Search This Blog

Thursday 30 July 2009

Cumbrian Railway Company memorials

Looking at memorials for their own sake is a bit of a lonely occupation, no one else seems much interested. However, the names on memorials are another matter. There is a pre-occupation out there with the dead which, I must confess, I find rather sad. The reason for my sadness can be found in the lists of casualties, in Afghanistan & Iraq.

Since the start of the Bush/Blair adventure in Iraq there have been over 200 service personnel seriously or very seriously injured. In Afghanistan, 230. That is in addition to the dead. There is no figure for the traumatised and bewildered. I could probably trace a dozen or so of these badly wounded on the web, maybe a picture or a short biography, but most are anonymous. I remind the reader that the vast majority are young men, some very young, barely out of school. They fight at the behest of a soulless Whitehall, some die, but the rest grow old, their services and the price they may pay in tormented dreams entirely forgotten by Politicians and society until an anniversary reminds us of their exploits and the debt owed by the nation. It was always thus.

One of the consequences of the pre-occupation with the dead is a vast number of websites, booklets and pamphlets that list the named dead on memorials, sometimes describing their brief lives, but always details of their service and where they are buried or commemorated.

A recent example, published in November 2008, has been produced by the Cumbrian Railways Association.

This rather well produced publication lists the memorials erected by the various Railway Companies that operated in Cumberland, Westmorland and North Lancashire around the time of the Great War; companies such as The Furness Railway, Maryport & Carlisle, Cockermouth, Keswick & Penrith as well as the larger organisations such as the North British, Caledonian and L&NWR. The name of every dead man is listed.

But where are the wounded and those who served?

Sunday 26 July 2009

A death in Afghanistan

I spent the afternoon with a friend at Aldingham, one of my favourite places. The churchyard stands at the very edge of the great expanse of Morecambe Bay. Today was beautiful, warm and sunny, the hills of Yorkshire blue on the horizon.

The present church, dedicated to St Cuthbert, is twelfth century but most probably supersedes an earlier Saxon foundation. It is almost certainly one of the resting places of the body of the great Northumbrian Saint as it was carried round the north in the ninth century to avoid the ravages of the Danish Vikings.

It was a wealthy crown living acquired by the forfeiture of the Lancashire estates of Lady Jane Grey following her attainder in 1553/4. It had a number of illustrious Rectors. In 1848 the Rev Stonard played host to a young Queen Victoria in his vast vicarage.

In 1849 Canon John Macaulay M.A., brother of Lord Macaulay the eminent historian, was given the living. Educated at Peterhouse, Cambridge he was Hon. Canon of Carlisle. He died here on 16 April 1874 and is buried in the churchyard.

At the east end of the south aisle, with its wonderful 12th century pillars, there is an imposing marble memorial set on the wall. It carries the names of the four grandsons of the Rev Macaulay, all killed in battle for God, King & Empire.

Lt Kenneth Zachary Pollock Macauley of the Loyal North Lancs died of wounds received 'while encouraging his men in the most gallant manner' at Middleburg in the Transvaal during the Boer War.

Sgt Frederic Charles Macaulay 'C' Squadron, 1st King Edwards Horse was killed near Loos, France in January 1916.

Both these guys were the sons of Colonel C E Macaulay, late Probyn's Horse and the Indian Staff Corps who is himself buried in the churchyard with the Rev Macaulay, his father.

Frank Gordon Macaulay, a third grandson of the Rev Macaulay and only son of Alfred Russell Macaulay, was killed 'during an intense enemy bombardment' at Zillebeke, Flanders on June 4 1916.

However, there is a fourth name. That of Percy John Frederick Macaulay, eldest son of Colonel Macaulay.
Lieut Royal Engineers.
Killed in action at Wanna
November 1894
During a Night Attack on
British Camp by Mahsud Waziris
North West Frontier
Aged 27
On the day I write this a young British Soldier has been killed, probably by Mahsud Waziris, close to the old North West Frontier.

I don't know what to say.

Bloody politicians I guess and their gross ineptitude and arrogance - the grief is the same as always it shall be. Blair certainly has his legacy, an angel of death..........

Just come online to record that the lad who died on the same day as Harry Patch was Bombardier Craig Hopson, 24, from Castleford, West Yorkshire, and was appalled to discover that two more boys are dead in Blair's Afghan adventure.

Saturday 25 July 2009

Farewell Harry Patch, the Last Fighting Tommy

I was born quite a long time ago - in 1948.

When I were a lad the veterans of the Great War were friends, neighbours, even members of my own family, those extraordinary men and women were the backbone of society.

I remember F J Smith, MC., late Lieutenant Manchester Regiment, a work colleague of my father's, a true English gentleman. Our neighbour, Mr Atkins, who had an astonishing display of roses in his garden but who disappeared indoors each October until the spring when his gas scarred lungs came back to life. Mr Chapman, church warden, who waxed his moustaches and marched ramrod straight to work in a 'gentleman's outfitters' every morning. I remember terrible facial wounds and match selling amputees. Words first intruded into my life that chilled the unknowing child, I simply felt their power. Sanctuary Wood, Mametz, The Bazentins, Arras, Vimy, and the darkest of all - The Menin Road.

Grandfather's photo, Pte James Arthur Wilkinson, 16th Lancashire Fusiliers, died of wounds, 28/9 May 1918, hung at the head of my gran's bed and was an icon in my life from the day I was born until the day she died. The picture is now here, beside me, in my lounge.

In the 1980s I visited old men in Salford & Wigan who talked of mud and mamzels, oofs and Wipers. An amazing generation, a total privilege to have known them. They added value to my life.

And now it is ended, the last fighting Tommy has gone to join his Pals.

Thanks for everything, Harry. God Bless.

Sunday 19 July 2009

Empty graves

Have had a bit of a dialogue going with Andy about the memorial to (or grave of) Derrick Read at Crook

Andy feels that it might in fact be a grave, that Read's body may have been washed up after he was declared 'missing' and his body repatriated to his family at Crook for burial. Perhaps so. I would need to check with the vicar or churchwardens of St Catherine's for clarification.

However, I would point Sinkinson's 'memorial grave' at Kendal & to a 'grave' at Cautley close to the Yorkshire Border some miles east of Sedbergh.

The 'grave' commemorates 2nd Lt Henry Douglas Macpherson, Royal Flying Corps.
Macpherson was the son of Henry & Lily Macpherson of 'Ghyllas' Sedbergh & of Leeds. Young Henry, an old boy of Sedbergh school, died in October 1917, probably of wounds, aged 19, while serving with 29 Squadron RFC, probably flying an SE5 out of Tetegham field (near Dunkirk).

Whether he was shot down in a flamer or ended up in a SE5 rather like this one I cannot discern.

His body lies in plot VII D 45 at Mendingham, Flanders, a cemetery that served a number of casualty clearing stations behind the line at Ypres.

Clearly the 'grave' at Cautley is in a fact a memorial.

Such empty graves were probably created for a number of esoteric purposes. As a shrine to the memory of the dead man, a statement of achievement and status (see Birrell's grave), but not least to lock into a fundamental tenet of Christian faith that the Great War largely shattered.

The reformation fundamentally changed the realtionship between man and God. In the mediaeval world God's primary relationship was with the living, after the reformation it was with the dead. Central to this belief was the resurrection of the body. Thus in Victorian England there came an obsession with death and the presentation of the person, his virtues and life mirrored by his grave, all ready to impress the angels on Judgement Day.

In the Great War there were hundreds of thousands of no bodies - so no resurrection! Creating a grave, even if empty, made some gesture towards reclaiming the absent body against the day when all would be judged. Indeed the creation of memorials after 1918 was in some part predicated on this belief. It is difficult to overstate how important a body was to the Victorian Christian.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Beattie's flag

Spent today in Grange as I do every Tuesday & took a look around the charity shops - as one does. The top hospice shop always has quite a number of books so I bought a recent biography of Nelson for a few quid. I also bought a volume of little value that my father used to have - The Story of 25 Eventful Years in pictures -

It is a pictorial record of the first 25 years of the reign of George V and Queen Mary, from 1910 to 1935, & describes the vast changes wrought in Britain and the world in these years. Quite a few pages are dedicated to the armistice of 1918 & the peace celebrations of 1919. One of the pictures, a double page spread, shows a section of the Peace March of July 19, 1919. On this day thousands of troops marched past Lutyens' temporary Cenotaph in Whitehall led by many of the wartime leaders.

The Royal Navy were represented by David Beatty who as a Rear Admiral had famously led the First Battle Cruiser Squadron at Jutland and, after two of his ships blew up, uttered the immortal words,

'there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today'

In September 1919 Beatty was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet and elevated to the Peerage as 1st Earl Beatty, Viscount Borodale and Baron Beatty of the North Sea and Brooksby. Not bad!

Beatty can be seen on the pic below, he's the one in the centre leading the main body of matelots some paces behind the lad carrying the flag.

The lad with the flag was midshipman J B Somerset, reputedly related the the Cavendish family of Holker. The union flag he carries is now in the Parish church at Cark, near Cartmel.

Rather sadly relegated to a corner, above the bookstall, at the back of the nave.

A chap who was locking up the church as I arrived tells me that a few years ago one of the churchwardens decided the flag was a bit mucky after some eighty years of hanging there, so he took it home and put it in his washing machine! No damage seems to have done.

Thursday 9 July 2009

Silverdale Roll

The boundary between Cumbria & Lancashire weaves along the ridge between Silverdale (Lancashire) & Arnside (Cumbria). So quite a few men who are commemorated on memorials in Silverdale would now be considered Cumbrians. Thus I include on the blog a roll of honour from the village of Silverdale.

It has quite an interesting history. Apparently it was used for many years as a backing board for a picture in the Methodist church and only saw the light of day a couple of years ago when the picture in question was checked out.

It is interesting. Pre printed and dedicated to 'King, Country & Humanity', most unusual. Along the top are representations of three medals; The Victoria Cross in the centre, the Distinguished Service Order on the left (Officers), & the Distinguished Conduct Medal on the right (other ranks).

The flags include that of Italy which only entered the war on the allies side in April 1915. The hand writing appears to be all one hand including details of a 1918 death; altogether I suspect it is post war.

There are three Australians and five 3rd Bn Kings Own Royal Lancaster Rgt. One guy is named only as Proctor - no forename. There are no women named.

It seems that the roll has disappeared into the black hole of a private individuals collection of Silverdaleiana - bad news - of all things memorials such as these should be in the public domain for all to see, that the men may be honoured.

Got an email from Howard of Cartmel:

Minor detail regarding Silverdale.
In 1909 Haldane reforms 3rd Bn - which was Militia, became Special Reserve - HQ Bowerham. The 2 volunteer Bns became 4th and 5th. 4th was North Lonsdale Territorial Bn. and 5th South Lonsdale. The distinction between these two became more and more blurred during WW1 - Lord Cav was Colonel of the 5th. until wounded at 2nd Ypres, either way the 3rd was mobilised at the outbreak of war and became a feeder unit for the fighting battalions abroad. The men would join up as members of the 3rd Bn. train and then go abroad to wherever.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Edwin Lutyens in south Cumbria

Sir Edwin Lutyens (29 March 1869 – 1 January 1944) was probably the most famous and respected British architect of his generation.

Through a long career he undertook a huge number of commissions throughout Britain and the Empire. Perhaps his most spectacular achievement was the design of New Delhi as the administrative centre of British India. However, back in Britain he also designed many country houses utilising firstly arts and crafts and then classical ideas in a very personal and recognisably English style.

In 1913-14 Lutyens was working in South Lakeland on the design for Abbey House, Barrow in Furness. This rather lovely building was built to provide guest accomodation for Vickers Ltd and a flat for the Managing Director, Sir James McKechnie and later Commander Craven RN. In 1951, having been acquired by Lancashire County Council, the house was adopted as an old people’s home and somewhat neglected. In 1984 it was sold and restored as an hotel.

Post 1918 the services of Lutyens, Herbert Baker and Reginald Blomfield were called upon by the Imperial War Graves Commission to create designs for the War Cemeteries that were being built throughout the world. Lutyens' most astonishing design of these years must be the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme that bears the names of over 73000 British and South African dead from the Somme battles of 1916 to mid 1918 who have no known grave.

Pictured here with Blomfield's Cross, the memorial is a most remarkable creation. It is impossible to capture on a photograph its overwhelming sense of presence. To be with it, to experience its power, is a deeply moving experience.

Lutyens also contributed the altar-like Stone of Remembrance or Stone of Sacrifice that stands in every major British War Cemetery.

However even these iconic designs must be overshadowed by the The Cenotaph in Whitehall, London.

Using what one historian has described as,

rituals of social cohesion

it is the place where each November the British nation reafirms its debt to The Glorious Dead.

The design took less than six hours to complete......

Clearly Lutyens is a seminal figure not simply as an architect but a major player in the creation of the iconography and rituals of Remembrance in Britain. Thus it is quite poignant that vast numbers of people drive up to the west coast coast of Cumbria oblivious to the fact that they pass a fine example of Lutyens' work in the War Memorial at Muncaster.

It is a beautifully simple but elegant design with rather odd but successful proportions. I have no idea why Lutyens was appointed to design a memorial in this most secret corner of Lakeland. I guess it may be something to do with nearby Muncaster Castle, the ancient home of the Duff-Pennington family.

Since writing this post Tim Skelton, author of a new book on Lutyens & the Great War, has posted a most interesting comment.
Please do read it.

Saturday 4 July 2009

Another country, another war

I love cemeteries.

They are places that are overflowing with history, of peoples lives and of attitudes not simply to death, but also to life, to those things that were held to be of highest value in the lives of the dead or which defined their status in life - for it is these achievements that are recorded on the memorials. Most often it is their professions that are remembered, architect or farmer, sometimes their qualities. But occasionally it is something quite different.

Thus in Ulverston cem there are two gravestones standing side by side that record the lives of various members of the Birrell family.

That on the left remembers Andrew Birrell of Swarthmoor Hall who died on the 31 August 1883, aged 59 years. Below his name are those of Margaret, his widow, who died at Rosside House in 1902 aged 72; Robert, their son who died aged 18 in 1873 and finally Andrew Birrell Kitchin, their grandson who died in 1884, aged 1.

I have an interest in Swarthmoor Hall, a beautiful old house nr Ulverston, the spiritual home of The Quakers. As a consequence of my interest I looked into the family and it was quite fascinating. Andrew Birrell came down from Carlisle, via Brigham & Lamplugh where his children were born, and farmed at Swarthmoor from the 1860s. After he died his widow, Margaret, continued at The Hall into the 1890s which is when this photo would have been taken.

The seated lady is Mary Snowden, an American Quaker. And that is a bit of a coincidence. In the 1830s Andrew Birrell himself was in the USA, his return by boat is recorded online.

And then to return to the two gravestones - the one on the right is;

In Memory of
Adam Birrell
Private, Co H, 9th Regiment
Indiana Volunteer Infantry
United States America
Who died at Rosside House
March 14, 1901
Aged 71 Years

He must be a veteran of the American Civil War.

This old photo shows members of Adam Birrells unit during the conflict, in this case Company A, but Adam probably knew them.

I cannot trace the birth of Adam Birrell but he must have been a brother or cousin of Andrew, certainly a close relation. They were probably in America together in the 1830s. Andrew returned home to farm at Swarthmoor, Adam stayed on to fight for the Union only to return to England to die. Clearly he or his extended family felt that whatever else he might have done in life, his service in the Union Army was the achievement for which at considerable expense he should be remembered.