‘These men died for their country’: The Penarth War Memorial, November 1924

Amongst the records held at Glamorgan Archives is a programme printed for a ceremony held on 11 November 1924 to unveil the War Memorial in Alexandra Gardens, Penarth.

20181207_082427_resized

The memorial can be seen on the front page of the programme with the inscription, ‘In grateful memory of the men of Penarth who died for their country in the Great War 1914-18’. The date chosen for the ceremony was symbolic in that it marked the sixth anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that had ended the fighting in the Great War – the First World War.

For recent generations, Remembrance Day, on 11 November, has become a feature of life in just about every village and town across the country. It commemorates the signing of the Armistice that ended the Great War in 1918 and those who died in two World Wars and subsequent campaigns. In 1924, however, it was, to some extent, a new development being marked for only the sixth time. Over 700,000 British service men and women had lost their lives in the Great War and the majority were buried overseas, from Flanders to Gallipoli to Palestine. In comparison to previous wars, the losses were immense and led to a demand for a national day of Remembrance. Such was the strength of feeling that in 1924, six years after the end of the fighting, newspapers reported that individuals in several towns and cities had been arrested and taken into protective custody for not observing the two minutes silence on November 11th.

While previous campaigns, including the Crimean and Boer Wars, had been commemorated through the erection of a small number of memorials, the Great War differed in that it had touched just about every community across the land. Each community, therefore, wanted to find an appropriate way to mark the contributions made by local men and women. If you look at the sketch on the front page of the programme you will see, in the background, a military tank. In the years following the Armistice many towns and cities had acquired items of military equipment, often tanks or field guns. They were displayed in public places to both celebrate the victory and as a reminder of those that had died in the conflict.  However, the construction of the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London was symbolic of a campaign to provide a more permanent memorial to the dead. The events in Penarth in November 1924 were, therefore, part of a movement to remember and commemorate the dead that swept across the country. In the Cardiff area alone that day, two new memorials were being unveiled, at the Cardiff Barracks and the Cardiff Royal Infirmary.

It would have been a very emotional day. Two men from Penarth, Richard Wain and Samuel Pearse, had been awarded the Victoria Cross. Wain was born in Penarth and educated at Llandaff Cathedral School and Penarth Grammar. He was a 20 year old acting captain in the Tank Corps when he died in 1917 at the Battle of Cambrai, one of the first engagements where the British Army unleashed its potentially devastating new weapon. Samuel Pearse had left Penarth and emigrated to Australia at the age of 14. He fought with the Australian forces at Gallipoli and later in Egypt and France. After the signing of the Armistice he married in Durham and delayed returning home while his wife was pregnant. He chose to enlist with a number of Australians in the British Army forces being sent to support the White Armies in Russia, and was killed in action, in north Russia, in August 1919.

The scale of the losses was underlined by the number of names inscribed on the Penarth Memorial, some 307. They demonstrated that no section of society was left untouched. Archer Windsor-Clive was the third son of the Earl of Plymouth and had played cricket for Glamorgan and Cambridge. As an officer in the Coldstream Guards, he was one of the first local men to be sent to France and also one of the first to die. He was just 23 years of age when he was killed during the battle of Mons in August 1914, the first month of the War.

The Penarth memorial includes the name of a woman, Emily Ada Pickford. Emily was a local music teacher from Penarth and the conductor of the Penarth Ladies Choir. She was related by marriage to the Pickford family who were local printers and producers of the Penarth Times.  In February 1919 she was in France with a concert party providing entertainment for the troops. She died when, traveling back to Abbeville after an evening concert, her car skidded off the road into the River Somme. By 1924 the Penarth Urban District Council was chaired by Constance Maillard, the first woman to be elected to the Council and the Council’s first woman chair. As the first Secretary of the Penarth Suffragist Society it just possible that Constance was instrumental in ensuring that Emily’s name was included on the Memorial.

While the programme at Glamorgan Archives sets out the details of the unveiling ceremony in 1924, the records of the Penarth Urban District Council tell the story of the decision to commission and erect the monument. The planning for the memorial has been in hand for some time, with the establishment of a sub-committee of the Council in 1923. As a result, the Council had invited Sir William Goscombe John to submit a design for a suitable memorial. Originally from Canton in Cardiff, William Goscombe John was a well-known sculptor who had completed many public monuments across the country, including the John Cory statue in front of City Hall. His skills were in particular demand for the design of War Memorials and, in the same year as the Penarth Memorial was unveiled, he also designed memorials for Llandaff, Carmarthen and the Royal Welch Fusiliers at Wrexham. It was an indication of how important the memorial was that a fee of £2,000 was agreed by the Council which, at current prices, would equate to over £80,000. This was double the initial budget earmarked for the memorial. The original plan was to position the memorial on land opposite Penarth House, but it was eventually agreed that a site in Alexandra Park, overlooking the sea, would be more suitable. The only modification to Sir William’s original design was to add, at the base of the monument, the words ‘These men died for their country. Do ye live for it’.

The unveiling ceremony was no easy matter to arrange. It was originally planned for September 1924 but later revised to 11 November.  It has to be remembered that similar ceremonies were taking place across the country and hopes that prominent figures, including Admiral Earl Beatty, would attend were soon dashed. In the event troops from the Welch Regiment, based at the Cardiff Barracks, provided the guard of honour. The ceremony was led by the local MP, Capt Arthur Evans, and the Rev Hassal Hanmer, both of whom had served in the war, supported by the Penarth Ex Servicemen’s’ Choir.

The task of unveiling the memorial was given to Mrs F Bartlett, Mrs P Fitzgerald and Mr G Hoult. Standing amongst the MPs and ranking soldiers there was one factor that bound the three together. They had each lost three sons in War. The memorial was of white granite with a bronze winged figure of victory, holding a wreath and a sword, standing in the prow of a boat. The programme for the ceremony on 11 November 1924 can be seen at Glamorgan Archives, ref. DXOV3/11. It was retained by Constance Maillard and passed with her papers to the Archives. If you are wondering what happened to Constance, she lived to celebrate her 100th birthday and an invitation to her birthday party is also held at the Archives (ref.: DXFX/8).  The records of the Penarth Urban District Council can also be accessed at Glamorgan Archives, ref. UDPE/C/1/5, with the papers of the Memorial Sub-committee at UDPE/C/1/21. Silent black and white footage of the ceremony has recently been made available by British Film Foundation.

As a postscript, significant restoration work was completed on the Penarth War Memorial as part of the centenary events. It can be seen in Alexandra Gardens, Penarth.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s