The Story of the War Memorial

In the centenary year of the World War One Armistice, Unlocking Warwick has launched a major project to find the stories behind the 358 names on the war memorial in Church Street, commemorating those from Warwick who did not return from WWI. 

The special website is building up personal information about The Fallen, and has a lot of features about Warwick and the Great War.

By coincidence, Ross Jones who lives in Warwick had just completed an assignment about World War One war memorials for a PGCert in Historical Studies at the University of Oxford. When he heard about our project, he offered to contribute this story about the Warwick War Memorial and its unveiling in 1921.


Acts of Great War Commemoration – The Unveiling of the Warwick War Memorial

November 2018 will mark the centenary of the end of the Great War. During this conflict, the population of Warwick made significant contributions to the war effort; by 1916, over 1,300 men from a town of around 12,000 are recorded as serving in the armed forces, whilst women became increasingly engaged in a variety of labour-intensive industries. Additionally, a recent study has suggested that, in the majority of cases, conscientious objectors from South-Warwickshire were assigned non-combatant roles, serving overseas in supply, transport and medical services.

Across the UK, commemorative architecture continues to impress the level of involvement on a national level. Throughout Britain there are reckoned to be over 50,000 memorials dedicated to the First World War, sentinels of history that reflect how different communities have remembered and processed the events of total warfare.

In Warwick, the Great War memorial on Church Street takes the form of an ‘Eleanor Cross’. It is finished in a fourteenth-century gothic style intended to emulate the appearance of the Beauchamp Chapel at the neighbouring Collegiate Church of St Mary’s. It was built first and foremost to acknowledge the sacrifice of local individuals who died during the conflict. Yet it also serves as an expression of civic pride, testifying to the part the people of this small town played in the world’s first global conflagration.

Warwick’s strikingly egalitarian Great War Memorial is located in a public space on a wide street. It is accessible from all sides and the four bronze plaques listing the names of the fallen are fixed at eye-level. A reading of these names is unhindered by any barrier and the honour rolls make no distinction between rank, choosing instead to list the dead alphabetically. The presence of Christian iconography is also limited* which helps to create a more inclusive and minimalist aesthetic.

In many ways this reflects the broad patronage the monument received. Roughly £2000 was needed to complete the design and this was raised through public subscription. Over 140 individual donations are listed in the account book for the memorial with poor and rich alike sharing the pages. One notable contribution came from resident magnate ‘Lord Brooke’ who gave £25 on July 8th 1921. The account was finally settled in 1923 when mayor and former councillor, Dr H. Tibbits, paid off the remaining deficit of £21-12-11d.

Initially the monument was to be unveiled on Thursday 7th July 1921, but the date was later fixed for Sunday 10th at 4pm. This may have been to coincide with the unveiling of the Kineton Wayside Cross Memorial earlier that day, or perhaps because the Sabbath was deemed more suitable for such an occasion. By the early afternoon, it is recorded that ‘hundreds of people began to flock into Church Street to pay homage to those who sacrificed all that we might live.’ 

At 3:15pm, members of the Warwick branch of the Comrades of the Great War gathered in uniform at the Pageant House Garden in preparation for a parade led by Brigadier-General Wiggin. Shortly afterwards veterans of the Lord Leycester Hospital and members of the Warwick Corporation made their way to the memorial in time for the appearance of St Mary’s choristers and clergy, who gathered alongside non-conformist ministers for the ceremony. In the summer heat, Lord Algernon Percy addressed a crowd of some 5,000 people before pulling a cord, causing a Union Jack flag to fall aside and reveal a monument that appeared much the same as it does today.

Though inspiration for the project drew from one of the darker periods of human history, an examination of this memorial, nearly one hundred years after its unveiling, reveals much about the nature of commemoration. As well as impressing the importance of remembrance, the unveiling ceremony also promoted edifying notions of reconciliation and self-improvement. On the 10th July 1921, the townsfolk of Warwick were able to overcome adversity and honour their dead by realising a project that still attracts hundreds if not thousands of visitors each year.

* It had been the original intention of lead architect, Mr C. E Bateman, to fill the niches of the third stage with figures of saints. St George, representing the English soldiery, would have faced south, St Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors, west towards the Atlantic and St. Michael, the archangel, northward towards St Mary’s spire. Finally, the figure of Joan of Arc would have looked east, perpetuating the importance of the role women played in the conflict.

Ross Jones. April 2018