Remembrance and community
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Remembrance and community

Remembrance and community: war memorials and local history

This is a timely book. The commemoration of the centenary of the First World War has drawn our attention to the many war memorials in our churches and other public buildings.

Although there were memorials to those killed in pre-1914 conflicts, they are a relatively small number compared to the outpouring of memorialisation following 1918. Memorials were to offer support for the living and remembrance of the dead, to show gratitude for sacrifice and hope for the future.

Memorials are not always monuments and Tiller looks into the many forms that they took. Plaques and crosses form the biggest proportion of memorials, with church furnishings being another popular form.

The principle of equality in death was established by the Imperial War Graves Committee following the war. All deaths were recorded in the same way, regardless of military rank or social status. This did not mean that all were commemorated equally. Tiller gives the example of the multiple memorials at Mells to Raymond Asquith, son of H H Asquith, former Prime Minister.

Committees were often formed to create memorials, with care taken to make the committee representative of the community. The form and location of the memorial could all prove contentious, with discussions lasting several years. Catalogues were produced of suggested designs and of possible commemorative texts. A roll of honour, listing those serving, marking the dead with ‘RIP’ was maintained in some churches, and may survive as a memorial of all who served.

In four case studies Kate Tiller shows some of the places to look to discover the people behind the names. Great Rissington is used, as there was already a photographic memorial in the church, a good starting point. Local newspapers reported the deaths of local men, and their memorial services and sometimes include further details. Those on the memorial who also had a Commonwealth War Grave record had details recorded there, with a service number and place of burial. The National Census of 1911 will record many service men as children and young men, and give a sense of the local community at that time. Service Records in the National Archives, war medals and personal recollections all help complete the picture. This practical example is something that could be pursued for any memorial, increasing greatly its interest to the living today.

This book will inspire fresh interest in war memorials that you are familiar with, and suggest avenues of enquiry from how it was designed, funded and located to whose names were chosen for inclusion. It will help you interpret war memorials to visitors to your church.

David Knight

Remembrance and community: war memorials and local history

Kate Tiller. British Association for Local History (2013). £6.95.