The Cenotaph, London is the National War Memorial
Copyright image courtesy of Clive Gilbert
The war in Afghanistan (2001-2014) claimed the lives of 451 British service personnel. Each one a tragedy, and our hearts go out to the bereaved families. That sadness was magnified a thousand fold by the sheer scale of the carnage of the two world wars, especially the Great War of 1914-1918. It is a sobering thought to realise that throughout this war, on average, 480 men from the UK were killed every day. On the worst day, Saturday July 1 1916 some 20,000 British soldiers were killed. What devastation must have been felt back home by the mothers, fathers, wives, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, as well as friends and other family members.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a memorial, is "a sign of remembrance; preserving or intended to preserve the memory of a person or thing". War memorials commemorate those killed as a result of conflict or military service. In one way, war memorials help those who never had a grave to mourn over, nor leave flowers at; they helped those left behind to grieve. In another way they represent society saying 'thank you' to the local men who lost their lives trying to protect the community's way of life.
The desire to commemorate the fallen was intense during the years following the First World War, especially when repatriation of bodies was not allowed or possible. Indeed, even before the war ended many communities had erected 'shrines', recording the names of men who had died as well as those who were serving, had been wounded, taken prisoner or had received a medal. There were no Government rules to decide which names should appear on which memorials, each local community did the best that it could to gather together the names for inclusion on their memorial. No doubt word of mouth, newspaper articles, church announcements and door-to-door enquiries all played their part. The lack of rules has lead to many inconsistencies and inaccuracies but this should not diminish the value of war memorials.
War memorials are part of our heritage and deserve to be preserved, respected and brought to the attention of each new generation. Whilst Local Authorities can maintain, repair and protect war memorials there is no obligation to do so. There is a group called "The War Memorials Trust" dedicated to preserving this emotive national asset. Their web site is http://www.warmemorials.org/.
The centre of National remembrance is of course the Cenotaph in Whitehall, but every city, every town and almost every village in the UK erected some form of memorial to their dead. Of the 16,000 or so villages in England only 42 did not have any men killed in the Great War (Daily Telegraph 10 November 2007). However, web site www.hellfirecorner.co.uk/thankful.htm lists the names of 46 such villages.
Throughout the borough of Epsom and Ewell there are many memorials. The following is a list of those known to the author:
If you want to visit the battlefields of the Somme, and are in need of B&B accommodation, you could do no better than stay with Bryan and Christine Lightbody. Their hospitality is second to none and is administered from a large old farmhouse in the village of Combles. Their web site can be found at www.orchardfarmsomme.com.