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Unusual memorials

By office volunteer, Annette Gaykema.

Another remote memorial is that of the Elliot brothers, William and Alistair, which is located by the shores of Loch Glencoul in Sutherland, Northern Scotland. Since the nearest public road is approximately 8 miles away, this memorial is only accessible by foot or by boat.

Photo courtesy of Mick Garratt

The Elliot brothers memorial

The story behind it is an interesting one. The memorial itself is on a hill overlooking an isolated house. This two-storey stone house was built around 1880, by the Duke of Westminster for his estate keepers. The Elliot family were working on the estate and living at Glencoul House when the brothers enlisted for the First World War.

Photo courtesy of the Elliot family

Glencoul House with the cross just visible on the hill to the left

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This article was submitted by Derbyshire Volunteer Co-ordinator, Roy Branson

Many aeroplanes crashed in the UK during the Second World War, some as direct casualties of conflict shot down by anti-aircraft fire or in aerial combat, some because they just could not get back to base after sustaining earlier damage. What is lesser known is that in the years immediately following the war navigational and weather problems also led to crashes and the Peak District of Derbyshire seems to have had more than its share of these.  

Bleaklow crash site on skyline

Bleaklow crash site on skyline

Several years ago I became intrigued by a story about a wartime aeroplane crash site featured in Blood on the Tongue, a crime novel by Stephen Booth.  Set in the Peak District, Booth’s geography is fictional, based on a mixture of features drawn from all over the area, but a possible inspiration for the story may have been wreckage still to be found on Bleaklow, east of Glossop.  Intrigued by Booth’s fiction, I decided to visit this crash site, which is known to have a memorial.

In 1948, a United States Air Force (USAF) Superfortress crashed near a remote moorland hilltop. It was delivering mail from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire to USAF Burtonwood in Cheshire. The crash occured by a cruel trick of fate: if the aircraft had been ten metres higher it would have cleared the hilltop and would probably have reached its destination.

In view of the location, careful preparations had to be made for my visit to the crash site. Amongst the problems of walking in the Peak District are weather conditions, which can change very quickly, and the sheer isolation. After postponing the walk on the first attempt due to heavy rain, I set off with a colleague equipped with walking gear, maps, compass, gps equipment and whistle (no mobile phone signal in these parts) and emergency rations. The moorland is not called Bleaklow for nothing and we were not keen to become the subjects of one of Derbyshire’s several mountain rescue teams.

Wreaths and tributes form a shrine at the crash site

Wreaths and tributes form a shrine at the crash site

In the event, weather conditions were good and leaving Snake Pass, good progress was made along the Pennine Way. After walking for one and a half hours the crash site was reached. The last kilometre was off the path and through boggy peat moorland. Wreckage still covers a huge area and is in remarkable condition after sixty years. Some of the steel components of the undercarriage and engines are now quite rusty but most panels merely possess the patina typical of oxidised aluminium. A few stainless steel components seemed as bright and shiny as the day they were fashioned.

Final destination: reading the memorial

Final destination: memorial to the thirteen airmen

Despite its remoteness the site receives many visitors and has developed the characteristics of a shrine. Many crosses have been constructed; some by repositioning pieces of wreckage, but others are formed from rocks placed in patterns on the bare peat. At least one of these is visible from the air, as users of Google Earth can confirm!

One large piece of panelling forms a rudimentary shelter over a mound of peat which has become covered with wreaths, tributes and small British Legion crosses. Amongst this scene stands the subject of the visit: a sandstone pillar bearing a bronze plaque commemorating the thirteen airmen who lost their lives in a tragic accident.

This article was submitted by UKNIWM volunteer fieldworker Gordon Amand

You may wonder what have Roman remains got to do with war memorials. Well, it would appear that in Prospect Park, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire a chance investigation has led to the discovery of a strange coincidence.

It began in the summer of 2007, when after a period of heavy rainfall (a feature that seems to have characterised that summer), the 18th century wall dividing the church cemetery from Prospect Park collapsed. The park, on slightly higher ground than the cemetery by about 5 feet, overlooks a U bend in the River Wye. It is here that Ross district chose to site their war memorial in 1920, with a commanding view of the river and surrounding countryside.

Excavation of Roman remains found beneath the war memorial

Excavation of Roman remains found beneath the Ross District war memorial

After a discussion between the Church authority and County Council, repair work to the wall commenced in early 2008, but it was not long underway when remains of an ancient occupation were found in the ground layers of the park and it was discovered that the war memorial had been erected directly on top of a Roman settlement. The war memorial, a rough hewn plinth and cross with the names of the district’s fallen was dismantled and stored, whilst archaeologists investigated the area, recovering a number of artefacts. It would seem that both the Roman settlers and the town’s people of 1920 valued the view, but for different reasons.

Following the excavation, the site was re-covered to preserve it for future investigation. As November approached, people in the town began to ask if the annual remembrance service would be held as usual in the Prospect. A surprisingly quick decision was made to reposition the memorial approximately 50m from it original location. The annual Remembrance service then took place on a cold and wet Sunday morning. Interestingly, this was the second time in 2008 that a memorial was rededicated in this area. In March, the Greytree memorial was re-dedicated, having been refurbished. I am not sure if there are many other towns in the UK where two memorials have been re-dedicated in the same year.

The re-sited memorial in Prospect Park

It is now hoped that the newly discovered Roman remains will be further explored, and will eventually prove a visitor attraction for the town. Meanwhile, a little way along the hillside, the war memorial stands, once more overlooking the towns and fields from which those it commemorates came.

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?

Yesterday was the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, so I’ve found a topical war memorial – a church built as a memorial to the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.  The battle features as the climax of Shakespeare’s play, Henry IV, Part One, in which Henry IV defeats a force led by rebel noblemen, although the play mainly concentrates on the coming of age of his son – Hal – later to be Henry V.  Henry V goes on to appear in two more Shakespeare plays, including the one that bears his name.

It is estimated that around 1,600 men were killed during the battle. St Mary Magdalene church was built a few years later on the site of a great burial pit, as a memorial and a place where masses could be offered for the dead.  In fact, the village in which the church is situated is called Battlefield.  It’s not uncommon for a place name to incorporate the word ‘battle’, one of the more famous being Battle, site of the Battle of Hastings, and another place where a church was built as a memorial.

As well as being a memorial itself, St Mary Magdalene contains a marble memorial tablet to ten local men who died during the First and Second World Wars and, in the churchyard, there’s an addition to his parents’ gravestone commemorating, Francis Chubb, killed in action in the Boer War, 13 October 1900, in Carolina, South Africa.

‘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.

Thetford hospital memorial tablet. Image copyright Norfolk NHS

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.

This is a fascinating photograph I discovered in our collection.  It shows a temporary memorial, constructed from white-painted wood.  Although unfamiliar to us today because they have not survived, temporary memorials were relatively common immediately following the end of the First World War.  They were often erected in towns and cities to provide a focus for remembrance activities before a permanent stone memorial could be erected.

Black and white photo of temorary wooden First World War memorials

The other intriguing thing about this photograph is the annotation:

Comrades of the Great War
(Woolwich and District Branch)
Childrens’ Xmas Treat

A Child’s tribute to dear Daddy
Your tribute to the child

From this we can assume that the little boy to the left of the photo had lost his father in the war and the trip to visit the memorial had been organised as a Christmas treat by the local branch of the ‘Comrades of the Great War’, one of the forerunners of the Royal British Legion.  The last line is rather more enigmatic – ‘Your tribute to the child.’  Perhaps the postcard was sold to encourage donations for a permanent memorial?