First World War Memorial, erected 22 February 1917.
Reasons for Designation
The East London Cemetery Company war memorial, which is situated in the East London Cemetery, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as an eloquent witness to the tragic impact of world events on the nation, and the sacrifices made during the First World War;
* as an example of an early First World War memorial which was erected before the end of the conflict; unusually for its date, it has an all-encompassing dedication that makes particular reference to Britain’s allies with each listed separately on the memorial.
* a strikingly bold design for its date, created from the well-executed composition of a wheel-head cross surmounting a monolithic pillar formed from rough-hewn stone.
The aftermath of the First World War saw the biggest single wave of public commemoration ever with tens of thousands of memorials erected across England. This was the result of both the huge impact on communities of the loss of three quarters of a million British lives, and also the official policy of not repatriating the dead which meant that the memorials provided the main focus of the grief felt at this great loss. However, this trend had its roots not in the wake of the war but in the midst of the conflict.
As the war progressed and the number of casualties increased memorials were already being built to remember the dead and those still serving on the battlefields abroad. These took the form of private memorials to family members but also a growing number were being erected by, or on behalf of, local communities. The earliest known example of a community memorial is thought to be the War Memorial in Rawtenstall Cemetery, Lancashire (Grade II). Erected in September 1915 at the instigation of Councillor Carrie Whitehead, the intention is clearly inscribed on the memorial for it to act as “some comfort to those who lost men very dear to them.” Another form of early First World War community memorial was the street shrine. This practice originated in the East End of London, but was soon adopted in other towns to commemorate those from a particular street. In some instances these shrines also included relatives from other streets, while some covered whole districts. Surviving examples include those in Eton Street (erected October 1916) and Sharp Street (erected May 1917) in Kingston upon Hull. The erection of memorials in the midst of the conflict was considered controversial by some but by 1917 the desire among communities for some form of commemoration was clear.
The East London Cemetery Company Ltd is one such organisation that chose to erect a war memorial in 1917 as a permanent testament to all who fought and suffered during the First World War. Unlike other community or corporate memorials dedicated to local men or employees, the Directors of the East London Cemetery Company dedicated this memorial to the ‘Sons of the British Empire’, their families and Britain’s allies.
The memorial was unveiled on 22 February 1917 by the Mayor of West Ham, Alderman R Mansfield, and dedicated by the Bishop of Barking. At the time of unveiling there appears to have been a hope that 1917 would see the end of the war as the memorial was unveiled with the dates of the war as 1914 -1917. The end date was later changed to 1918. Other alterations include the addition of America to the list of allies on the memorial; America did not enter the war until April 1917.
First World War memorial, 1917.
DESCRIPTION: the East London Cemetery Company war memorial is situated within the East London Cemetery, to the north of the Grange Road entrance along the central path through the cemetery.
The whole is constructed of rough-hewn stone and takes the form of a wheel-head cross surmounting a tall, four-sided pillar atop a two-tiered, tapering stone block base. The pillar consists of three stone blocks which have smooth, inset panels containing the inscriptions in leaded lettering to all four sides.
The principal inscription is to the south face of the pillar and reads TO/ THE MEMORY OF/ THE SONS/ OF/ THE BRITISH EMPIRE/ WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES/ IN THE CAUSE/ OF/ RIGHTEOUSNESS/ FREEDOM AND HONOUR/ IN THE WAR/ OF/ 1914 – 1918./ “REST ETERNAL GRANT THEM/ O LORD AND LET LIGHT PERPETUAL/ SHINE UPON THEM.” Directly below, affixed to the upper tier of the base, is a crossed rifle and sword with a soldier’s cap above, cast in metal and painted green.
To the west face of the pillar is the inscription IN/ SYMPATHY/ WITH/ THE ORPHAN/ THE WIDOW/ THE SONLESS PARENT/ “GOD SHALL WIPE AWAY ALL TEARS/ FROM THEIR EYES.”
To the north face of the pillar is the inscription TO/ COMMEMORATE/ THE RIGHTEOUS/ ALLIANCE/ OF/ THE BRITISH EMPIRE/ FRANCE/ RUSSIA/ JAPAN/ BELGIUM/ SERBIA/ ITALY/ MONTENEGRO/ ROUMANIA/ PORTUGAL/ U. S. AMERICA/ “HONOUR ABOVE ALL.” Directly below, affixed to the upper tier of the base, is a ship’s anchor and chain, cast in metal and painted green.
To the east face of the pillar is the inscription IN/ GRATITUDE/ TO/ OUR/ MAIMED AND BROKEN/ HEROES/ BY/ WHOSE ANGUISH/ WE HAVE/ PEACE./ “DEEDS NOT WORDS”. Directly below, affixed to the upper tier of the base is a bronze plaque with the words THIS MEMORIAL WAS ERECTED BY THE/ DIRECTORS OF THE/ EAST LONDON CEMETERY CO. LD./ 22ND FEBRUARY 1917.