Myths about who can appear on memorials

This post is prompted by a newspaper article, sent in by member of the public, which appeared earlier this month in the Yorkshire Post.  The article deals with plans to add the names of those who died in the two world wars to Featherstone’s war memorial, as these were not included when it was built after the First World War.  (Click here to read the whole article).

Despite the comment in the article from a local historian, “No one knows why the memorial has no names on it, even the smallest village memorials always seem to have names,” it is actually not that uncommon to find memorials with no names.  There are several possible reasons for this, including the follow:  

  • There may have been a shortage of money (inscriptions were paid for by the letter), which is the same reason initials are often used rather than full first names.   
  • There might have been a desire not to accidentally exclude anyone.  Names were collected in a variety of ways and often someone who might have been included was missed.  This is one of the reasons we regularly receive enquiries from people seeking to add missing names (often relatives) to their local memorial.
  • The memorial may not have been large enough to bear all the names.  You are actually more likely to see names on memorials from smaller communities.  Larger communities often had a memorial without names but collected them together in a Book of Remembrance that was kept on display in a prominent location, such as the town hall.

The second interesting point from the article was the following:

“One soldier will be omitted. His details were traced from the single fact that he was known to have a brother called Norman. From that sliver of information, his identity was eventually unearthed.

But he fought in the Spanish Civil War and rules dictate that only those who died serving the Crown should appear on war memorials in this country.

There are many commonly held assumptions about who can and can’t appear on war memorials, but the simple truth is there are no national rules (or even guidance) about this.  Whoever erects a memorial can decide whom they wish to commemorate.  Among the enormous variety of war memorials in this country are memorials to the following: those who served but didn’t die; women; civilians (including babies); animals; foreign nationals (including those from enemy countries); and memorials to those who fought in conflicts abroad in which the UK played no official part, such as the American Civil War and Vietnam.

This also includes 44 memorials to the Spanish Civil War.

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