WAR MEMORIALS: a stone cross in a prominent place? Yes, but village halls, hospitals, community clinics, playing fields, plaques, fountains, gardens, seats, nurses' homes, statues, fountains, and boats or trees being named in memoriam, were just a few further examples.
Those present at Glendale Local History Society meeting in February soon realised that Janet Brown knew her subject thoroughly. It was she, and a small team, (under the auspices of the Association of Northumberland Local History Societies) who were responsible for initiating and setting up the North-East War Memorial Project – the envy of the Imperial War Museum, London. It now has an extensive website, thanks to Janet.
There exist 4,500 war memorials between the Tyne and the Tweed, commemorating those who lost their lives in the Great War. Janet hailed the end of the Boer War as an occasion which captured the public imagination, inspiring rows of houses, built as memorials, in Co. Durham as examples for posterity. Sixteen years later, following WW1, we heard that the Government had no plans for any particular grand memorial. However, the Cenotaph was unveiled as the body of the Unknown Warrior was brought past to be buried at Westminster Abbey.
Thereafter, each community became responsible for initiating its own war memorial(s). The inevitable financial issues provoked ingenious ways of fund-raising, encouraged by the slogan: "For those who gave their lives freely, give freely". Committees were set up and the revenue raised dictated the type of memorial and of what it might be made. Often rural communities, with land-owning benefactors, proved wealthier than those in poorer towns, with land or memorials being given to honour their own lost sons and heirs. Working Men's Clubs excelled at putting up memorials; so too did the Freemasons. In 1923 an Act of Parliament dictated that each Local Authority must donate one penny in the pound, from rates, towards the cost of war memorials. This act was amended after WW2, allowing names of those fallen in this subsequent war to be added.
Numerous decisions had to be made: to add names or not, to add the rank of the individual or not, to place names in order of seniority, alphabetically, by Christian name, chronologically, or by length of name - to fit with the style of the memorial – and so on. Commonly names appear on more than one memorial but it also happens that some names do not appear at all. We heard that in the post-WW2 period with gradual 'improvements' and prosperity, with greater change from the 1950s onward, and for many other reasons, memorials were under-valued so that in many cases they were lost or destroyed. Many people wanted to forget, or deny, the traumas and hardships that war had brought.
Quotations on war memorials are numerous, sources varying from biblical, Latin, poetical or literary texts. Jilly Cooper campaigned for the erection of a memorial in Park Lane, London, to animals who served in the war - it states: "I had no choice".
The North-East War Memorial Project took five years of detective work (and remains ongoing), including the study of newspapers (for information on memorials, some long since gone, and social comment), diocesan faculty books (for additions to the interior of churches), photography, cataloguing and more. Janet hopes that all are recorded but this cannot be guaranteed and in many cases details remain missing. In addition, currently, an initiative 'Every Name a Story' aims to add details of names on every North-East War Memorial. Please visit: www.newmp.org.uk and communicate any additions.
"Lest we Forget" Rudyard Kipling
Rosemary Bell February 2014