8 Unusual war memorials

By the end of the First World War the war dead represented the greatest number killed in any conflict in British history.

The intense national grief and shock led to a yearning to permanently commemorate the dead and missing on tens of thousands of memorials erected in virtually every city, town and village across the nation – witnesses to the tragic impact of world events on local communities.  Memorials range from simple stone crosses to monumental bronzes; from village halls to church lych gates.

Here are 8 unusual examples:  

1. Bevan’s Cement Works War Memorial, Northfleet, Kent

Bevan's Cement Works War Memorial, Northfleet, Kent.
Bevan’s Cement Works War Memorial, Northfleet, Kent. Designed by Francis William Doyle-Jones. The works was founded in the late 19th century by Thomas Bevan. Listed Grade II © Jerry Young

This concrete Britannia, in Art Deco style, commemorates the employees of the Bevan Cement Works who died during the First World War.  The bronze plaque, headed ‘Great War 1914-1918/Employees of Bevans who made the supreme sacrifice’, not only lists the 30 names of the workers, but also, unusu­ally, the jobs they did: from manager to labourer, from warehouse boy to horse driver.  It includes their service ranks and the dates of their deaths when known.

Today, the memorial is marooned on a traffic island, reached by a public footpath through the former works.

2. Lenham Cross War Memorial, Lenham, Kent

Lenham Cross War Memorial, Lenham, Kent c Google Imagery c2017, DigitalGlobe,Getmapping plc, Infoterra Ltd & Bluesky
Lenham Cross War Memorial, Lenham, Kent. Listed Grade II. Unveiled September 1922. Google Imagery © 2017, DigitalGlobe, Getmapping plc, Infoterra Ltd & Bluesky.

Situated in isolation on the south facing slopes of the North Downs, this 60 metre long chalk cross commemorates the 42 villagers who died in the First World War.  It was designed by Mr C.H. Groom, the local school headmaster, and was constructed by hand by volunteers from Lenham village.  It was covered with earth during the Second World War to prevent it being used as a navigational aid by enemy aircraft.

Today the cross is still maintained by villagers. It was restored with new chalk in 1994.

3. Well of Sacrifice War Memorial, Normansland, New Forest, Hampshire

normansland well of sacrifice c jim champion
Well of Sacrifice War Memorial, Nomansland, New Forest, Hampshire. Listed Grade II. Unveiled 11 April 1921. Image © Jim Champion.

This Tudoresque-style memorial, reputedly sited over a former well, stands on the village green.  It commemorates the 10 local men who died in the First World War and the 42 who served and safely returned.  Those of the Second World War were added later.

A wooden cross hangs on the front gable, with the words’ The Well of Sacrifice’ painted in red Celtic-style lettering above the gates. Within is a Roll of Honour for both World Wars, with names inscribed in gold.

4. University of Birmingham civil engineering Roll of Honour

Civil engineers memorial
Civil Engineering Great War memorial © The University of Birmingham Research and Cultural Collections

It is rare in England for a Roll of Honour to display photos of the fallen.  This one, raised by fellow graduates, commemorates the 13 men from the University of Birmingham’s civil engineering department who lost their lives in the First World War.

Academic work at this university and at others was greatly restricted during the war as many staff and students were conscripted. Initially 200 men left the University of Birmingham for the front line. By 1917, that figure had risen to 785.

5. Betts brothers’ grave, St Margaret’s church, Paston, Norfolk

Betts brothers’ grave, St Margaret’s church, Paston, Norfolk.
Betts brothers’ grave, St Margaret’s church, Paston, Norfolk. The now worn inscription reads: IN / LOVING MEMORY OF / FOUR BROTHERS WHO FELL / IN FRANCE IN THE GREAT WAR / 1914-1919 / REGINALD BETTS / 9TH ROYAL SUSSEX REGT / JUNE 29TH 1916 AGED 20 / CECIL K BETTS / 9TH KINGS OWN YORKSHIRE LIGHT INFTRY/ JULY 6TH 1916 AGED 22 /  ARTHUR BETTS / 7TH NORFOLK REGT / OCTOBER 12TH 1916 AGED 28 / JOHN W BETTS / 6TH LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS / MARCH 21ST 1918 AGED 31 /THEIR NAMES LIVETH FOR EVERMORE / PEACE PERFECT PEACE. © Ian Hook.

This memorial to the four Betts brothers is a sombre reminder of the terrible human cost of the First World War.  Three died within a few months of each other in 1916. The fourth near the end of the war.

The brothers are not buried here.  They lie in four different cemeteries in France and Belgium. Virtually all those who fell there in the First World War were laid to rest or remembered at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s great cemeteries in what was once the Western Front.

Reginald, Cecil, Arthur and John Betts’ names are on a Roll of Honour within the church, but their mother wanted a traditional churchyard gravestone as a memorial to mark her sons’ deaths.

6. German Military Cemetery, Cannock Chase, Staffordshire

german military cemetery cannock chase + stone c wayne cocroft
German Military Cemetery, Cannock Chase, Staffordshire. Designed by Diez Brandi on behalf of the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgraberfursorge (an organisation that cares for the graves of German war dead abroad).  The buildings were designed by the Stafford architect Harold Doffmann. Maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  Listed Grade I. Image © Wayne Cocroft.

The bodies of 4,939 German servicemen and civilians who had died in Britain in the two World Wars were originally buried in graves scattered all over the country. These included those who had died in prisoner-of-war or internment camps or had been washed ashore on the coast, as well as crew members of four Zeppelins shot down over England.

On 16 October 1959, a treaty was concluded between the British government and the Federal Republic of Germany to create a fitting cemetery where the bodies could be reinterred.  The rolling heathland and pine forests of Cannock Chase was felt to be reminiscent of the German landscape.

The cemetery opened 10 June 1967. The simple Belgian granite headstones are inscribed with two names on either side – each grave holding four of the fallen. The Zeppelin crews are buried in mass graves.

7. Imperial War Museum, London

imperial war museum c graham hogg
Imperial War Museum, London. Listed Grade II. Image © Graham Hogg.

London’s Imperial War Museum is a war memorial in its own right

It was founded during the First World War on 5 March 1917 following approval by the War Cabinet for the creation of a national war museum to record events as they were happening during the war. The intention was to collect and display material as a record of everyone’s experiences – civilian and military – and to commemorate the sacrifices of all sections of society.

The museum moved to its present home in 1936 – formerly part of Bethlem Royal Hospital, a psychiatric institution, or ‘Bedlam’ as it was once popularly know – and was opened 7 July by the future King George VI.

imperial war museum plaque cu
Imperial War Museum, London. The plaque above its main  entrance reads: ‘Imperial War Museum/A memorial of effort and sacrifice/1914-1918/1939-1945 © Jerry Young.

8. A living memorial

More than 1,600 children, during and after the First World War, were named after battles, with names passed down through the generations.

For some it was a way of  permanently honouring the dead. Ella Passchendaele Maton-Cole’s great-grandmother Florence Mary Passchendaele, was named in remembrance of her cousin who died at the Battle of Passchendaele September 1917.

Verdun, after the Battle of Verdun, was the most commonly adopted battle name, used by more than 900 families.

Further Reading

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