First World War memorial, 1921, with additions for the Second Boer War and Second World War.
Reasons for Designation
The 1st Surrey Rifles War Memorial, which stands outside the church of St Giles, Camberwell, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: as an eloquent witness to the tragic impact of world events on this volunteer and Territorial Regiment, drawn largely from the locality, and the sacrifice it made in the C20;
* Architectural interest: an elegant wheel-head cross;
* Group value: with the church of St Giles (Grade II*).
The 1st Surrey Rifles was a Rifle Volunteer Corps established in 1859. In 1881 it became the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment. Volunteers from the unit served in the Second Boer War (1899-1902). In 1908 it became the 21st (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (1st Surrey Rifles), a Territorial Force in the 6th London Brigade, with headquarters and eight companies based at Flodden Road, Camberwell.
In August 1914 the Battalion was training on Salisbury Plain when it received orders to mobilise. Augmented by further volunteers to bring it up to full strength, the Battalion reinforced the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front in March 1915.
The 1st/21st Battalion fought on the Western Front throughout the First World War, its first engagement being the Battle of Festubert in 1915 followed by Loos, Vimy (1916), Messines (1917, where the men were amongst the first to experience German Mustard gas), and Bourlon Wood. During the Battle of the Somme, which the 1st Surreys joined in September 1916, the Battalion took part in the attack to capture High Wood. Whilst the primary objective, the ‘Starfish Redoubt’, was taken, heavy casualties prevented further progress; of the 19 officers and 550 men in the attack, 17 officers and 490 men were killed or wounded.
In 1918 the Battalion faced the German Spring Offensive and then took part in the Allied counter-attack. Having been withdrawn in September, the Battalion formed part of 47th Division’s ceremonial entrance into Lille on 28 October. Demobilisation began in January 1919. The official welcome home took place in Camberwell in May.
The 2nd/21st Battalion had remained in England until going to France June 1916, but was relieved from duties there and sent to the Macedonian Front. There it took responsibility for lines facing Bulgarian opposition between January and June 1917, when it sailed for Egypt to join the Palestine Campaign. Following successes against the Turkish Army and the surrender of Jerusalem in December 1917, the Battalion was finally disbanded in June 1918.
The reserve Battalion, 3rd/21st London, remained in England throughout the First World War. The 1st Surrey Rifles was re-formed in 1920 as part of the Territorial Army and from 1935 was engaged in the air defence of London. It carried out anti-aircraft duties throughout the Second World War. Members of the 570th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery (1st Surrey Rifles), part of the reformed Territorial Army of 1947, continued to wear the 21st London cap badge and 1st Surrey Rifles arm badge. Following further changes the 1st Surrey Rifles affiliation finally ended when the modern London Regiment was formed in 1993.
The Regimental war memorial standing outside St Giles’ Church, Camberwell, was unveiled on 6 November 1921 by General Sir Charles Munro. It carries plaques also commemorating service in the Second Boer War (1899-1902) and the Second World War.
The memorial stands to the north of the church of St Giles (Grade II*). It comprises a tall wheel-head cross with an octagonal cross shaft. That stands on a tall plinth and square, three-stepped, base. At the centre of the front face of the cross-head is carved CON/ COR/ DIA and to the rear VIK/ T/ RIX.
A hooded stone panel to the front (north) face of the plinth bears a bronze plaque with the Regimental badge of 1908-19 under which the principal dedicatory inscription reads TO THE/ GLORY OF GOD/ AND IN MEMORY/ OF THE OFFICERS/ NCOS AND MEN/ OF THE/ FIRST SURREY RIFLES/ WHO/ GAVE THEIR LIVES/ IN THE GREAT WAR/ 1914 – 1919.
To the rear a similar plaque reads BATTLE HONOURS/ 1ST BATTALION/ AUBERS FESTUBERT 1915 LOOS/ SOMME 1916, 1918 FLERS COURCELLE/ LE TRANSLOY MESSINES 1917/ YPRES 1917 CAMBRAI 1917/ ST QUENTIN BAPAUME 1918/ ANCRE 1918 AMIENS/ ALBERT 1918 PURSUIT TO MONS/ FRANCE AND FLANDERS 1915-1918/ 2ND BATTALION/ DOIRAN 1917 MACEDONIA 1916-1917/ GARA-EL MUGHAR NEBI SAMWI/ JERUSALEM JERICHO JORDAN/ TELL ASUR PALESTINE 1917-1918.
A small bronze plaque to the east face of the plinth reads ALSO IN MEMORY OF/ THOSE OF THE REGIMENT WHO/ SERVED IN THE SOUTH AFRICAN WAR/ 1899-1902. The Second World War dedication is on the west face, reading ALSO TO THE MEMORY OF/ OUR COMRADES WHO GAVE/ THEIR LIVES IN THE WORLD WAR/ 1939 – 1945.
This List entry has been amended to add the source for War Memorials Online. This source was not used in the compilation of this List entry but is added here as a guide for further reading, 17 February 2017.