War Memorial
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War Memorial

There is advice on ChurchCare about making a study of the names on a war memorial to find more about those commemorated and their place in local life before the war. Clive Aslet's comprehensive study of the war memorial in Lydford, Devon, does much more than this and paints a fascinating picture of the life of a Devon village and its inhabitants. Aslet brings his study up to 2003, as the village lost men in the Falklands and the Iraq war.

Turning to the First War Mr Aslet explores the family background of each man whose name is on the memorial, the social life of the village, their employment and their family background. The military career of each man is followed, from leaving Lydford, through training and to the front. Thirteen names are recorded for the First War yet the sons of this village saw service, between them, in most of the named battles of the war in Europe and Africa. Aslet explores the service records of the men and their regiments, whom they served under and the conditions they fought in.

The post-war life and conditions are described and Aslet follows the fortunes of men who returned from the war – some to gainful employment, others unable to work again.
Henry Williamson, The author of Tarker the otter, is worked into the text, although not a resident of the village. His Uncle, Tom Williamson is a resident. His interests included photography, and are of particular interest to ChurchCare as he was employed to photograph Devon churches before the Second War in case any were damaged by bombing. The Great War is the first one where an effort was made to commemorate everyone who gave their life in action, regardless of rank.There is therefore a mention of the organisations that encouraged the production of memorials to the war, including the Civic Arts Association and the Society for Raising Wayside Crosses.

The Lydford war memorial is a traditional stone cross, memorials can, of course, take many forms. Whatever the memorial type the careful study of the names recorded there will reveal the enormous impact of the war and its great personal cost.

Clive Aslet War Memorial: the story of one village's sacrifice from 1914 to 2011 (Penguin, 2012) £9.99.

David Knight
June 2014