograph of a memorial to Noor Inayat Khan in a public park
A memorial to Noor Inayat Khan. © Tom via Flickr.

The Women’s Transport Service (FANY) was an all-women unit, formed as the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, who were active in providing medical and espionage work. 

Located in the Grade II* listed St Paul’s Church in London’s Knightsbridge, the memorial commemorates 52 women from the unit who died during the Second World War.

The list includes Noor Inayat Khan, born in St Peterbsurg to an American mother and an Indian Muslim father. She was raised in Paris but came to London in 1940 to support the war effort. Recruited to join the Special Operations Executive, she was captured in Paris and imprisoned.

Over the coming 10 months she endured torture and shackling, and yet held firm in her refusal to provide any useful information. Khan was eventually executed at Dachau. A memorial installed by The Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust was unveiled in 2012 by HRH The Princess Royal in Gordon Square, London.

Do you know of other listed war memorials to overseas soldiers? Tell us about them.

England’s most significant historic buildings and places are listed so they can be understood and protected. The List has almost 400,000 entries on it, from palaces and pigsties to cathedrals, windmills and rollercoasters.

Written by Charlotte Goodhart

Further reading

2 comments on “6 Sites of Memory for Overseas War Heroes

  1. maighread hurley

    I have carefully read all your memorials to men who served this country and died and yet I could not find one which mentioned the contribution of Irish men who fought and died for this country. This country must know of their great sacrifice as they were classed as traitors by Mr De Valero and so could not return home to their families if they did they would be ‘at best’ imprisoned I am the daughter of one such man who served the entire war with the Royal West Kent Regiment Margaret Hurley

    • Hi Margaret, thank you for your comment. That’s a great point. This blog is not a comprehensive list of all the nationalities which contributed to the war effort, and we’ll look to feature the Irish contribution in the future.

Leave a Reply