Remembrance Day in Somerset
PUBLISHED: 16:48 03 November 2016
As we prepare to mark Remembrance Day, Andrea Cowan discovers how our towns and villages are keeping the memories alive of those lost in battle
War memorials can be found in most villages and towns throughout the country and are a significant part of our local heritage. Yet how often do we walk past without really noticing them?
It was during the aftermath of World War I that thousands of memorials were erected in a wave of public commemoration. These were then often added to after World War II and subsequent conflicts, although decreasingly so. Researching this feature has been a real privilege. I’ve selected memorials that struck a chord with me. They all serve as an enduring reminder of those who lost their lives in war, and the impact on their families at home.
The memorial was granted a Grade II listing in 2015. It is prominently situated on the summit of St Michael’s Hill, overlooking the bay. A handsome Celtic cross was designed by F W Roberts and Willman, architects of Taunton, and erected in 1921 to commemorate the 106 local men who lost their lives during the war. A stone bench was later added in memory of the 54 men who died during WWII.
This is a Thankful Village, a term used by the author Arthur Mee in the 1930s to define a village which lost no men in WWI. Nine have been identified within Somerset, more than in any other county.It was difficult for a village to draw attention to its good luck. In 1920 a beautiful stained glass window was commissioned for the parish church of Rodney Stoke, St Leonard’s, as ‘both a thanksgiving and as a permanent war memorial’.
There are two villages in Somerset which are Thankful Villages twice over, where everyone came back from both WWI and WWII: both considered lucky places to live. In 2007 the Parish Council unveiled a simple, commemorative stone plaque outside the Village Hall in recognition of this great fortune.
Harry Patch Memorials
In 2012 a memorial celebrating the life of Harry Patch, the last British survivor of the WWI trenches, was erected outside the Wells & Mendip Museum. The memorial is formed from a large piece of 6ft stone from Doulting Quarry (weighing in at 5 tonnes!) with a Welsh slate plaque.
Harry fought in the battle of Passchendaele in 1917. He subsequently lived in Wells and was made a Freeman of the City. He was aged 111 when he died in 2009, and his funeral was held in Wells Cathedral. The Wells Air Cadets and Army Cadets joint training centre was renamed the Harry Patch Joint Cadet Centre in 2015.
Sir Edwin Lutyens designed 44 memorials across the country, including the Whitehall Cenotaph. All are now protected, including Mells which was designated a Grade II listing in 1969. A Portland stone pedestal bears a thought-provoking inscription: ‘We died in a strange land, facing the dark cloud of war, and this stone is raised to us in the home of our delight.’ To either side of the pedestal are matching panels onto which are inscribed the names of the 21 men killed in WWI. The memorial was unveiled in 1921. Plaques bearing the names of the village’s dead from WWII are on a stone wall.
Wells Post Office Roll of Honour
Many services – police, military and so on – produced a Roll of Honour listing the names of people who died. At the end of WWI, Herbert Batch, who had been Head Postmaster at Wells Post Office, was commissioned to draw a Roll of Honour of GPO workers. It now hangs on the wall of the delivery office in Wells.
Remembering the Fallen
A WWI exhibition at Wells and Mendip Museum is a shining example of a community venture. Wells Remembers has been put together by a team of volunteers and co¬ordinated in partnership with the Blue School and Wells Cathedral School, city archives, Wells Cathedral, the local newspaper, the Royal British Legion and the Bishop’s Palace.
A four year ‘rolling’ exhibition, it will continue until the centenary of the end of the war in 2018. It is designed to mark the sacrifice of those who went to war, as well as those left behind.
The result is an emotive, impactful exhibition that hits all the senses, especially as it starts with a cleverly claustrophobic walk through the trenches. I was lucky enough to be given the grand tour by The Trench designer, Geoffrey Dickson. His passion for the subject matter was compelling, ignited by his grandfather who had served with the Kensingtons. “He used to tell me stories of his time in the trenches,” says Geoffrey, who had also been left his grandfather’s diary which plays an integral role in the design of The Trench exhibition. It is now a book: Grandad’s Great War Diary.
“The whole aspect of The Trench was not to glorify war but to make people stop and think how horrendous war is. When you walk through, try to imagine the mud, awful stench, cold and misery that these men endured,” explains Geoffrey.
I was struck by the gloomy lighting, painted scenes, the barrage of bullets and artillery fire, the recorded conversation in the dug-out between soldiers, with the actual words from the diary.
“Every year it gradually evolves,” continues Geoffrey. “The uniforms change, we have the advent of poison gas in 1915, now we have the first British Tank attack in 1916, it stretches us but it still rolls on.”
The Vickers machine gun surrounded by poppies marks the entrance into an exhibition room packed with stories, photographs, and memorabilia. The School Room features project work both schools, especially poignant as 24 pupils from the Blue School and eight from the Cathedral School lost their lives in the war.
A commemoration project from Coxley School was inspired by the artist, Rob Heard’s incredible creation of 19,240 shrouded figurines, in memory of soldiers killed during the first four hours of the Battle of the Somme. The school decided to relate the number to those soldiers from Somerset, or who served in Somerset regiments, by creating their own 301 figures.
In contrast to the simple designs found in villages, the Bridgwater War Memorial - the Angel of Bridgwater - is a striking Grade II listed memorial located in King’s Square.
It was designed by the West Country sculptor, John Angel, and is full of symbolism. The central figure represents Civilization, seated upon a throne. The statue was unveiled in 1924 to commemorate the fallen of WWI but further names have been added following WWII, the Korean War, the Falklands conflict and war in Afghanistan.
Glastonbury Veterans Breakfast Club
This club meets every Wednesday, from 7.30am to 2.00pm, at Miller’s Morsels. It is for anyone who has served, or is still serving, in the military and has been described as ‘the missing link between military service and civvi street.’
Nigel Gifford, who served 11 years in the Army Catering Core, started the Glastonbury club in June. He explains: “We eat breakfast together, indulge in some good old military banter, some irreverent talk and some black humour. We are ex-military people getting together like a band of brothers. We look out for each other.”There is a core of nine regulars, ranging in age from mid-40s through to a 93 year old WWII Desert Rat. There are two other Veterans Breakfast Clubs in Somerset: Taunton and Weston-super-Mare.
To learn more about the POWs at the Burma Railway and your chance to win a hard back copy of ‘Surviving the Death Railway’, read here.