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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Vulnerable War Memorials Saved by English Heritage and the Wolfson Foundation

18 February, 2009
English Heritage and the Wolfson Foundation today (18 February 2009) announced 12 grants worth nearly £50,000 to help save England’s war memorials in need of conservation and repair. The grants are being made to local groups under a scheme that is run jointly with War Memorials Trust to ensure that vulnerable memorials continue to honour those who have died in conflict.
An uncertain future can often face the 100,000 plus war memorials which honour the memory of more than three million dead. Memorials come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from simple plaques or crosses in remote landscapes to statues, windows, sundials, gardens, lych gates and bus shelters, or whole buildings such as hospitals, chapels and halls in the heart of our communities. But these evocative landmarks can often be taken for granted and fall into disrepair.

Second World War veteran, Harry Jackson (89) has added his thanks to English Heritage and the Wolfson Foundation for a grant of £4,370 which has been given for repairs to his local church memorial lychgate at St Mary’s church in Newton Regis, Warwickshire. The picturesque lychgate was erected in 1928 to commemorate those that lost their lives in the First World War, including local man Arthur Jackson. Arthur’s nephew, Harry Jackson fought in the Second World War where he lost his leg when he stepped on a landmine. The memorial marks the entrance to the grade II* listed medieval Church of St Mary and is in urgent need of repairs to the timber gates and tiled roof.

Harry Jackson said: "War memorials are very important. A lot of people are interested in them. It’s important that people remember.’

One of the most unusual memorials to be given a grant is the Thurnscoe War Memorial in South Yorkshire. Names are still being added 90 years on and bronze panels have inscriptions not just from World War I and II but also the Falklands. Thurnscoe’s 20 foot tall memorial was erected in 1920. It depicts a soldier on top of a sandstone pedestal and plinth, complete with bronze panels recording those who gave their lives in two world wars, along with an SAS soldier killed in the Falklands conflict (1982). Over one million British service men and women died in the First World War – but some of their names are still coming to light. Peter Shield, from the Thurnscoe War Memorial Trust, has trawled through thousands of cemetery records in the Barnsley district and has been able to find five previously unrecorded local soldiers who fell in the Great War (1914-1918). Four more were discovered from World War Two. Now nine new plaques have been erected on the memorial.

The Madron lychgate in Cornwall is notable for commemorating those who died in the Boer War (1899-1902). A grant is being offered to clean the modern day scar of graffiti from Newburn memorial in Tyne & Wear, dedicated to the fallen in World War I and featuring a bronze figure of a serviceman on a plinth.

Neglect and weathering can also affect the fabric of monuments over time potentially creating serious structural problems. However, in many cases, carrying out sympathetic cleaning and regular maintenance can make all the difference to and avoid the need for major repairs by identifying problems before they become serious. English Heritage and War Memorials Trust have published a free guide with practical advice for custodians and local people to look after their communities’ memorials. In publishing the guide, we hope to stem the deterioration of England’s war memorials, which are a unique and moving record of the human cost of the major conflicts of the last century.

Ian Leith, Chair of the War Memorials Panel at English Heritage, said: "War memorials stand at the heart of virtually every community in England. Not only are they poignant reminders of the scale of losses endured by ordinary people in two world wars and numerous other armed conflicts, but collectively they provide a spectacular legacy of 19th and 20th art and sculpture, the result of a spontaneous emotional response by bereaved families and communities on a scale which is unlikely ever to be repeated.

"Many memorials are not listed or protected in any way and thus need the community’s special vigilance and the support of War Memorials Trust.

"Local involvement is also important as most information about war memorials only exists at a local level. As many monuments will soon reach the 100th anniversary of their erection, it is important that the history of their site, and of when and by whom the monument was commissioned and made, is passed on to future generations along with the memorial itself.’

Frances Moreton, Trust Manager of War Memorials Trust, said: "War memorials represent historic touchstones, direct links to the past and a way for everyone to understand the sacrifices made by so many during conflicts across the globe. It is vital these memorials are preserved both as a way of remembering the fallen and as a means to educate future generations. War Memorials Trust encourages anyone with a concern about a memorial to contact the charity for assistance.’

Paul Ramsbottom, Executive Secretary of the Wolfson Foundation, said: ’These memorials are a silent and beautiful witness to lives tragically lost in conflict. It is of great importance that they are maintained in excellent condition, and the Wolfson Foundation is pleased to be funding this programme of conservation work alongside English Heritage and War Memorials Trust.'

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