‘Useful’ war memorials are certainly less common than the purely symbolic form, but plenty still exist. Practically anything can be purchased, installed and dedicated as a war memorial. From bird baths to ambulances, writing desks to horse troughs.
Among the many structures serving as memorials are hospitals, nurses’ homes, libraries, schools, sports and social clubs, bandstands, swimming baths and a mountaineers’ hut. Despite the diverse forms, their purpose was the same – to improve the quality of life for those still living, rather than standing solely as a monument to the dead.
Some, no doubt, will prove to be more durable than others. The summit of Scafell Pike – the tallest mountain in England – was donated by the 3rd Lord Leaconfield as a war memorial in 1919. Others, such as cottage hospitals, may eventually become unsuitable for the use for which they were intended and be demolished or converted. In these cases, a dedicatory inscription may be all that remains to remind us of the community’s intention, decades before.
In Thetford, Norfolk, after the end of the First World War, the local people chose to erect a memorial to their war dead that would benefit the whole town. They decided on a new wing for the cottage hospital and installed in it the very latest medical technology – x-ray apparatus. Last year the cottage hospital closed when a new healthy living centre was opened, but the dedicatory tablet has been saved and will be re-erected by the Town Council once a suitable location has been found.