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By Jane Furlong, Project Coordinator

Have you ever wondered how the Blitz affected your family? What role did your ancestors play to help win the war on the home front? And what effects of the raids can still be seen around us and in our lives today? If you are planning ahead and wandering what to do on 6th November why not come along to the Family History Day at the Imperial War Museum. I will be giving a talk about Blitz memorials  and you will get an opportunity to speak to a range of Museum experts and other organisations about starting and continuing Family History Research. You can bring along any documents, photographs, medals or other objects relating to family history in the twentieth century and we will try to help you learn more about them. The Museum’s Conservators and members of the Institute of Conservation (ICON) will also be on hand to advise on how to look after these precious family heirlooms.

A series of special lectures  offering more in-depth advice on how to find out more about your family will also be taking place – including one by me on Blitz memorials – and there will be the opportunity to visit the Explore History Centre, a specially-designed public space where anyone can drop in for free and discover how the Imperial War Museum’s vast collections could help to uncover their past.

So come along. It would be great to see you!

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Whilst watching the news footage last night as people in Cumbria remembered the victims of the shootings last week, I was struck by the fact that in Egremont they gathered round the war memorial for the remembrance service and minute’s silence. It reinforced what I had always surmised – despite the fact that they originally commemorated war dead their remembrance focus can transcend their original purpose at times like this. They are a powerful symbol of remembrance and they can become an integral focal point for a community’s grief when people unite together as a result of tragic events of this type.

Learning her Job at a Steelworks

It is sometimes claimed that women are not commemorated on war memorials. This is not true but you do have to look a bit harder to find them, only because their casualty rates weren’t as high. However, their contribution to the war effort is not as visible. This is set to be addressed by Sheffield Council who have announced that they will be working with women who worked in the steel industry during WW2 to create a memorial to recognise their efforts. 

Four ideas have been proposed: an abstract sculpture, a bronze sculpture, a garden of remembrance or commemorative plaques.

It will be interesting to see what they choose.

Submitted by Roy Branson, UKNIWM volunteer 

For the past 2,000 years churchyards have been the established locations in Britain for most burials of the dead. But the expanding urban populations of the nineteenth century put many churchyards under great strain. An increase in the preference for cremation helped alleviate the problem but the greatest improvement was in the provision of urban cemeteries. Some of these were municipal, but many were created and managed by private companies. Perhaps the most well-known of these is Highgate cemetery, famous not only for its graves of prominent people but also for some magnificent memorial architecture. 

A recent visit to London led to the discovery of another such cemetery – perhaps well-known to Londoners but not so well-known to us outside the capital. Brompton Cemetery is managed by the Royal Parks and is located in Chelsea, near the Fulham boundary and close to Stamford Bridge football ground. It occupies a thin rectangular site between Old Brompton Road and Fulham Road, parallel with the railway line. Within its 16.5 hectares are tree-lined avenues, a chapel, colonnades, lodges and 35,000 monuments. The site is a Conservation Area and many of the features within it are Statutory Listed conservation structures. Amongst the major monuments are one to the Brigade of Guards and one to Chelsea Pensioners.  There are also a dozen graves of VC holders. 

But the prize for any war memorial researcher is the unknown treasure of war memorials – that is to say memorial inscriptions on gravestones for war casualties who are not buried in the grave. An example is this one commemorating Lt R S Richardson MC, Machine Gun Corps. He died of wounds on 1st September 1916 aged 23 years and is buried in La Neuville British Cemetery, Corbie, France but is commemorated on the family gravestone. 

Graves in Brompton cemetery: The family grave listing Lt Richardson MC is located in the centre foreground

A casual half-hour visit found a total of five of this type of memorial within a very small area containing about a hundred graves. If this is representative of the whole cemetery there could be as many as 1,750 undiscovered war memorials in this one cemetery. However, allowing for the fact that different areas cover different time periods, a more realistic estimate is perhaps nearer to 300. But that still represents a huge research opportunity for any researcher lucky enough to live near this gem or others like it.

Further to my blog of 15 July, Tynwald, the Isle of Man’s parliament, has approved the establishment of the Isle of Man Government Preservation of War Memorials Committee to encourage the appropriate preservation and the safekeeping of all HM Forces, Merchant Navy and other War Memorials, and War Graves, within the individual areas across the Island and to keep a public register.   

 

This is great news. Whilst many of the memorials located on the Isle of Man are in good condition, this new committee will provide protection for the few which are in out of the way places or not as well known as well as ensure the long term preservation of all the war memorials on the Isle of Man.
 

The committee, consisting of up to seven members from the parliament and the public, will be responsible for: 

  • ensuring a proper registration of War Memorials throughout the Isle of Man; 
  • encouraging the proper maintenance and upkeep of such Memorials; and
  • avoiding the destruction of, or overseeing the removal of, such Memorials by encouraging the owners or custodians to advise the Committee that such is likely prior to such actions being taken so as to enable the Committee to ascertain any actions that may be appropriate for them to safeguard the Memorial. 

I wonder if any more government bodies or local councils will follow suit?

What, you may ask, do children’s building bricks have to do with war memorials? Well, read on….

Richter’s Anchor Blocks were invented in Germany in 1882 and were popular throughout the Europe, the UK and America for many years. But the advent of WW1 and the resulting restriction on German imports provided an opportunity for a British manufacturer to break into the market. Ernest Lott leased premises in Bushey, Hertfordshire to make a British version known as Lott’s Bricks.

A series of boxes designed for specific projects were produced e.g. Tudor Blocks to enable kids (and maybe Dads!) to reproduce the fashionable mock-Tudor house that was springing up all over suburbia. But of particular interest to us is Box 3. Amongst the ideas of what to build there is a plan for a War Memorial.

The nature of the bricks meant that it was of a modernist design, albeit topped with a cross, and its monumentality is perhaps reminiscent of the larger Commonwealth War Graves Commission crosses rather than a community one. However, one piece of publicity shows a smaller design, more proportional to the surrounding houses. To find out more, there is still time to see an interesting exhibition at Bushey Museum and Art Gallery, Hertfordshire in which the memorial features. It closes on November 2nd 2008 so you had better be quick!

I wonder how many other war memorial toys have been produced?