The aftermath of the First World War saw an unprecedented wave of public commemoration for those who died.
This was a result not only of the devastating impact the loss of three-quarters of a million lives had on local communities across the land, but also of the official policy of not bringing the remains of the dead back home. Instead they were buried and remembered at Commonwealth War Grave Commission cemeteries and memorials of the Western Front, and across the globe.
Tens of thousands of memorials were erected in Britain as permanent testament to the sacrifice of the fallen, becoming a symbolic focus for a nation in grief.
The majority are simple crosses or obelisks, but some are more unusual. Here we take a look at 7 examples.
This is our second blog on unusual war memorials, click here for part 1.
1. Loughborough Carillon Tower War Memorial, Leicestershire
The Carillon Tower War Memorial was built between 1922 and 1923 to house a carillon of 47 bells, each creating a different note on the musical scale. It is a rare sonic memorial to local people who lost their lives in the First World War, with many of the bells inscribed in memory of fallen relatives and friends.
The bells were made in the John Taylor & Company bell foundry (listed Grade II*) which still exists today. The Taylor family lost three young men in the war and the largest bell – the Taylor bell – is a memorial to them. Part of the inscription reads ‘in proud and loving memory of three nephews killed in action in France’.
2. St Albans War Memorial street plaques, Hertfordshire
A unique group of 10 memorial plaques – located within the parish of St Albans Abbey – that list the names of more than 110 men who lived in the small cluster of streets there and who died in the First World War. The plaques are unusual in that most are attached to the actual homes of the fallen.
Canon George Glossop, who served the abbey for 40 years, promoted the plan for the memorials, and the plaques are known locally as The Canon Glossop Memorials.
3. Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery
While there were many utilitarian war memorials created such as hospitals and village halls, memorial galleries are rare. The memorial hall at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery (Listed Grade II*) is a dramatic space whose poignant focus is a life size statue of Britannia draped with a flag, holding a sword of honour and a laurel wreath. At her feet is the figure of a young man, symbolic of those who fell in the First World War, kneeling upon a shield crushing a serpent. The walls carry white marble plaques recording the names of the 2,200 dead.
4. Scafell Pike War Memorial, Cumbria
The summit of Scafell Pike – England’s highest peak – was presented to the National Trust on behalf of the nation as a war memorial in 1919 by Lord Leconfield who served in the 1st Life Guards in the First World War and who owned significant tracts of land in what was then Cumberland.
The slate memorial plaque is set in the wall of the summit shelter. Part of the inscription reads: ‘IN PERPETUAL MEMORY OF THE MEN OF THE LAKE DISTRICT WHO FELL FOR GOD AND KING, FOR FREEDOM PEACE AND RIGHT IN THE GREAT WAR 1914 – 1918’
5. Whipsnade Tree Cathedral, Dunstable, Bedfordshire
This memorial landscape, based on the floor plan of a medieval cathedral, was created by Edmund Blyth in memory of three of his comrades; two of whom were killed during the First World War.
Blyth started planting in 1932 with work continuing in stages over the next 7 years. The nave is lined by lime trees and the transepts were originally avenues of horse chestnuts (now tulip trees). Laurel hedges denote the walls. Other tree species form four chapels, a cloister walk and three towers.
The careful tending of the trees fell away during and after the Second World War and the Tree Cathedral was not restored until the late 1940s/early 1950s. The 6 acre site was given in 1960 to the National Trust by Blyth’s youngest son Tom, and is a registered landscape listed at Grade II.
6. Westwell War Memorial, Oxfordshire
This rare private memorial to two brothers, Harold and Edward Price, was created by their grieving sister Lady Stretta Holland.
Edward was a submariner in the Royal Navy. He was captured in April 1915 after a failed attempt by the British Naval Fleet to force a passage through the Dardenelles to attack the Turkish Navy. He died a prisoner-of-war 10 August 1916 and was buried in Bagdhad.
Harold fought at the First Battle of Ypres October 1914. He managed to salvage and bring home a brass numeral from the clock tower of the destroyed medieval Cloth Hall, Ypres. He died during the Second Battle of Ypres (22 April-25 May 1915) following a poison gas attack. His body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate memorial, Ypres.
Lady Holland organised for a monolith of local Cotswold stone to be hauled to Westwell village by a team of 18 horses. Harold’s Cloth Hall numeral was embedded in the stone, with an inscription honouring the brothers’ lives. It was unveiled in February 1920 and is listed Grade II.
7. Fovant military badges, Wiltshire
These badges cut into the chalk downs in Wiltshire are among nineteen that form a striking visual memorial to the military importance of the area during the First World War. Fovant village and others nearby became military camps, complete with barracks, hospital, parade ground, YMCA huts and railway line, to house thousands of soldiers. The first badge created was the London Rifle Brigade’s in 1916.
During the Second World War the badges were allowed to become overgrown so they would not act as navigational aids to enemy aircraft. In later decades, badges have been restored, altered or have been consumed by nature. A Flanders poppy was cut in 2016 in commemoration of the first badge cut 100 years earlier.
I’d love to hear a recording of the Carillion in concert.