More Than 2,500 Poignant War Memorials Listed During Four Year Project to Commemorate First World War Centenary

  • More than 2,500 war memorials across the country listed over the past four years as Historic England completes project to commemorate the First World War centenary
  • 11 memorials nominated for listing by children through the Heritage Schools programme

From a memorial which commemorates one of the oldest men to fight in the First World War who was determined to serve alongside his four sons, to a monument which marks one of the worst explosions in the history of Britain’s explosives industry Historic England has completed a project to list 2,500 memorials across the country to commemorate the centenary of the First World War

Before the project began there were more listed telephone boxes (2,486) than war memorials (1,657). Throughout the centenary period Historic England has been working in partnership with War Memorials Trust, IWM, Civic Voice, volunteers and school children across the country to better understand these important local landmarks and protect them for the future.

Through the First World War Memorials programme, 2,645 First World War memorials have been listed, more than doubling the amount previously listed. Historic England has been supported in this endeavour by volunteers and school children. War Memorials Trust submitted nearly 700 applications, including many which received grant funding for repairs throughout the centenary.

Over 50 of the listings were put forward by university students working with Civic Voice. Groups of children from Heritage Schools have also done the research for 11 memorials that were listed and learned why they were so important for communities after the war.

we have to keep the memorial safe – otherwise we won’t have anything to remember them by.

A young boy in year 6 of John Randall Primary
School children standing in front of memorial taking part in First World War Memorials Programme, School Workshop
First World War Memorials Programme, School Workshop, John Randall Primary School and Nursery, Queen Street, Madeley, Telford

Remembering the lost

Each war memorial tells an important and moving story of both public and personal commemoration. Built by individuals and communities in the years following the conflict, these memorials are a poignant, physical reminder of the sacrifices and loss brought about by the First World War.

Never before in the history of Britain had there been such terrible loss of life in war and there was a profound national yearning to permanently commemorate the dead and missing. The official policy of not repatriating the dead means that these memorials, often standing right in the heart of our villages, were the main focus of grief for thousands of families and communities across the country.

Tens of thousands of memorials were built, the majority paid for by money raised locally, and huge crowds of emotional people turned out at unveilings.

Children in front of the memorial to the lost children on 23 June 1919
Children in front of the memorial to the lost children on 23 June 1919 © Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives

12 unusual war memorials with poignant stories of commemoration:

Horley War Memorial, Surrey, Grade II listed

This memorial commemorates 122 local servicemen, including Henry Webber who was one of the oldest combatants in the First World War, being given a commission in May 1916 at the age of 67. He died just two months later from a shrapnel wound. He had been determined to join up with his four sons, all of whom survived the war. The memorial also commemorates Lieutenant-Commander G White who was killed in action on Submarine E14. Although the submarine was badly damaged by gunfire, he steered it to shore to save as many of his crew as possible. His body was never found and he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

Faversham explosion 2 April 1916, Kent, Grade II* listed

This memorial to the victims of a colossal explosion has been upgraded to Grade II* through the centenary listing programme. On Sunday 2 April 1916, a huge explosion at the Explosives Loading Company site on the remote sea marsh of Uplees, Kent, killed 108 and injured 64. It shattered windows in Southend-on-Sea 15 miles away across the Thames estuary, shook Norwich over 100 miles away and was even heard in France. Government censorship and a press blackout, for fear of alerting the enemy, ensured that the disaster was barely reported and it remained one of the best kept secrets of the First World War. The accident caused the second highest number of casualties in the British explosives industry’s 450 year history. (The highest was as a result of the Chilwell munitions explosion.)

Memorial to the children of Upper North Street School, Poplar, London, Grade II* listed

Upper North Street School in London’s East End was bombed by one of Germany’s new long-distance Gotha aeroplanes, part of a squadron targeting the city in the first daylight air raid of the First World War. The high explosive bomb smashed through the school roof into the girls’ classroom on the top floor killing one child, then crashed down into the boys’ classroom on the middle floor killing several more, and finally exploded in the classroom on the ground floor where there were 64 infants. In those terrible seconds 18 children were killed, most just five years old, and at least 37 others seriously injured. The school’s caretaker, Benjamin Batt, found the remains of his son Alfie amongst the devastation. So haunted by the trauma of the day, Batt took his own life five months later.

Promenade de Verdun, Purley, Greater London with the Obelisk, in the distance.
Promenade de Verdun, Purley, Greater London with the newly listed Obelisk, in the distance. The memorial landscape is now also included on the List © Historic England

Braunston in Rutland War Memorial, Rutland, Grade II listed

This memorial had the name of a Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) member added in 2015. Gladys Walter died of pneumonia on Armistice Day 11 November 1918, aged 20. She was employed as a rigger no. 19669 at No.39 Training Depot Station, the RAF Station in Grantham, Lincolnshire. Riggers worked on the rigging wires that aeroplanes of the time needed for bracing and the rigging could be carefully adjusted to alter the way aircraft flew. Local people researched her story and her name was inscribed onto the memorial nearly 100 years after she died.

Memorial Water Trough, St Austell, Cornwall, Grade II listed

The form of this memorial as a water trough reminds us that animals were once present on our streets in everyday life and this memorial served a function for them. It was erected to the memory of Captain Agar-Robartes who was killed in battle in 1915. He became the MP for Bodmin in 1906. On 18 September 1915 he was injured at the Battle of Loos and several days later killed whilst rescuing a wounded comrade. The memorial was paid for by members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

The Promenade de Verdun memorial landscape, Purley, Greater London, Grade II listed

A road lined with Lombardy poplars, which often grow beside French roads, leads straight up to a tall granite obelisk with views of five counties. The poplars grow in a mixture of French and English soil. The French soil, taken from a battlefield where the English and French had fought side-by-side in late 1914, was so full of shrapnel and bullets from the battlefield that it had to be sifted to deter souvenir hunters from damaging the trees.

Inscriptions left by First World War Conscientious Objectors on a stone
Green Moor Conscientious Objectors’ Stone, Kirkby Ireleth, Cumbria, inscriptions left by First World War Conscientious Objectors, 1916 © Historic England

Green Moor conscientious objector rock, Green Moor, Cumbria, protected as a Scheduled Monument

In the First World War an unknown number of conscientious objectors went on the run. Some fled abroad and others were hidden by family, friends, or in safe houses. Some of those who were members of the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) took to the hills, not as a way of escape, but so they could carry on campaigning against the war and agitating for social change. Forming what they termed ‘Socialist flying corps’ they descended on places to hold meetings and distribute leaflets before disappearing again to a safe house to avoid capture. Green Moor farm in Cumbria was one such safe house, used as refuge by SLP groups from West Yorkshire and Lancashire. A rocky outcrop above the farm may have acted as a vantage point to look out for the police, but it also became a memorial record of the group’s presence and struggle. Among other inscriptions, the outcrop has rough carvings in the stone that includes the date 1916 and the words CONs OBJECTORS, along with six sets of initials. It is a clear, unambiguous reminder that support for the First World War was not universal and tells of the courage it took for these objectors to take a stand against the war.

Commondale Shepherds’ Memorial, Commondale, North Yorkshire, Grade II listed

This simple, rough-hewn stone marker unusually commemorates just two individuals: Robert Leggott and Alfred Cockerill were boyhood friends and shepherds working on the moorland near Commondale. They signed up together in 1914, though Leggott, just 17, lied about his age to enlist. He was killed at the Battle of the Somme in September and his body was never found. Cockerill was injured in the head at Ypres and brought home, having developed epilepsy. He died in 1920 and his ashes are thought to have been scattered where the monument now stands- remembered as the boys’ favourite spot on the moors.

Lenham Cross War Memorial, Lenham, Kent, Grade II listed

Isolated on the south facing slopes of the North Downs, this huge, 60 metre long chalk cross, close to the Pilgrim’s Way, commemorates the 42 villagers who died in the First World War. It was designed by Mr C.H. Groom, the local headmaster, and was handmade by volunteers from Lenham village. It was covered with earth during the Second World War so it couldn’t be used as a navigational aid by enemy aircraft. Today the cross is still maintained by villagers.

The base of the obelisk is surrounded by a heavy chain and suspended from 12 four-inch shells. The unusual clock at the top of the memorial has faces to the north and south featuring .303 cartridges for the hours, bullets for the minutes, and bayonets for the clock hands.
Leckhampstead War Memorial, Village Green, Leckhampstead, Berkshire © Historic England DP176559

Leckhampstead Memorial, Leckhampstead, Berkshire, Grade II listed

Commemorating 17 local men and all those from the locality who served in the First World War, this memorial has a direct physical connection with the Battle of Jutland fought at sea between 31 May and 1 June 1916. The base of the obelisk is surrounded by a heavy chain, salvaged from a ship that took part in the battle, and suspended from 12 four-inch shells. The unusual clock at the top of the memorial has faces to the north and south featuring .303 cartridges for the hours, bullets for the minutes, and bayonets for the clock hands. It was paid for by a local benefactor and poultry farm owner, Canadian Hector Morison who moved to the village in 1908. He and his wife were well-known for their generosity, sending their chauffeur in a Rolls Royce with hot meals for ailing or needy villagers.

Meldon War Memorial, Meldon, Northumberland, Grade II listed

This memorial marks Meldon as one of the few “Thankful Villages”, meaning all of their local service personnel returned from the war. Unusually, it takes the form of a flagpole and it gives thanks to all those who left the parish to serve in the First World War and came home safely.

West Willoughby War Memorial, Lincolnshire, Grade II listed

Reminiscent of the Roman Catholic shrines found on the Western Front, this war memorial is a decorated crucifix which commemorates 12 local servicemen who died during the First World War. By 1978 the memorial had fallen into a bad state of repair so was refurbished by ex-serviceman Harold Evitts, aged 84, who had been a Japanese Prisoner of War.

War memorials in numbers

  • Over the centenary 2,645 war memorials have been listed or upgraded.
  • Of these, 21 at Grade I, 99 at Grade II*, 2,519 at Grade II, plus six Registered war memorial Parks (Gheluvelt Park, Whipsnade Tree Cathedral, Promenade de Verdun, Ilkley Memorial Garden, Highbridge Garden of Remembrance, Rickerby Park).
  • 158 of the newly listed memorials received a grant from the First World War Memorials Programme funds administered by War Memorials Trust
  • 11 memorials listed through applications made by children in the Heritage Schools programme
  • Over 3,000 people have attended Civic Voice workshops about listing war memorials
  • Newly listed memorials by region: Yorkshire 107; North West 247; North East 167; West Midlands 190; East Midlands 283; East of England 516; South West 520; South East 391; London 202

The First World War was a period of unprecedented loss for families across the country and after the Armistice communities sought to commemorate their fathers, sons, and brothers who sadly never returned. It is right that 100 years on we have protected these poignant memorials and continue to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Heritage Minister Michael Ellis

The stories behind these memorials are very moving and each one tells us how devastating the First World War was for communities across the country. Over a million Britons lost their lives during the war and it’s important that their sacrifice and struggle is not forgotten. By protecting and repairing war memorials we are ensuring that we remember them for years to come.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England

Further reading

Examines the legacy of the First World War in England via archaeological and architectural remains.

Legacies of the First World War

Published 15 September 2018

Examines the legacy of the First World War in England via archaeological and architectural remains.

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