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 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
This 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.