Sheffield War Memorial today
First World War

War memorials of the north: then & now

A mystery postcard collection documents the unveiling of local war memorials, with hundreds of people present. Each memorial represents a different tale of loss in a northern town.

The Farthing Collection of 234 negatives and prints was created from original postcards of First World War memorials collected by Mr G Farthing. Who he was; where he came from and why he collected remains a mystery.

The photographic postcards date mainly from the 1920s. Some document the monuments soon after construction or during unveiling ceremonies with hundreds of local people present. Others depict them simply surrounded by floral tributes, or with a few onlookers.

Here are the stories behind seven memorials in the north of England, which suffered great losses in the First World War, along with images of the same memorials today:

Thurnscoe War Memorial, Barnsley, South Yorkshire

A black and white image of a crowd of people gather as a sheet is pulled to unveil Thurnscoe War Memorial
The unveiling of Thurnscoe War Memorial 2 October 1920. © Historic England FAR 01-01-148.

Thurnscoe was a mining village during the First World War and the bulk of the money for this memorial was raised by workers from Hickleton Main Colliery to commemorate the 76 local men who died.

Thurnscoe War Memorial today, seen in colour with no crowds
Thurnscoe War Memorial today.  Listed Grade II. © Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council.

The memorial was created by the well-known local firm of Messrs Tyas and Guest of Swinton who were responsible for other similarly designed listed memorials.  A carved stone infantryman with a rifle stands on guard on the pedestal. On the front of the base is a brass plaque with a figure of an angel on an outcrop of rock, holding a sword in one hand and an upraised laurel wreath in the other.

Gateshead War Memorial, Tyne and Wear.

A crowd gathers around Gateshead War Memorial for its unveiling
The unveiling of Gateshead War Memorial 14 May 1922. © Historic England FAR 01-01-149.

This imposing stone cenotaph of classic design, over 10 metres high, commemorates the 1,565 local men who fell in the First World War. Its focus is a heroic-size bronze relief of a classical warrior, his hand lightly resting on his unsheathed sword.

Gateshead War Memorial as it is today
Gateshead War Memorial today. Listed Grade II. © Historic England DP056572.

The lintel of the bronze door below is inscribed ‘Mors Janua Vitae’ (Death is the Gate of Life). This door is the entrance to the Room of Remembrance containing a stone lectern used to hold the book of remembrance listing the names of the fallen, and carved with the inscription ‘Their Bodies Are Buried In Peace But Their Name Liveth For Evermore.’  Immediately above hangs an ever-burning lamp representing undying memory.

Darwen War Memorial, Blackburn, Lancashire

A crowd gathers around Darwen War Memorial at it's unveiling
The unveiling of Darwen War Memorial 24 September 1921. © Historic England FAR 01-01-217.

The Darwen memorial honours over 1,200 local citizens who died in the First World War. A bronze statue of winged Victory stands on a globe, holding a laurel wreath aloft in her left hand and an olive branch in her right.

Darwen War Memorial today
Darwen War Memorial today. Listed Grade II*. © Mr Rodney Calbrade IOE01-06811-14-1.

Three bronze relief panels are fixed below – an infantryman with a carved inscription reading HONOUR, a seaman with the word FREEDOM and a nurse with the word HUMANITY.  It is rare for a depiction of a nurse to have equal prominence with servicemen.

Sheffield War Memorial, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Sheffield War Memorial at it's unveiling, with crowds of people around
The unveiling of Sheffield War Memorial 28 October 1925. © Historic England FAR 01-01-093.

At the end of the First World War there was strong debate in Sheffield about a suitable location for the city’s war memorial and what form it should take. A competition for the design received 34 entries.

The style of this memorial, with its immense 25 metre ornamental flagpole with a gilt bronze orb and crown, was extremely unusual, as was its recognition of the variety of armed forces, corps and regiments in which Sheffield’s citizens served.

Sheffield War Memorial today
Sheffield War Memorial today. Designed by Charles Denny Carus-Wilson (1886-1933), with sculpture by George Alexander (1881-1942). Listed Grade II*.  © Historic England DP169439.

In all, more than 50,000 Sheffield men served in the First World War.  Over 5,000 died. This includes men of the 12th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment, a shocking 513 of whom were Sheffield ‘Pals’, killed or wounded on the first day of the Battle of the Somme (1 July -18 November 1916).  ‘Pals’ were volunteers from all walks of life, organised into battalions of men who knew each other  They were part of the million strong ‘New Army’, highly enthusiastic but inexperienced, raised in a fervour of patriotism by Field Marshal Lord Herbert Kitchener, Secretary of State for War with his iconic recruiting drive, ‘Your Country Needs You!’

The tragic flaw of this policy was that these battalions of friends, neighbours, relatives and work colleagues who fought together also died together, causing whole communities, as in Sheffield, to go into deep mourning.

Keighley War Memorial, Bradford, West Yorkshire

The unveiling of Keighley War Memorial with crowds gathered
The unveiling of Keighley War Memorial 7 December 1924. © Historic England FAR 01-01-146.

This memorial commemorates the more than 900 local men who fell in the First World War. On one street alone, 9 young men lost their lives.

At the bottom of the memorial’s plinth stand life-size naturalistic bronze statues of a seaman and an infantryman created by the distinguished sculptor, Henry Fehr, responsible for many fine public sculptures and war memorials.

BLOG keighley today c HE DP188217
Keighley War Memorial today. Listed Grade II*.  © Historic England DP188217.

The memorial’s unveiling ceremony was attended by the mayor of Poix-du-Nord, the northern French town that Keighley had ‘adopted’ in 1922. This was the first recorded instance of town ‘twinning’, a practice that became widespread in the later 20th century.

Rawcliffe War Memorial, East Riding of Yorkshire

The unveiling of Rawcliffe War Memorial  with crowds gathered
The unveiling of Rawcliffe War Memorial 15 October 1921. © Historic England FAR 01-01-187.

This modest Portland stone cenotaph is inscribed with the names of 56 local servicemen who died in the First World War.  Most were infantrymen, many of whom served with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

Rawcliffe War Memorial today. 
Rawcliffe War Memorial today.  Listed Grade II.   Image courtesy of Christine Johnstone.

The memorial originally commemorated 57 men. However, the name of James Shenton was later removed following the discovery that he was still alive. A blank space indicates where his name once was.

Bamburgh War Memorial, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland

Bamburgh War Memorial unveiling
The unveiling of Bamburgh War Memorial 15 May 1921. © Historic England FAR 01-01-03.

The Bamburgh memorial – whose stonework has been undergoing periodic repairs -sits in a carved niche in the rock below Bamburgh Castle. It takes the form of a simple stone cross with a crucified Christ figure.

The inscription on the shaft of the cross reads: ‘Greater love has no man than this.’  The names of the 20 local men who fell in the First World War are incised on two bronze plaques set in the rock behind.

Bamburgh War Memorial today
Bamburgh War Memorial today. © Andrew Curtis.

Pictured below are Private Thomas Wake and Private Wilfred Wake, brothers from Bamburgh, who were killed at the Battle of Ypres and whose bodies were never recovered.  They are remembered at the Menin Gate in France and on the Bamburgh war memorial.

The brothers’ father R. Wake, who was the castle lodgekeeper, wrote a poem, ‘The Bamburgh War Memorial’, in memory of his sons and the other 18 local men who died in the First World War. Part reads:

Beneath King Ida’s castle walls, A war memorial stands, To commemorate our fallen sons, Who died in foreign lands…

The conflict raged on land and sea, And sad news each day did tell, That some we loved so dear at home, In battle bravely fell…

 …But time has healed our broken hearts, The wounds have left a scar, In remembrance of our gallant sons, Who died in the Great War.  


Further reading

2 comments on “War memorials of the north: then & now

  1. Reblogged this on keithbracey and commented:
    Great War memorials in northern towns…….we will remember them

  2. James Cowan

    Regarding the Thurnscoe memorial, Tyas and Guest were indeed responsible for several WW1 memorials in what is now South Yorkshire (then the West Riding). My Great Uncle was John Thomas Tyas Guest, one of the masons responsible and if family legend is to be believed, model for the soldier, he himself having served in WW1 first with the Y&L and later the Machine Gun Corps. He was wounded on the first day of the Somme aged just 17 having joined up underage. His Dad was Moses Guest who was master mason. The name Tyas was the maiden name of Moses’s wife (John’s Mum) hence Tyas and Guest. Hope my waffling is of interest to someone.

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