The Lichfield Gardens of Remembrance – 1920 to 2017

The Lichfield Gardens of Remembrance –
From Early Beginnings to 2017

On the opposite side of Lichfield’s Beacon Park, close to the waters of Minster Pool, stands the Remembrance Gardens, now a very familiar Lichfield landmark. Each year, on the 11th of the 11th at 11am a service of commemoration takes place while a similar service takes place on the nearest Sunday to the 11th, both in honour of the Fallen, remembering those who have lost their lives in conflict over the years and especially in World War One and Two.

But how did the Remembrance Gardens and the War Memorial come about? When where the Gardens built and how were they funded?

On Monday March 1 1919 a meeting took place in the Lichfield Guildhall to discuss the possibility of providing a war memorial somewhere in Lichfield and also provide a celebration of peace at the conclusion of the Great War of 1914-18. The Mayor, Councillor Henry Hall (who owned a family butcher’s on Conduit Street, now the Superdrug store), Sheriff, Deputy Mayor, a number of members of the City Council, representatives from the Chamber of Trade and several demobilised soldiers met to discuss the plans.

At the initial meeting a number of options were discussed with several members of the group proposing and supporting an Institute, or Club, where young people could be provided with entertainment as it was recognised that there was very little for young people to do in Lichfield (does that resonate with today’s situation?). However the Mayor, Henry Hall, suggested that a permanent war memorial had also been suggested and that there was an area of land by Minster Pool that might be available. The garden area had been part owned by the late Mr Alan Chinn, of Number 2 The Close, and also part owned by the Corporation (the Council).

After further discussion it was agreed that they would support the proposal of a permanent war memorial. There was then a further debate about also supporting a peace celebration. It was agreed that the two funds should be managed separately, with the citizens of Lichfield choosing which fund they wanted to support and donate monies to. In typical fashion they decided to setup a central committee to control the whole project, two sub-committee’s to manage each funding pot and several other committees to manage all aspects of the two projects – you see, nothing ever changes!

The decision to set up two separate funds was challenged by various people at the time but the Lichfield Mercury editorial of April 1919 argued that although it was an unfortunate situation it was the only sensible and reasonable approach.

By April 1919 donations to each fund has been steadily rising, with over £1.100 being pledged towards the war memorial and £275 for the peace celebrations. By December of 1919 the General Committee had approved the overall scheme to erect a permanent war memorial on the Minster Pool site. Proposed works to be carried out were: Alterations to the walls between the Memorial Gardens and the houses of Canon Penny and Archdeacon Blakeway and the erection of a new wall between the Memorial Garden and the former home of Mr Alan Chinn at No 2 The Close;

The original high wall running along Beacon Street before the new low level wall was installed – you can see a workman perched on his ladder! 

The memorial itself; the erection of a balustrade and steps brought from Shenstone Court (the family home of Sir Richard Cooper) and a wrought iron gate.

The Clerk of the Council, W.Brockson, requested via the Lichfield Mercury for any relative, friend or colleague of a Lichfield man who had lost his life in the War to provide him with the full details of the deceased including name, regimental number, rank, date and place of death (with the rather sad override of ‘if known’ – many soldiers were never identified, as in the ‘Unknown Soldier’) so that they could be included on the memorial inscriptions.

By October 1919 the war memorial and Garden of Rest had been completed and on Wednesday 20 October it was formally launched in a dedication ceremony. The Mercury reported that:

The Last Post was sounded, wreaths were laid at the base of the new memorial and the band of the 2nd Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry plated the ‘mournful yet inspiring’ March Funebre by Chopin. The dedication ceremony was led by the Mayor, Councillor Henry Hall, the Sheriff Councillor S Heath and the Bishop of Lichfield, the Right Reverend JA Kempthorne and attended by a whole host of local dignitaries and guests. The 6th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment, including their buglers, lined the paths of the Garden of Rest
The ceremony started with the hymn ‘Oh God Our Help in Ages Past’ and then the chair of the Memorial Committee, Major C. Longstaff (who had served in the war) provided the unveiling speech. He mentioned two key things – that the names of the men listed had been Lichfield City residents or had a strong connection to Lichfield City and that it was not possible, or practical, to list the names of men from outside the boundaries of Lichfield City.  Secondly he stressed that the Council had made every reasonable attempt to identify every man in Lichfield City who had lost his life in the Great War and had advertised, as we know, in the local newspapers for family members and friends to come forward with details and that he stated that there was no more that they (the council) could have done. Finally he mentioned that he had known a number of the men who had perished in the war personally and he felt very grateful that he had played a part in providing the memorial to them.
At this point the Union Jack flag, which to this point had been draped across the memorial, was removed by the Mayor to unveil the memorial. A ceremonial key, crafted by Mr JC Culwick was presented to the Mayor.
The Bishop of Lichfield provided a moving speech paying tribute to the dead and focusing on the children who had lost their fathers, or had been affected by the horrors of the war. The ceremony closed by the whole congregation singing the National Anthem.

Meanwhile the Peace Celebration project continued to progress – although perhaps not as peacefully and harmoniously as it should have done. The celebrations included a meal for the demobilised soldiers and a street lantern parade. In May 1919 news of the proposed events, and amounts of monies to be spent, had reached the press and the demobilised soldiers were not impressed. At a meeting of the National Federation of Disabled and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers (a lengthy title!)  held at the Anglesey Hotel they expressed their dissatisfaction with the arrangements – each ex-serviceman was to be allocated just 3 shillings and 6 sixpence for a meal and drinks which they suggested was nowhere near a suitable amount to recognise their contribution to the war effort and was a ‘paltry’ offer. They were also upset that the allocated money offer had been issued to the press rather than being discussed directly with them. Furthermore they also wanted to choose the person to lead the procession on their behalf rather than have that person selected by the council committee. In addition the staff at the hotels where the commemoration dinners were to be held refused to work on the actual day itself (a Saturday) and so the meal had to be changed to the Friday evening instead. The celebrations took place in July 1919 and included the meal for the ex-servicemen  who by then had relented and agreed to join in the celebrations  – even with their meagre 3 shilling and six pence meal!

The Lichfield Mercury published a letter, in 1920, from a resident of Elmhurst, signed as coming from ‘A Mother’ who said that her son had perished during the conflict but that his name did not appear on the memorial. The editorial team pointed out that, as per the speech given by Major Longstaff at the unveiling, that the memorial was only for men who had lost their lives from the boundaries of Lichfield City itself.

In October 1921 a further nine names of fallen Lichfield soldiers were added to the memorial at this time, whose details were unavailable when the names were originally added and these late additions can be spotted if you look at the memorial closely.

In 1924 the sixth Armistice Day (this was the more usual title of the commemoration at the time, which gradually transferred over to the more current Remembrance Day) took place, they held a two minutes silence at that time (rather than the one minute that is more generally used today) and it was noted that the silence was observed more poignantly than ever before – vehicle traffic stopped in the middle of the streets, pedestrians bowed their heads in a mark of respect and the Mayor, Sheriff and councillors stood, heads bowed, in the Market Square. A significant ceremony took place at Lichfield Cathedral and it is interesting to note that the ceremony at the Gardens of Remembrance was described as ‘small’ with the laying of wreaths and minimal civic / civilian attendance – definitely different from what happens today.

By 1935 the situation had changed – a large crowd gathered at the Gardens of Remembrance. The procession of councillors, city officials, citizen and schoolchildren marched from the Lichfield Guildhall to Minster Pool and as the two minutes silence was dutifully observed.

After the Second World War there appeared to be more reluctance to take part in the Armistice Day commemoration – in 1948 the local British Legion branch chairman suggested there was a general feeling of apathy towards the service with dwindling numbers of attendees and wreaths placed at the memorial and that they felt that the younger generation of citizens were particularly apathetic towards the day of remembrance.

These were the early beginnings of the ceremony that started in 1921 and is still strictly observed today. It is always a very moving experience and one that is a fitting tribute to the 209 men of Lichfield who lost their lives in World War One and the 83 who lost theirs in World War Two. Please try and attend a Remembrance Day service this weekend and pay your respects to those who gave their lives so that we can live our lives in peace – thank you.

We Shall Remember Them