Friday 10 November 2023

Our Unique War Memorial - read the whole story

Dear Blogger

As Remembrance Sunday approaches, people might be interested to know something about

Ruyton XI Towns UNIQUE WAR MEMORIAL Who knew the thousands of WWI headstones in Northern France were suggested by a Kenyon from Pradoe, West Felton?

The following is an extract from my History Website where you will find many more stories about our village.

See also Irina White`s research into the background of those who are listed on the Memorial.


by Yoland Brown & Irena White

The dreadful massacre which was the First World War finally came to an end in 1918, it will be observed that carved above the Ruyton XI Towns War Memorial are the years 1914-1919.  This is because, although the Armistice was signed on 11th November 1918, the final Paris Peace Conference took place at Versailles on 28th June 1919.

Interestingly, Canon Edge, Vicar of West Felton and author of The History of that village, was at a meeting of the Classical Association in Manchester when he heard about the Imperial Conference which took place in 1918 at which Sir Frederic George Kenyon was present. Sir Frederic was grandson of Thomas and Charlotte Kenyon of Pradoe, Director of the British Museum and President of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, with a particular interest, among other things, in ancient monuments.  It had been a concern in high places, about what would be done about war cemeteries after the war, when Sir Frederic reminded the committee that in 5th century Athens war dead were listed in war cemeteries with just their names being carved in stone with the Tribe, or regiment, to which they belonged.   The Committee accepted the Athenians way of recording the dead and so we have a Kenyon to thank that, wherever the war dead are buried, each has an identical headstone with no distinction for wealth or service hierarchy. 

An example of exactly what Kenyon wanted to avoid can be seen in Little Ness churchyard where Maurice Darbv, son of Arthur and Frederica Darby of Adcote House, has a very ornate monument recording that his uncle, Sir George Arthur, had searched the battlefield until he found his nephew, four days after his death and brought his remains home to be buried with other members of his family. The young man was one of the very few Englishmen killed on the Western Front to be re-patriated.  The other 20 men from the village who fell, just had their names recorded on the War Memorial.

As men from Ruyton were declared dead or missing, the obvious place to make a shrine was the village Cross, but this was a temporary measure.  On 24th April 1919 a public meeting was held to decide on `A scheme for the Memorial to the Soldier and Sailor Heros of the Parish who have fallen`.  A committee of 20 was elected and ideas for a Memorial were submitted – the contender of two German captured guns and a plaque with names of the fallen was dismissed as disrespectful.  Another idea, to add a bit more to the Cross with names round the bottom was thought unworthy.  A 14ft cross in the garden of the Victoria Room was deemed to be subject to wind and erosion.  However, Mr. William David Briscoe, threshing machine owner, well sinker and general engineer, of Rock Cottage, Brownhill offered a piece of land beneath his property to serve as a site for the proposed memorial, and this was accepted.

Mr. Stanley Vaughan of London was engaged to design the War Memorial exactly as we see it today, except, that it was to have a hole cut above for a shaft of light to shine on the cross at the back.  The names of the fallen were to be inscribed on a ceramic plaque made by the Potters Guild of Guildford.

Two stone masons quoted for the work, Mr. John Howells, £25, and Warwick Edwards, who won the quote at just £10. However, Mr. Edwards and his son had to contend with the vagaries of Ruyton sandstone which has a mind of its own, and a fault in the stone meant extra cutting was required to find a solid surface. Also, the idea of a hole for the sun to shine through had to be abandoned.

A total of £94 13 shillings and 3pence had been collected to cover the costs; £16 7shillings for the architect, £12 for the Potters Guild and £42 14shillings for Warwick Edwards and his son Leonard.  Even at the time, the memorial was considered unique in the country.

The Memorial was unveiled and dedicated on Sunday 10th October 1920.  Parishioners and most of the village met at the village cross and proceeded to the parish church, led by the school children carrying flowers and Comrades of the Great War.  The United service was led by the Vicar, Rev. Craven, and Mr. T.B. Evans, Congregational Minister read the lesson. Mr. W.A. Riddlesworth presided at the organ.  The congregation then proceeded to the War Memorial where General Edward Ranulph Kenyon C.B. delivered the address.