An ordinary memorial

I spent last weekend on a short break visiting family in Devon. One afternoon I came across a small village church.

The war memorial stood out in the churchyard, a tall cross among the gravestones. I wandered over and was thinking about how much you can learn just by looking at a memorial. 

Many are in churchyards, such as this one, as a focal point for the community and the place where the dead would have been laid to rest, had they returned.  However, not every community felt it was appropriate to link their memorial to one, or indeed any, religious organisation.  Sometimes this difference of opinion could cause heated debates and even on occasion lead to the erection of two separate memorials in different locations. 

This memorial cross was built from the same weathered grey granite as many of the gravestones, presumably a local stone. Many memorials use local materials, because they were easily sourced and because of the symbolic attachment to the landscape.  Others might use materials brought from elsewhere, such as the new memorial stone recently shipped over from the Falkland Islands.

On the village memorial there were about a dozen First World War names, ordered alphabetically by surname.  On memorials to previous conflicts (e.g the Boer War) names were usually ordered by rank, with officers first then enlisted men.  By the First World War, as society gradually became less class-conscious,  it was more common to see them ordered by name.  This can also be seen in the Commonwealth War Grave Commission’s decision to erect identical headstones for all service personnel regardless of rank. 

Two pairs of names share the same surname, not uncommon in a small rural community, perhaps brothers or cousins or more distant relatives.  For a father and son to appear on the same memorial is unlikely, but not unheard of. 

There was just one Second World War name, indicating the smaller number of casualties from that conflict. This name shared the same surname as a First World War casualty.

I looked inside the church and found an old framed, paper Roll of Honour, listing all the men from the village who served.  There were no memorials to individuals within the church which was a little unusual.  Perhaps the community or the church authorities considered the communal monument a fitting memorial to everyone.


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