Remembering War – the Stories behind Local War Memorials (Part 1)

Sarah Owen from Tameside has written a series of blog posts exploring the stories behind the borough’s war memorials. Part 1 of the series discusses the history of the Chapel Hill Memorial at Dukinfield.    

Chapel Street War Memorial

As we approach Remembrance Sunday, War Memorials such as the Cenotaph in London and the Arboretum in Birmingham will once again become the focal point of reflection.

In this, the 100th Anniversary of the First World War, it is perhaps poignant to reflect on the role of the War Memorial at a local level. In Tameside, for example, some 100 Memorials were constructed between 1922 and 1926. They were often placed in central locations within towns to ensure that the local people would be reminded on a daily basis of the magnitude of the conflict and remain thankful for the sacrifice given by the men from their towns and villages.

Although for many people they are a central focus of local Remembrance Parades and Moments of Silence, for the majority it must be said that our memorials have become so accepted as part of our local towns that they are perhaps often forgotten for their historical origins of post- WW1 Britain.

After researching the construction Tameside’s ‘Great War’ Memorials, I hope to bring to life the stories behind the construction of several of our regions finest commemorations to the fallen.

chapel hill
Image 1: Chapel Hill War Memorial, Dukinfield. Copyright Tameside MBC.

Although war memorials had been constructed to commemorate wars prior to the First World War, they had always been of Generals, Leaders and Notable Warriors, like those which adorn the streets of Westminster. Those built at a local level were to remember the local lives and contributions to the conflict, with the Chapel Street Memorial featuring 460 names of soldiers lost.

What is also striking is that while national memorials were funded by the government, those built to commemorate the First World War were funded entirely by local people, reflecting the inherent social desire to ensure that the sacrifice made by so many local men would never be forgotten- a consequence no doubt of the crude reality that so many sons, brothers and fathers would not be returned to their homes due to the scale of deaths worldwide.

Chapel Hill Memorial was unveiled on 30 July 1922 and was funded entirely by Public Subscription, or the local taxes paid by the people of Dukinfield. As with many local memorials, the decision was also made to give the job of sculpting the statue to local firms, with the 7ft 4in Soldier being carried out by Messrs. W. Hewitt and Sons, Crescent Road, Dukinfield.

As readers familiar with the current season of Downton Abbey will appreciate, the decision to construct the memorial was one filled with public debate. A meeting of taxpayers was held in the Town Hall on 3 February 1919 to decide whether a public memorial should be erected to the town’s dead and what form any memorial should take. Although it was agreed that there should be a memorial in Dukinfield, there were a number of proposals as to its form. Members of the neighbouring town and district councils had already met and sent a letter to the meeting suggesting that a fitting memorial would be the extension of the District Infirmary. Other councillors were in favour of building a large public hall which would contain a memorial plaque.

Opposition to the memorial was put forward by Councillor Grundy, who argued that in addition to the problems of cost ‘monuments were not suitable in a district like this on account of the prevailing atmosphere’, in other words suggesting that people simply wanted to forget the war.

In contrast, Rev. C. Jackson Shawe, an army chaplain at the meeting, argued that the memorial should not be simply ornamental: ‘Any memorial for posterity must be a memorial of the ideal life… the Memorial should serve the purpose of spiritual reconstruction and should give their young people ideas.’

Finally, the decision was made to construct the increasingly popular style of a memorial as opposed to a plaque or building, with Chapel Hill chosen over the Town Hall as the location.

The Memorial was unveiled by Sir John Wood M.P and dedicated by the Rev. W.H.F Palin ‘in the presence of thousands of spectators’.

Sergeant Brooks, an ex-serviceman from the town who had been blinded in the war, laid the first wreath. In total, between two and three hundred wreaths were then laid, covering the base of the memorial in flowers and reflecting the support the memorial had within the community.

The Major, Alderman Underwood then addressed the crowd saying that although there had been many important occasions in the town, ‘there had never been an event which could claim to be equal in greatness or solemnity to that taking place that afternoon’.

References:

Image 1: Chapel Hill Memorial, Dukinfield – Tameside Image Gallery, Copyright Tameside MBC (http://public.tameside.gov.uk/imagegallery/preview.asp?id=173#thumb)

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