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In this Olympic year I have been asked if there are war memorials to Olympic performers. This is rather difficult to answer as their careers at the top level, Sir Steve Redgrave apart, tend to be quite short by comparison say with cricketers, and they disappear from the layman’s consciousness. We do know that many sportsmen of all levels of ability were recruited into the British forces in the First World War, one notable one being Siegfried Sassoon. We have many records of memorials in golf and other sports clubs, while among the individual memorials are two in Northampton, to the black footballer Walter Tull  and to Edgar Mobbs the rugby international.

I have been able to identify some British Olympians who fell in the First World War:

•2nd Lt G.R.L. ‘Twiggy’ Anderson, The Cheshire Regt, died 9 Nov.1914 aged 25. He was a hurdles finalist at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912.
Captain H.S.O. Ashington, East Yorkshire Regt, died 31 Jan.1917 also aged 25. He was educated at Harrow and Cambridge, and was in the English team at Stockholm.(See 11163)
•2nd Lt A.E. Flaxman, South Staffordshire Regt, died aged 36 on the first day of the Somme.
Captain Wyndham Halswell, (25256)  Highland Light Infantry, died 31 March 1915. A professional soldier who had served in the Boer War, he won a gold medal at the 1908 London Olympics in controversial circumstances. In the final of the 400 metres he was blocked by one, or two, American opponents and the race declared void. The Americans refused to take part in the re-run and Halswell won by a walkover.
•Serjeant G.W. Hutson, Royal Sussex Regt, died aged 25 on 14 Sep. 1914. A regular soldier, he came 3rd in the 5000 metres at Stockholm.
•Private Kenneth Powell, Honourable Artillery Company, died 18 Feb. 1915, aged 29. A celebrated hurdler, he was an unplaced finalist at Stockholm and represented Cambridge both at hurdles and lawn tennis.
•I have also found a reference to another hurdler called Cubitt, but have not yet identified him among the 36 of that name on the CWGC Debt of Honour Register.

Research is continuing into other Olympic casualties for the First World War and later conflicts, so if you know anything, please let us know.

Sir William Reynolds-Stephens (1862-1943), knighted in 1931, President of the Royal Society of British Sculptors 1921-33, and an exhibitor at the Royal Academy for over fifty years, is perhaps rather forgotten today. Our interest was sparked by a Life by his great-niece, Caroline Sherlock, for he was responsible for a number of war memorials both at home and abroad (‘The Scout in War’, an equestrian statue at East London in South Africa, 1908).

Since the book was published, we have identified the previously unknown locations of some of the memorials but the whereabouts of a couple still elude us, both being busts of officers who fell in the First World War:

  • A bronze dating from 1916 of 2nd Lieutenant Vere Herbert Smith, The Rifle Brigade, who died 21 March 1915.
  • A bust dating from 1917 of 2nd Lieutenant Walter Richard Mortimer Woolf, The Border Regiment, who died 26 September 1915. His family were neighbours of the sculptor in Kilburn in north west London.

Please let us know if you have come across either of these memorials.

As the rain clouds cleared, officials and guests assembled in New Malden, Surrey on the 24th April 2008 for the dedication service to commemorate the town’s recently discovered connection to its third VC recipient. Two WW2 VC recipients are already commemorated on the memorial, Squadron Leader I. W. Bazalgette and Pilot Officer C. J. Barton, but for years a third person, Lt Humphrey Firman, Royal Navy, had remained unacknowledged - that is until research by a local historian uncovered his connection to New Malden.Lt Humphrey Firman VC memorial unveiling

Lt Firman was awarded his VC following attempts to re-provision the forces at Kut-el-Amara in April 1916. He was commanding the SS Julnar as it carried 270 tons of supplies up the River Tigris on 24 April, a particularly dangerous mission for which only volunteers had been called upon to carry it out. Despite artillery and machine-gun fire to distract the enemy’s attention on his departure, his ship was discovered, attacked and captured by the Turks. It was during this engagement that Lt Firman and several crew members were killed.

Can any other community memorial lay claim to more VC recipients being commemorated on their memorial?

Plans have recently been unveiled to create a new national war memorial in Dover.  The proposed memorial would stand in Drop Redoubt, a disused Napoleonic Fort on Dover’s Western Heights. 

It would include a series of free-standing stone walls listing all those from the UK and Commonwealth countries who died in the First and Second world wars - an incredible 1.7 million names, making it unique in this country and probably the world.

If successful, the plan is to open the memorial by 2014, the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.

Read more from Kent Online 

There was news last week that Tempelhof airport in Berlin is to close in October 2008.  The vast, semi-circular terminal buildings (one of the largest free standing structures in the world) were built in the late 1930s as a centre piece of the Nazi redevelopment of Germany.  Tempelhof played a vital role during the Berlin Airlift of June 1948 to May 1949, when the Russians cut off overland access to the Western occupied section of Berlin. 

All essential supplies required by the city’s 2.5 million inhabitants had to be brought in by air. 

At its peak there were over 1,500 flights a day, delivering more than 2.3m tons of supplies over the course of the eleven months.  

This photo shows an RAF Dakota being unloaded at Tempelhof airfield as army lorries stand by to take supplies into the city.

Such huge numbers of flights inevitably led to casualties, including 39 from Britain and the Commonwealth.  Several memorials in the UK mark these deaths, including one at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.  It includes 39 trees and a smaller copy of a memorial at Tempelhof Airport.

Click to see the record.

A tree and plaque have been dedicated at the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire, in memory of servicemen used as test subjects during the Cold War.  Hundreds of servicemen took part in experiments between 1939 and 1989 at the Ministry of Defence’s Porton Down laboratories.  The tests included being exposed to chemicals such as Sarin and mustard gas and other nerve agents.  One serviceman, Leading Aircraftman Ronald Maddison, died and many others claim to have suffered from ill health ever since.

In January the government issued an apology and £3m in compensation for 360 veterans.  The memorial was erected at the request of the Porton Down Veterans Support Group.

Read more from BBC News

Tony Hoye from London (second from left, celebrates his birthday with fellow London evacuees and refugees from France and BelgiumThis blog has now been up and running for a year!

Over that time we’ve published 181 posts covering 2,000 years of war and memorialisation - from the Roman Occupation, to ongoing conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The last twelve months have also seen us reporting on some notable anniversaries.

It was 25 years since the end of the Falklands conflict,  40 years since the withdrawal of British troops from Aden, the 100th anniversary of the Territorial Army and the 90th anniversary of the Royal Air Force.

It was 90 years since the important First World War battles of Cambrai and Passchendaele.  It was also the 80th anniversary of the opening of the Scottish National War memorial.

Other important stories of the last year include the dedication of the new Armed Forces Memorial, which records the names of all those who have died in the service of the UK Armed Forces since 1 January 1948.

The story of ‘My Boy Jack’, Rudyard Kipling’s son, John, who went missing in action in the First World War has also proved very popular, as have our two articles about military cats and civilian cats.

We look forward to another year of news and articles about war memorials in the UK.  2008 is likely to be a busy year, as it sees the 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

World Malaria DayToday is World Malaria Day.  Although malaria has been eradicated from much of the western world, it still kills over a million people each year.  It is also strongly linked to conflict.  When people are forced to flee their homes, they often end up living in areas were malaria-carrying mosquitos are prevalent and they have little or no access to healthcare.  Malaria is a very serious problem in Africa, where one in five childhood deaths are due to the effects of the disease. An African child has an average of between 1.6 and 5.4 episodes of malaria fever each year.

Soldiers fighting in areas where malaria is present are also at risk.  In the Second World War, the Royal Air Force’s Anti-Malaria Control Unit attemted to combat the disease with techniques such as spraying DDT powder over swamp land in an effort to eradicate mosquitos.

Buffs Boer War memorial, CanterburyWell over half of the 20,000 killed in the Boer War (1899-1902) died as a result of disease.  This is illustrated starkly on this Boer War memorial to the East Kent Regiment (the Buffs).  In the 3rd Battalion two men were killed in action and 29 died from disease. 

It is not uncommon to see memorials from this period indicating which casualties were a result of disease, a practice that is largely absent from later memorials, illustrating that deaths from disease were far less numerous.

Yesterday was the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, so I’ve found a topical war memorial – a church built as a memorial to the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.  The battle features as the climax of Shakespeare’s play, Henry IV, Part One, in which Henry IV defeats a force led by rebel noblemen, although the play mainly concentrates on the coming of age of his son - Hal - later to be Henry V.  Henry V goes on to appear in two more Shakespeare plays, including the one that bears his name.

It is estimated that around 1,600 men were killed during the battle. St Mary Magdalene church was built a few years later on the site of a great burial pit, as a memorial and a place where masses could be offered for the dead.  In fact, the village in which the church is situated is called Battlefield.  It’s not uncommon for a place name to incorporate the word ‘battle’, one of the more famous being Battle, site of the Battle of Hastings, and another place where a church was built as a memorial.

As well as being a memorial itself, St Mary Magdalene contains a marble memorial tablet to ten local men who died during the First and Second World Wars and, in the churchyard, there’s an addition to his parents’ gravestone commemorating, Francis Chubb, killed in action in the Boer War, 13 October 1900, in Carolina, South Africa.

Barbara McDermott, one of the two remaining survivors of the RMS Lusitania, died on 12 April.

A poster featuring Justice, personified by a full-length figure of a woman wearing robes and a cloak, holding a sword, in its scabbard, in her extended right hand. She stands above the sea in which drowning figures are visible. In the background right, the four funneled ocean liner, RMS Lusitania, sinks.The British ocean liner, Lusitania, was sailing to London from New York when she was torpedoed by a German submarine on 7 May 1915.  Over half of the nearly 2,000 passengers on board were killed.  The sinking was condemned in Britain and America and considered significant in the later decision of the US to declare war on Germany.

This poster, showing the figure of Justice offering a sword and the stricken Lusitania in the background, is one of many that used the outrage at the sinking to encourage people to join up and fight.

Barbara, who was nearly 3 years old, and her mother, were travelling to visit relatives in England.  Both survived the loss of the Lusitania and spent the rest of the war living in England, although Barbara’s mother sadly died in 1917.  Barbara eventually returned to her father in America after the war.

We’ve recorded a number of memorials commemorating the sinking of the Lusitania, mostly to individuals who lost their lives, such as Annie and Dorothy Lancaster (commemorated by a plaque in St Bartholomews Church, Keelby, Lincolnshire) and 22 year old Tertius Selwyn Warner, son of Thomas and Agnes, whose name was added to their gravestone in Whetstone, Leicestershire.

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