Mowbray Lodge which used to be on Dalby Road opposite Warwick Lodge was built to the same design as Wicklow Lodge on Burton Road. The Mowbray Lodge was a hunting box for several seasons until 1898 when it was purchased by the Vicar of Melton, Reverend Richard Blakeney M.A. and his wife.
For several years, prior to the Vicar taking ownership, it was home to Captain Gordon Wilson and his wife Lady Sarah, whilst they were hunting with the Quorn Hounds. Lady Sarah was the youngest daughter of the 7th Duke of Marlborough, John Spencer-Churchill. As a member of the Churchill family, she was aunt to Winston Churchill.
Their son, Randolph Gordon Wilson was born at Mowbray Lodge and was baptised by the Reverend Blakeney at St Mary’s Church on Sunday 26th February 1893. He later went on to serve in the Royal Naval Air Service during WW1 and later the Royal Air Force following the merge of the RNAS and Royal Flying Corps.
Following the sale of Mowbray Lodge, the Wilsons moved into Brooksby Hall in 1897 where they stayed until 1904.
Gordon Wilson joined the Royal Horse Guards from the Militia in May 1887, becoming a Lieutenant in December 1888 and a Captain in 1894.
He took part in the Boer War serving as Aide-de Camp to Colonel Robert Baden-Powell who was the Commanding Officer of the Frontier Forces at Mafeking from August 1899 to May 1900 and after appointment as Major General South Africa from May 1900 to July 1900.
He was present at the defence of Mafeking, taking part in the actions of 26th December 1899 and 12th May 1900. He was twice Mentioned in Despatches in the London Gazette on the 8th February 1901 and the 10th September 1901.
Lady Sarah went out to South Africa to join him and in 1899 was recruited by Alfred Harmsworth to cover the Siege of Mafeking for the Daily Mail after one of the Mail correspondents, Ralph Hellawell, was arrested by the Boers as he tried to get out of the besieged town of Mafeking to send his dispatch. Having thus become the first woman war correspondent, Baden-Powell asked her to leave Mafeking for her own safety after the Boers threatened to storm the British garrison.
This she duly did, and set off on a madcap adventure in the company of her maid, travelling through the South African countryside. when she was about 15 miles from Mafeking, she attempted to send back a message by carrier pigeon. The pigeon was not very well trained, and instead of flying back to Mafeking, it went and landed on the rooff of the Boer Commanders house who duly acertained who she was and where she was. She was captured by the enemy and taken prisoner before being returned to the town in exchange for a horse thief.
When she re-entered Mafeking she found it had not been attacked as predicted. Over four miles of trenches had been dug and 800 bomb shelters built to protect the residents from the constant shelling of the town.
On 26 March 1900, she wrote: “The Boers have been extremely active during the last few days. Yesterday we were heavily shelled and suffered eight casualties … Corporal Ironside had his thigh smashed the day before, and Private Webbe, of the Cape Police, had his head blown off in the brickfields trenches.”
Although death and destruction surrounded her, she preferred not to dwell too much on the horrors of the siege. She described cycling events held on Sundays and the town’s celebration of Colonel Baden-Powell’s birthday which was declared a holiday. Despite these cheery events, dwindling food supplies became a constant theme in the stories which she sent back to the Mail and the situation seemed hopeless when the garrison was hit by an outbreak of malarial typhoid. In this weakened state the Boers managed to penetrate the outskirts of the town, but the British stood firm and repelled the assault. The siege finally ended after 217 days when the Royal Horse and Canadian Artillery galloped into Mafeking on 17 May 1900.
He was promoted to Major in January 1903, Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel in October 1907 and took command of his regiment in October 1911 as Lieutenant-Colonel.
On the outbreak of World War One, Gordon left for France as Lt. Colonel in the Royal Horse Guards.
Lady Sarah also went to France and was running a hospital for injured soldiers in Boulogne. It was at this hospital that Major Tony Markham who lived at The House, Melton Mowbray died after being wounded in action.
It was whilst she was at Bolougne that she heard that her husband Gordon had died from wounds received in action, on 6 November 1914. Gordon is buried in a CWGC grave at Zillebeke Churchyard in Belgium. See his CWGC recordfor more details.
The Victoria Cross (VC) is one of the highest awards a British soldier can receive. It requires an act of extreme bravery in the presence of the enemy, and has achieved almost mythical status, with recipients often revered as heroes.
The VC is Britain’s joint-highest award for gallantry. It was only equalled in status in 1940, when the George Cross (GC) was instituted for acts of conspicuous bravery not in the enemy’s presence.
The prototype Victoria Cross was made by the London jewellers Hancocks & Co, who still make VCs for the British Army today. According to legend, the prototype, along with the first 111 crosses awarded, were cast from the bronze of guns captured from the Russians in the Crimea. There is, however, a possibility that the bronze cannon used was in fact Chinese, having been captured during the First China War (1839-42) and then stored at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich.
When you talk about VC Heroes and Melton Mowbray, the majority of people recall Richard ‘Dick’ Burton. It is true to say that Dick Burton is the only Meltonian to be awarded a Victoria Cross, but as the word ‘heroes’ suggests there are actually more than one VC recipients commemorated in the town, but who are they and why were they awarded their VCs?
If you take a close look at the Corn Cross in Melton Mowbray at the junction of High Street and Nottingham Street, you will see two small plaques, one commemorating Dick Burton and the other commemorating another Meltonian who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Distinguished Flying Cross during World War Two; Air Vice Marshal James Edgar ‘Johnnie’ Johnson, CB, CBE, DSO and Two Bars, DFC and One Bar, DL.
These same two individuals are also commemorated in the Royal British Legion Field of Remembrance at the entrance of the Egerton Lodge Memorial Gardens with the placement of two small black crosses with plaques inscribed with their names. The Gardens were bought in 1929 by Melton Mowbray Town Estate and developed into a permanent memorial of those who fought in both World Wars.
Private Richard Burton
Richard Henry Burton, known as ‘Dick’, was born in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire on 29th January 1923, the son of George Henry Burton and his wife, Muriel. He grew up in the market town, living on Egerton Road, and went to school in the town until he was 14. One of the schools he attended was the Brownlow School on Limes Avenue where you will find a wooden memorial plaque commemorating him.
After leaving school, Dick became a bricklayer and followed his father into the building trade until the age of 19. Still a teenager, he enlisted into the Northamptonshire Regiment in 1942, before he joined the Duke of Wellington’s (Dukes) to go to French North Africa, where he fought in the Tunisian campaign.
With his regiment, Private Burton went onto capture the Island of Pantellaria in the Mediterranean Sea between Tunisia and Sicily in 1943. Afterwards he took part in the famous Anzio beach landings in January 1944, fought his way up through Italy. Anzio cost the Dukes 11 officers and 250 other ranks wiped out. Burton’s CO was wounded.
The northward slog was a costly affair for the Dukes. The atrocious weather conditions reduced the battalion to mule transport, laden mules becoming ‘bellied’ in the mud under the weight of ammunition or stores. Thus the Dukes confronted Monte Ceco, a crucial 2,000ft feature, on the Gothic Line in October 1944, a six-day battle ensued in rain. The initial attack from the south failed, one of the causes of the failure being the mud in places was knee-deep. On the evening of the 8th October, a silent second attack from the west was launched in a downpour whilst under heavy German mortar fire.
In the final stages of the assault on Monte Ceco, Captain A. Burns took Burton, the runner, with his platoon through to assault the crest which was held by five Spandau machine-gun teams. Despite withering German fire, Burton managed to kill the first team with his tommy-gun; and similarly the next until his ammunition ran out. He then picked up a Bren light machine gun and firing from the hip, neutralised two further German machine-gun teams, allowing his company to consolidate on the forward slope of Monte Ceco.
The Germans counter-attacked fiercely. Burton, with his companions lying dead or wounded around him, beat off that attack with accurate Bren fire. A second German counter-attack was mounted on Burton’s flank and, firing in enfilade, he again broke up the impetus of this attack, saving his company’s position.
In a letter to his parents in Melton Mowbray Private Burton wrote: “I think I am in for some sort of medal. The sergeant with me received the DCM, and three Military Medal’s were distributed at the same time. They told me mine ought to be a VC, but I don’t know about that. Anyway, I have paid the Boche back for my wounds. I must have gone bomb-happy or mad.”
The announcement of his award of the Victoria Cross in the Lancashire Evening Post stated that it was the 124th VC of the war and the 85th to go to the Army. His award was published in The London Gazette 4th January 1945 and he received his award from King George VI at Buckingham Palace the same month.
Burton’s VC citation ends with: ‘Private Burton’s magnificent gallantry and total disregard for his own safety during many hours of fierce fighting in mud and continuous rain were an inspiration to all his comrades.’
Dick Burton was barely a man at the time, a quiet boy who knew his duty. His medal embarrassed him, not only then but in the years that followed. To the end he remained modest, disliking fuss. He was a man tall and well set up, with nothing abrasive in him. There are essentially two sorts of VC courage: the calculating and cold, calling on intellect (such as the pilots showed); and the fiercely physical, which is ‘hands-on’ and calling on reserves of will. Dick Burton had that will, that conviction, from boyhood.
When station in Scotland, Dick met a young Scottish lady called Dorothy Robertson Leggat in the foyer of the Pavilion Cinema at Forfar. During his time in Scotland, their relationship bloomed rapidly, and he used to go and visit her family in Kirriemuir regularly.
After the war, Dick and Dorothy were married in 1945 and they went to live in Kirriemuir, where they brought up three boys and a girl. The Leicestershire lad became a convert Scot, even to the accent. After the war, Richard had returned to the building trade, and stayed in the business until retirement. He passed away on 11th July 1993 in Kirriemuir, aged 70, and was laid to rest in Kirriemuir Cemetery in the same grave as his son.
In 1998, at an auction at Spink’s, London, Burton’s medals including his VC were purchased by Michael Ashcroft and are now part of the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.
Victoria Cross Flower Beds
As you enter the Egerton Lodge Memorial Gardens, you will pass the Royal British Legion Field of Remembrance on your right hand side with the two black crosses for Dick Burton and Johnnie Johnson as mentioned previously. Follow the path around and you will notice two large flower beds. There is one bed either side of the central path leading up to Egerton Lodge and the War Memorial, both set out in the shape of a Victoria Cross.
The information board (above) at the entrance of the Egerton Lodge Memorial Gardens states that the flower beds were designed to honour two more recipients of the Victoria Cross who have connections to Melton Mowbray. Captain Paul Kenna and Lieutenant the Hon. Raymond Harvey Lodge Joseph De Montmorency who were both members of the 21st Lancers and visited Melton as part of the hunting society.
The two officers are known to have stayed in Melton Mowbray during the late 1890’s and are reputed to have been guests staying at the Bell Hotel in 1899. Their friend, Lieutenant the Hon. Richard Frederick Molyneux of the Royal Horse Guards was also present in Melton at the same time, staying at the Blakeney Institute.
The three Officers were veterans of the Battle of Omdurman that took place in 1898 where all three were involved in the famous Lancer Charge during the battle. According to the book “Melton Mowbray Queen of the Shires” by Jack Brownlow, they all carried marks of the fight.
Battle of Omdurman
The Battle of Omdurman took place on 2nd September 1898 at a place called Kerreri, 6.8 miles north of Omdurman. Omdurman today is a suburb of Khartoum in central Sudan and sometimes the battle is referred to as the Battle of Khartoum.
British General Sir Herbert Kitchener commanded a mixed force of 8,000 British regular soldiers plus a further 17,000 troops from Sudan and Egypt. Kitchener’s enemy, led by Abdullah al-Taashi, consisted of some 50,000 soldiers including 3,000 cavalry. They called themselves the Ansar, but were known to the British as the Dervishes.
Directly opposite the British force was a force of 8,000 men spread out in a shallow arc about a mile in length along a low ridge leading to the plain. The battle began at around 6:00 a.m. in the early morning of the 2nd September when Osman Azrak and his 8,000 strong mixed force of riflemen and spearmen advanced straight at the British.
The British artillery opened fire inflicting sever casualties on the attacking force resulting in the frontal attack ending quickly after the attackers had received about 4,000 casualties.
General Kitchener was keen on occupying Omdurman before the remaining Mahdist forces withdrew there so he advanced his army on the city, arranging them in separate columns for the attack. The 21st Lancers from the British Cavalry were sent ahead to clear the plain to Omdurman.
The 21st Lancers were made up of 400 cavalrymen and thought they were attacking a few hundred Dervishes, but little did they know that there were 2,500 infantry hidden in a depression. Consequently, the Lancers fought a harder battle than they expected losing twenty-one men killed and fifty wounded. After a fierce clash, the Dervishes were driven back.
One of the participants of this battle was a young Lieutenant by the name of Winston Churchill who was attached to the regiment from the 4th Hussars, commanded a troop in the charge. It was during this same battle that four Victoria Crosses were awarded, three of which went to the 21st Lancers for helping rescue wounded comrades. Churchill’s book “The River War: an Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan” provides a good account of the Battle of Omdurman.
As a result of the charge at Omdurman, the 21st Lancers was awarded the title ‘Empress of India’s’ by Queen Victoria, becoming the only regiment entitled to wear her Royal Cypher, and was allowed to return its french-grey facings, which had previously been replaced by scarlet. To this day men of The Queen’s Royal Lancers still wear a form of Queen Victoria’s Royal Cypher on their uniform.
Two of the Lancers VC awards that day went to Captain Paul Kenna and Lieutenant the Hon. Raymond Harvey Lodge Joseph De Montmorency who as mentioned previously are commemorated in the Egerton Park War Memorial Gardens with the VC shaped flower beds designed in their honour.
Captain Paul Aloysius Kenna
Kenna was 36 years old and serving as a Captain with the 21st Lancers (Empress of India’s) during the Sudan Campaign when he undertook the deed for what he was to be awarded the Victoria Cross.
On the 2nd September 1898, during the Battle of Omdurman, a Major of the 21st Lancers was in danger as his horse had been shot during the charge. Captain Kenna took the Major up on his own horse and back to a place of safety. After the charge, Kenna returned to help Lieutenant De Montmorency who was trying to recover the body of a fellow officer who had been killed.
Captain Paul Kenna received his Victoria Medal from Queen Victoria at Osborne House, Isle of Wight on 6th January 1899.
Following the Sudan campaign, Kenna later served in South Africa during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) and was promoted to Brevet-Major on 29th November 1900. For his service in the war, he was appointed a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) on 26th June 1902.
Following the end of the South Africa War, Kenna returned to England in July 1902. He was promoted to Major on the 7th September 1902 and appointed to command a Mounted flying column in Somaliland.
He retired from the regular Army in September 1910 with the rank of Colonel. However, in April 1912 he was appointed to command the Notts and Derby (Yeomanry) Mounted Brigade.
In 1912, he competed for Great Britain in the Summer Olympics as a horse rider in the individual eventing (military) competition. He did not finish the individual event nor did the British team finish in the team event. He also competed in the individual jumping event where he finished 27th.
At the outbreak of World War One he was appointed Brigadier-General. In the spring of 1915, he took the 3rd Mounted Brigade to Egypt and later to Gallipoli. On 30th August 1915, he was hit by a Turkish sniper’s bullet whilst inspecting the frontline trenches and died of his wounds.
He is buried in the Lala Baba (CWGC) Cemetery, Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, Turkey. For more details, see his CWGC Casualty Record.
He left a widow, Angela Mary (his second wife), and two daughters. His medals are held by the Queen’s Royal Lancers Museum, Thoresby Park, Nottinghamshire.
Lieutenant the Hon. Raymond Harvey Lodge Joseph De Montmorency
De Montmorency was born on 5th February 1897 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and was the eldest son of Major General Reymond de Montmorency, 3rd Viscount Frankfort de Montmorency and his wife Rachel Mary Lumley Godolphin Michel.
He joined the Army on 14th September 1887 when he took out a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Lincolnshire Regiment. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 6th November 1889 and transferred to the 21st Lancers (Empress of India’s).
After the charge of the 21st Lancers during the Battle of Omdurman on the 2nd September 1898, Lieutenant de Montmorency returned to help an officer, 2nd Lt R G Grenfell, who was lying surrounded by the Dervishes. Montmorency drove the Dervishes away only to find the 2nd Lt Grenfell was dead. He put the body on his horse which then broke away. Captain Kenna and Corporal Swarbrick came to his assistance, thus allowing Montmorency to rejoin his cavalry regiment.
After Sudan, like his colleague Paul Kenna, Montmorency served in South Africa during the Second Boer War (1899-1902). In October 1898 he had been despatched to South Africa on special service. He was promoted to Captain on the 2nd August 1899 following which he raised and commanded a special body of Scouts known as Montmorency’s Scouts.
The Victorian illustrated weekly publication Black and White Budget provided its readers with coverage of the 2nd Boer War and in their issue on 13th January 1900 commented “Captain de Montmorency, who is the commander of some mounted scouts with General Gatacre’s force, is showing the great value of horsemen in fighting the Boers. As soon as the enemy find themselves out-flanked by Montmorency’s men, they make a very hurried movement to the rear, and the fight is over so far as they are concerned. Captain Montmorency is the hero of the 21st Lancers, and won the Victoria Cross at Omdurman in 1898 by returning, after the charge, for the dead body of Lieutenant Grenfell, and carrying it off from among the enemy. He is the eldest son and heir of Major-General Viscount Frankfort de Montmorency, while his mother is the daughter of a Field-Marshal.”
Another article published by the Black and White Budget the day after his death reported the following: ”While the Colonial division was thus employed on the right front of the Illrd division, which on the 11th February numbered approximately 5,300 officers and men, Lieut.-General Gatacre ordered a reconnaissance on the 23rd February, to ascertain the truth of rumours that, in consequence of Lord Roberts’ invasion of the Free State, the Boers were falling back from Stormberg. Five companies of the Derbyshire with one machine gun, and the 74th and 77th batteries, Royal Field artillery (four guns each), were posted north of Pienaar’s Farm, while the mounted troops, numbering about 450, and consisting of De Montmorency’s Scouts, four companies mounted infantry, and a party of Cape Mounted Rifles, were ordered to scout to the front as far as the height overlooking Van Goosen’s Farm, and to try to lure the enemy towards the position occupied by the guns and the infantry. The scouts were fired on from a ridge held by the burghers; their advance was checked, and General Gatacre, finding that the Boers were not to be tempted forward, ordered a general withdrawal. The reconnaissance was not effected without loss. About 10.30 a.m. Captain the Hon. R. H. L. J. De Montmorency, V.C., 21st Lancers, had mounted a small kopje, accompanied by Lieut. -Colonel F. H. Hoskier, 3rd Middlesex Volunteer artillery, Mr. Vice, a civilian, and a corporal, when sudden fire at short range was poured into the little party, and De Montmorency, Hoskier and Vice were killed. This was not at once known to those behind, who for a time were left without orders. The enemy’s fire was so heavy that until 3.30 p.m. it was impossible to extricate the remainder of the scouts. The losses in De Montmorency’s small corps were two officers and four rank and file killed, two rank and file wounded, one officer and five other ranks missing, of whom two were known to have been wounded. The result of the day’s operations, in Lieut.-General Gatacre’s opinion, tended to show that the enemy’s force at Stormberg had diminished”
The units strength was about 100 and over the next three months they constantly received praise from Major Pollock and others writing about the operations in the central Cape Colony. In a skirmish near Stormberg at Dordrecht in the Cape Colony on 23rd February 1900, Montmorency was killed in action. It is said that he fired 11 shots after being mortally wounded.
Montmorency is buried in the Molteno Cemetery in the Chris Hani District Municipality, Eastern Cape, South Africa. For more details see Find a Grave.
Lieutenant the Hon. Richard Frederick Molyneux
As mentioned previously, both Kenna and Montmorency were friends of Lieutenant the Hon. Richard Frederick Molyneux of the Royal Horse Guards, and it was himself that was involved in the action for which the Lancers 3rd Victoria Cross was awarded to Private Thomas Byrne during the Battle of Omdurman.
During the charge of the 21st Lancers, Byrne turned back to go to the assistance of Lieutenant the Hon.R F Molyneux of the Royal Horse Guards who had been dismounted from his horse, wounded and was being attacked by several Dervishes.
In the book “The River War: an Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan”, Churchill describes the incident as follows: Major Crole Wyndham had his horse shot under him by a Dervish who pressed the muzzle of his rifle into its hide before firing. From out of the middle of that savage crowd the officer fought his way on foot and escaped in safety. (Note this was the incident in which Captain Paul Kenna received his VC for rescuing Wyndham) Lieutenant Molyneux fell in the Khor into the midst of the enemy. In the confusion he disentangled himself from his horse, drew his revolver, and jumped out of the hollow before the Dervishes recovered from the impact of the charge. Then they attacked him. He fired at the nearest, and at the moment of firing was slashed across the right wrist by another. The pistol fell from his nerveless hand, and, being wounded, dismounted, and disarmed, he turned in the hopes of regaining, by following the line of the charge, his squadron, which was just getting clear. Hard upon his track came the enemy, eager to make an end. Best on all sides, and thus hotly pursued, the wounded officer perceived a single Lancer riding across his path. He called on him for help. Whereupon the trooper, Private Byrne, although already severely wounded by a bullet which had penetrated his right arm, replied without a moment’s hesitation and in a cheery voice, ‘All right Sir!’ and turning, rode at four Dervishes who were about to kill his Officer. His wound, which had partly paralysed his arm, prevented him from grasping his sword and at the first ineffectual blow it fell from his hand, and he received another wound from a spear in the chest. But his solitary charge had checked the pursuing Dervishes. Lieutenant Molyneux regained his squadron alive, and the trooper, seeing that his object was attained, galloped away, reeling in his saddle. Arrived at his troop, his desperate condition noticed and was told to fall out. But this he refused to do, urging he was entitled to remain on duty and have ‘another go at them’. At length, he was compelled to leave the field, fainting from loss of blood.”
It was for this action that Private Byrne was awarded the Lancers third Victoria Cross of the day. Again, like both Kenna and Montmorency, Private Byrne served in the Second Boer War and returned to England afterwards. He died on 5th March 1944 and is buried in Canterbury City Cemetery in Kent.
Molyneux also served in South Africa and was A.D.C. to Lord Errol. He went on the officers’ Reserve list in 1904 but at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 he was re-employed on active service with his regiment and fought in France and Belgium in 1914 and 1915.
After the war he finally retired from the army in 1919 with the rank of Major upon which he was appointed groom in ordinary to King George V and began his long and happy connection with the Royal Family which ripened as the years went by into close friendship. He was the groom in waiting to King George from 1933 to 1936 and in 1935 was created K.C.V.O. (Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order).
After the death of King George V in 1936 he became, until her own death, extra equerry to Queen Mary, whose interests “he shared to the full.
Sir Richard Molyneux was unmarried and lived in Berkeley Square, London. He died 20th January 1954 at the age of eighty. His funeral took place at Kirkby on 23rd January.
Melton Mowbray had become a ‘mecca’ for the aristocracy and sporting gentlemen taking part in foxhunting. At the time, it was just as important to be seen hunting at Melton Mowbray as it was to appear at the best Society Balls in London.
Kenna and Montmorency, along with Molyneux were just three of the many dozens of military officers that frequented Melton during the hunting seasons. Kenna and Montmorency must have made an impact on the town for them to be recognised with the VC flower beds being designed in their honour.
I have been interested in war memorials for just short of 40 years now and this stems back to when I was a young cadet of around 13 or 14 years of age with No 967 Kirkham and South Fylde Sqn Air Training Corps.
I can’t remember the exact year, but as I said previously, I must have been around 13 or 14 when I was given the honour of laying a wreath on Remembrance Sunday at my local war memorial at Wesham in Lancashire.
Believe me, it was an honour, as on that memorial is the name of my Uncle, Frank Coulburn, who was a Sapper serving with No 9 Field Company, Royal Engineers during WW2 and he was killed at Dunkirk on 2nd June 1940, last seen on the beach during the evacuation. Sadly, his body has never been recovered, or if it was, never identified and as such he has no known grave.
On what I think was the same year, I was also part of the Guard of Honour at the Kirkham War Memorial, being one of four cadets, one stood on each corner of the memorial during the wreath laying ceremony. The town Mayor and other local dignitaries laid the wreaths whilst us cadets stood there with our heads bowed and our Lee Enfield .303 rifles in the arms reversed position in an act of remembrance, a pose that is quite common with figures of military personnel on war memorials, just like the one at Wesham.
You are all undoubtedly aware of the sayings/speeches that are made at times of Remembrance and these are generally referred to as The Kohima Epitaph and The Exhortation.
The Kohima Epitaph is the epitaph carved on the Memorial of the 2nd British Division in the cemetery of Kohima (North-East India). It reads:
‘When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.’
The verse is attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds (1875-1958), and is thought to have been inspired by the epitaph written by Simonides to honour the Greeks who fell at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480BC.
The Exhortation is an extract from a poem written in mid-September 1914, just a few weeks after the outbreak of World War One, by Robert Laurence Binyon called “For the Fallen”.
The Exhortation is read out during Remembrance Ceremonies, immediately after the Last Post is played, and leads into the Two Minute Silence.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old, Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, We will remember them.”
Response: “We will remember them.”
But how do we remember them?
Away from the Remembrance Ceremonies, everyone has their own way of remembering their fallen relatives and one method, especially for the families of those who never returned was, and still is today, via the erection of war memorials.
What is a war memorial though?
A war memorial can be any tangible object which has been erected or dedicated to commemorate war, conflict, victory or peace. They can also commemorate casualties who served in, were affected by or killed as a result of war, conflict or peacekeeping; or those who died as a result of accident or disease whilst engaged in military service. This can also include civilian casualties and not just service personnel.
War memorials can come in many different shapes and sizes, such as:
Boards, plaques and tablets (inside or outside a building)
Roll of Honour or Book of Remembrance
Community halls, hospitals, bus shelters, clock towers, streets etc
Church fittings like bells, pews, lecterns, lighting, windows, altars, screens, candlesticks, etc
Trophies and relics like a preserved gun or the wreckage at an aircraft crash site
Land, including parks, gardens, playing fields and woodland
Additions to gravestones (but not graves)
I suppose you could say that one of the first national war memorials in this country was The Royal Hospital at Chelsea. In 1681, responding to the need to look after these soldiers, King Charles II issued a Royal Warrant authorising the building of the Royal Hospital Chelsea to care for those ‘broken by age or war’.
Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to design and erect the building and in 1692 work was finally completed and the first Chelsea Pensioners were admitted in February 1692 and by the end of March the full complement of 476 were in residence.
War memorials can be found in just about every town or village across the country. There are so many First World War memorials in this country that it is easy to stop seeing them. For the majority of people, they just walk past them as if the memorial is so much part of everyday street furniture without even giving it a second glance. Even direct descendants of those named on them don’t pay that much attention to them.
Probably the most iconic war memorial in this country, and the one that most individuals are familiar with is The Cenotaph, located on Whitehall in Central London. It is the countries national memorial to the dead of Britain and the British Empire in the First World War and conflicts that have taken place since and is the focal point of the annual service of remembrance.
The Cenotaph was designed by Sir Edward Lutyens OM, the foremost architect of his day and was responsible for many of the commemorative structures built in the years following World War One by the Imperial War Graves Commission, now known as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Another famous war memorial that people will be aware of, but not necessarily associate it as a war memorial is another of London’s iconic landmarks, Nelsons Column in Trafalgar Square. The monument was constructed between 1840 and 1843 to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It stands, 169 feet 3 inches tall from the bottom of the pedestal base to the top of Nelsons hat.
There are four bronze panels around the pedestal each cast from captured French guns. They depict the Battle of Cape St Vincent (14th February 1797), the Battle of the Nile (1st – 3rd August 1798), the Battle of Copenhagen (2nd April 1801) and the Battle of Trafalgar (21st October 1805), all battles in which Nelson took part in.
Prior to the 1890s, the majority of war memorials across the country only commemorated aristocrats, the rich and famous who became officers of the British Army and Royal Navy.
However, in 1899 and the outbreak of the Second Boer War (1899-1902), regular soldiers were in short supply and volunteers stepped forward into the breach by joining the local volunteers Militia.
Thousands of these so called ‘amateur’ Militia volunteers were killed during the campaign, and those that returned home following the end of the war, were hailed as heroes as they had survived conflicts like the Sieges of Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley.
Consequently, thousands of Boer War memorials were erected up and down the country ranging from brass plaques to large elaborate sculptures in town centers. Whatever their design, they all had the same purpose of commemorating not only those Officers from well to do families but also the ‘common’ soldier that had made the ultimate sacrifice from either being killed in action or dying of illness contracted whilst serving in South Africa.
One such example of a Boer War memorial can be found in my local Parish Church of St Mary’s here in the market town of Melton Mowbray where I live.
On Saturday 20th December 1902, The Grantham Journal published the following article in their newspaper:
“Honour to Whom Honour is Due”—The memory of Meltonians who sacrificed their lives in the South African war is to be perpetuated by a splendid brass tablet, suitably inscribed, which is to be placed in the Parish Church, probably the nave. The names of the seven who fell, and which will appear on the tablet, are Privates John Lowe, Wm. Manchester, Wm. Redmile, and John Henry Green, Troopers Edward Dobson and Ernest Alfred Baker, and Bugler Albert Edward Peasgood, of Oakham, a member the Melton Volunteer Corps. The matter is in the hands of Mr. Willcox, who has collected most of the subscriptions for the purpose, a ready response being made in this respect. Work is in the hands of Messrs. J. Wippall and Co., of Exeter and London, and the tablet, which will be of an ornamental character, will be mounted a polished slab of black marble. The Vicar has kindly agreed to forego the fee of ten guineas which is entitled in respect of fixing of the tablet in the Church. It is expected that it will be ready towards the end of the month of February, and it will be unveiled at a special service arranged for the occasion, which will be attended by the local Volunteers and Yeomanry. A special effort is being made among the Volunteers in the matter of subscriptions the fund for memorial, and Sergt. J. Sutherland has undertaken to receive the same.
A special unveiling ceremony for the dedication of the memorial was held on Sunday 15th March 1903.
The brass plaque is described as “Containing a cross with red infill, encircled by a crown within nowy head & a cross at each corner fixing point, all infilled in black. An engraved single-line, inwardly radiused, at each corner, forms a border around inscription area, with a decorative open termination at top centre within nowy head.”
THIS TABLET WAS PLACED BY PUBLIC SUBSCRIPTION IN MEMORY OF THOSE FROM THIS TOWN WHO DIED SERVING THEIR COUNTRY IN SOUTH AFRICA PRIVATE JOHN LOWE DIED OF ENTERIC AT LADYSMITH 6th MARCH 1900 AGED 23 YEARS BUGLER ALBERT EDWARD PEASGOOD A NATIVE OF OAKHAM DIED OF ENTERIC AT KROONSTAD 27th MAY 1900 AGED 19 YEARS PRIVATE WILLIAM MANCHESTER DIED OF THROMBOSIS AT SPRINGFONTEIN 12th DECEMBER 1900 AGED 28 YEARS TROOPER EDWARD DOBSON KILLED IN ACTION NEAR WELVERDIERED 24th DECEMBER 1900 AGED 20 YEARS TROOPER ERNEST ALFRED BAKER DIED OF ENTERIC AT KROONSTAD 1st JUNE 1901 AGED 18 YEARS PRIVATE WILLIAM REDMILE DIED OF ENTERIC AT ALIWAL NORTH 14th SEPTEMBER 1902 AGED 18 YEARS PRIVATE JOHN HENRY GREEN DIED 12th SEPEMBER 1902 UPON HIS RETURN HOME FROM DISEASE CONTRACTED IN SOUTH AFRIVA AGED 22 YEARS
“WHEN THE PEOPLE OFFERED THEMSELVES WILLINGLY” “HONOUR TO WHOM HONOUR IS DUE”
As part of the unveiling ceremony, a parade of the Melton Mowbray volunteers took place including the Melton and Gaddesby troops of the Leicestershire Imperial Yeomanry, twenty-nine members of the Oakham detachment of “N” Company of the Leicestershire Volunteers, under Sergt. J. C. Kernick and the Church Lads Brigade and a regimental band from Leicester was also in attendance.
A large congregation assembled in the Church and the unveiling ceremony was performed by General Brocklehurst who raised a toast to the King and an appropriate dissertation was also read by the vicar, Rev R Blakeney.
After the unveiling, the Last Post, and the anthem ‘Blest are the departed’ by Spohr was sung by the choir.
Another example of a Boer War memorial is that which can be found in the Town Hall Square Leicester on the corner of Every Street & Horsefair Street. This memorial takes on a different for to the plaque in St Mary’s and is a low granite wall with bronze plaques containing the names of 315 of Leicestershire’s men who died in the war. It is made up of a central squat pedestal with bronze kneeling angel in flowing robes holding sword and olive branch, showing Peace. Figures of grief & war are also mounted on the end pillars.
During my travels across the UK, and even overseas, when I come across a war memorial, I will always pay it a visit, read the inscription and take photographs of it. There are plenty of the memorials that are lovingly cared for and maintained by local authorities and communities. Sadly though, this is not always the case as it was slowly dawning on me that a lot of these memorials were either neglected or suffering from effects such as weathering, pollution, and in some cases vandalism.
Coming across quite a few memorials that, shall we say were not in the best of conditions for whatever reason, I decided several years ago to join the War Memorials Trust as a member and also as a Regional Volunteer to ‘do my bit’ and try to ensure that “We will remember them” and the individuals named on the memorial inscriptions are “Not Forgotten.”
Throughout the United Kingdom, there are estimated to be over 100,000war memorials. They were, and still are today, erected by communities and in the majority of cases via public subscription as a means for communities to focus their grief and provide a means of Remembrance because so many who died or are classed as missing were never repatriated or have no known grave.
As I have discovered during my travels, many memorials are treasured, maintained and cared for with maintenance plans in place, but others are sadly neglected, vandalised or left to suffer the effects of ageing and weathering.
This is where the War Memorials Trust comes in. They want to ensure that each and every memorial is preserved and the memory of the individuals recorded, whether they be from past or present conflict, civilian or service personnel, remembered.
Who are the War Memorials Trust?
Back in 1997 an ex-Royal Marine, by the name of Ian Davidson, went to one of the Committee Rooms at the House of Commons to report on the ‘scandal’ of Britain’s war memorials.
Ian Davidson shocked those in attendance with his report that although the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was doing a magnificent job caring for the graves and memorials to our war dead abroad (post 1914), no one – and no organization – took responsibility for the care of Britain’s war memorials at home, estimated to number more than 50,000 at the time.
As a fall out from this meeting, a new organisation known originally as Friends of War Memorials was formed, changing its name to War Memorials Trust in January 2005.
The War Memorials Trust works with communities, supporting them to provide care for their war memorials which remain a shared ongoing tribute and responsibility. They encourage best conservation practice giving the greatest chance of preserving the original war memorials as they were seen by those who lost loved ones. As current custodians we are acting today not just for ourselves but for those who went before, and will come after, us.
As a charity War Memorials Trust provides advice, offers grants and works with others to achieve its objectives. But it needs help as it relies entirely on voluntary donations to enable it to protect and conserve war memorials in the UK. Gifts, subscriptions, grants and in-kind contributions all assist the charity to achieve its aims and objectives.
The war memorial in the village of Great Dalby near Melton Mowbray commemorates 11 men of the village who died in the Great War and it was unveiled on 25 July 1920. In 2006 a project was undertaken on the memorial to restore it to its former glory. The fence surrounding the memorial needed to be repaired to ensure it was safe and the War Memorials Trust contributed £215 towards this work.
Egerton Lodge War Memorial Gardens are part of landscaped gardens surrounding Egerton Lodge, a grade II listed residential home for the elderly in Melton Mowbray.
In 2008, the War Memorials Trust gave a grant of £2,500 towards the restoration of the terrace. This included cleaning the balustrade and re-pointing the structure with lime mortar. Additionally, the tarmac surface of the upper terrace was replaced with stone paving. The York paving slabs had originally been used on the platform of the Great Northern Station on Scalford Road, Melton, until it’s closed in 1953. When the war memorial was restored in 2008/9, it was decided to use the stone labs on the upper terrace as it was deemed appropriate that those who gathered on the terrace to honour the towns fallen heroes would be standing on the same slabs as some of those who did not return may have stood during their embarkation when they went off to war.
The War Memorials Trust also relies on the efforts of volunteer Contributors to report on the condition of war memorials around the country. These volunteers used to be called Regional Volunteers and they looked after the memorials in their County but that volunteering scheme has now ended as more and more members of the public are also contributing.
If you want to get involved in any way, to help protect and conserve our nation’s war memorial heritage, you can join the Trust as a member. Members donate either an annual subscription of £20 or make a one-off payment of £150 for life membership.
Alternatively, you can get involved by volunteering and reporting on the condition of our war memorials. You can do this by registering online with their War Memorials Onlinewebsite and then submit photos and condition reports of any war memorials you come across.
In addition to the War Memorials Trust, there are other organisations that help look after War Memorials such as the Imperial War Museum who maintain the War Memorials Register.
Another great organisation is Historic England who provide great advice via their series of downloadable publications providing advice and guidance on preserving war memorials. See their website for more information.
If you’re based in Scotland, then the Historic Environment Scotland website provides similar advice for Scottish memorials. See their website for more information.
And for those of you in Wales, the CADW website also provides information relating to Welsh memorails.
If you are responsible for a war memorial that is metal, did you know that you can help protect it witht he uese of smart water should it be stolen. See the In Memoriam 2014 website for further information.
I would recommend that before entering into a contract with any commercial company regarding the cleaning of your war memorial, I would visit the websites of the War Memorials Trust or English Heritage or the equivalent for Scotland and Wales and seek their advice in the first instance.
Sadly, some war memorials are in danger of being lost due to the closure of Churches, Chapels, Factories, and Schools with some building being demolished or others closed or converted into domestic accomodation.
Not always will any war memorials be preserved and unfortunately, some end up being destroyed, dumped in skips or even sold to the scrap man!
Luckily, local organisations such as the Leicester City, County & Rutland At Risk War Memorials Project exist to preserve the war memorials and their aim is “to keep them safe” by taking those at risk into their custody, but wherever possible they try and relocate the memorial to another location within the community from where it came.
For more information about their work, please visit their website here.
If you have any questioins about war memorials, please don’t hesitate to send a message using the email address: email: email@example.com and I will try and help you or signpost onto a suitable organisation.