Chairman Lynda Balmforth welcomed speaker Eric Jackson who presented an excellent illustrated talk ‘Remembrance – War Memorials & the Unknown Warrior’.
War memorials are a common sight throughout Great Britain with the exception of 54 (5 in Yorkshire) Thankful Villages where all the men returned home from the Great War. Prior to WW1 there was little or no commemoration of war dead; monuments such as Nelson’s Column & Wellington Arch celebrated victory but did not include names of the dead. By the end of C19th commemorative memorials began to appear for those who fought & died in the Boer War (one such plaque can be found in Queen’s Hall, Burley). The hitherto unknown enormous loss of life during WW1 prompted widespread commemoration of the dead.
Major General Sir Fabian Arthur Goulstone Ware 1869 – 1949 who joined the Red Cross in 1914 was struck by the lack of system for marking graves of the dead & founded the graves registration system, later Imperial War Graves Commission, now Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Government policy was not to repatriate bodies home & it was not practically possible for most families to visit overseas graves. Commemorative war memorials therefore provided a focal point for remembrance.
The blueprint established by most places was to establish a committee to oversee the raising of funds & commission of designs & construction. Memorials took many forms from plaques, crosses, statues of soldiers to more practical construction of village halls.
Military chaplain Rev David Railton 1884 – 1955 conceived the idea for the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, the burial place of kings. One body was anonymously selected & escorted to London (Victoria Station) via Arras, Bologne & Dover. Burial at the Abbey took place 11 November 1920 using soil from the main French battlefields. The black marble tombstone is the only one there that it is forbidden to walk upon. Among the guests of honour were 100 women who had lost both their husbands & all their sons during the war.
The poppy has become symbolic of remembrance since Moina Michael 1869 – 1944, American War Secretary, inspired by McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Field’ first sold poppies in aid of war veterans in 1918. The idea was adopted by Haig’s Fund & the British Legion & continues to this day.