How do you commemorate the men of Hertford who were killed in the Great War?
Rev. T Landulph Smith, vicar of All Saints’ Church, thought he had the answer. In a letter printed in the Hertfordshire Mercury of 23rd November 1918 he suggested the “provision of a men’s club as the most necessary and satisfactory thank offering and memorial.” Somewhere for young men to meet, play games and drink tea and coffee with cakes in the winter. “We feel that we must find some worthy expression of our joy and gratitude as a community.”
There were also separate calls for the parish churches to have memorials.
By 14th December the Reverend was writing: “Wake up Hertford! Let’s get a move on! Where are the men of push & go? What about the War Memorial? What are the town fathers doing? Here are St. Andrews and Christ Church [Lower Bengeo] parishes going ahead formulating their schemes and beginning their collections.
“Let it be a worthy memorial. Not such a sculptured monstrosity as those which disfigure the streets of many of our towns today. [Here he is referring to street memorials which had sprung up at the ends of many streets were men who had died in the war had lived.] Useless, ugly, inartistic eyesores. We don’t want a sparrow breeding monument in the Castle grounds or elsewhere, some blatant, 20th century reaction, disfiguring our old world town.
“I speak for a number of Hertford folk …. when I say let’s have something which will benefit the men for whom we profess to have such love and admiration, and to whom we owe such a debt of gratitude, not merely something we ourselves desire to minister to our own gratification, according to our individual tastes or fancies.”
The following week the Mayor Hellier R.H. Gosselin was expressing a very different view on what the memorial should be. Having specified that “Our first duty is to perpetuate in a fitting manner the memory of those dear fellows of Hertford who shed their blood for us while fighting in defence of our country, and of our liberty and civilisation.” He went on to describe a monument very different to Reverend Landolph Smith’s idea, “….the most suitable memorial would be a sculptured design erected in the Castle grounds, representing a dying soldier with his guardian angel watching over him ….. on the base would be inscribed the names of the Hertford heroes……. To complete the monument it would be desirable that some captured guns should be placed on either side.”
On 28th December 1918, W.D. Fenning was suggesting “…. that there should be included the kindred point of some memorial of our fellow-townsmen who lost their lives in the air-raid of October 13, 1915.” It wasn’t until the following month, January 1919 that an account of this raid was published. Although the whole town knew the raid had occurred Government restrictions stopped any publication of the details of the raid during the war.
On 4th January, 1919 James Farley of Queens Road, was writing, “There seems to be for the moment an idea that a memorial to the fallen is all that is necessary, but great numbers feel that if a memorial is decided on the living and the dead should be equally remembered ..……. the larger proportion of the survivors are now in their first youth and should be able to look back for many years with justifiable pride on their achievements, which pride may be enhanced by seeing their names inscribed on a suitable roll of honour ……. their children and their children’s children will take honourable pride in reading such roll of names.”
He went on to say that he thought a Memorial Hall should be built with the names of all the men who took part inscribed on plaques on the inner walls.
This all-embracing roll of honour was used after the second Boer War as can be seen on the plaque at the side of the old library building in Old Cross.
Farley also considered that the hall should include a museum “containing models of every devilish device used for and against us on land and sea during the war, for the purpose of illustrating what war means.” He considered that £10,000 should cover the cost of the building and a maintenance fund.
The Mayor of Hertford called a public meeting to discuss the memorial. This was held on Friday, 10th January 1919 in the council chamber in the Shire Hall. Many people attended to hear the Mayor say that he wanted a “memorial worthy of the whole town so that it might be handed down for ages ……”
Dr. Odel proposed “… a monument on which should be engraved the name of every soldier belonging to Hertford who had died for his country in this war, …..” A hospital or club would not be sufficient for “a sacred purpose such as they were discussing. Haileybury had two memorials, one the obelisk, which was erected to the memory of those Haileyburians who fell in the South African War.” This view was seconded by The Reverend Fenning.
In line with his previous written proposal, The Reverend T. Landulph Smith disagreed with these speakers saying they wanted “ … a dead monument and he wanted a living one. Something to brighten up their lives than a dead monument, however beautiful.” He therefore moved an amendment that “whilst some form of monument should be put up at places of worship in sacred memory of the men who had given their lives, the main object they should aim at was the provision of some sort of men’s institution for the living.”
Mr. Lacey had seen at Harvard University, “a fine monument to the memory of the men who fought and died in the Great American War between the North and the South. It was a magnificent building standing in spacious grounds and cared for most sacredly.” There was a huge flight of steps on top of which beautiful statutory and medallions in memory of those who had fallen and served. There was spacious accommodation inside for concerts, etc.
The Town Clerk disagreed considering that a club or institution would be a white elephant because of the resultant maintenance costs. He suggested a chapel in the town cemetery.
J.R Strubell who was headmaster of the Cowper Testimonial School wanted an educational as well as recreative memorial and seconded the Reverand Landulph Smith’s amendment. William Graveson also agreed that the memorial should be for the living as well as the dead.
Sir Edward Pearson was in favour of a monument. A memorial hall was a fine idea but £5,000 would be no use, £25,000 would be needed. He agreed with the vicar of All Saints’ Church that a club was a fine idea but not as a war memorial. He moved that a small committee be appointed to consider all suggestions and report back to a public meeting. Mr. Ginn seconded that motion and it was passed by all those present.
The following were elected to the committee: Alderman Gosselin; Sir Charles & Lady Longmore Sir Edward Pearson, Rev. T. Landulph Smith, Col. H. Baker, Dr. R Odell, Messrs. J. Farley, H. Gray, A Shephard & W. Graveson (Secretary)
In the following days Mercury, a man who signed himself “Father of Three Soldiers, Hertford” was suggesting that both sets of people could be satisfied. The £15,000 required was only £1 for every person in the town. This surely could be raised! “Why not have a memorial hall in which both young and old, men and women, rich and poor can meet for mutual enjoyment and self-improvement . The people who want a memorial can have an artistically designed exterior to the building and those who want a utility side can have a concert hall, a reading room, a library, games room, gymnasium, baths and a refreshment bar.” The site could be at the entrance to the Castle grounds in The Wash which was corporation land and so would cost nothing. He went on to say that he knew someone who was prepared to buy the corner house of Illott’s Mill on Mill Bridge to open out the site. He claimed that he had spoken to a number of returning soldiers who considered this an ideal plan “to commemorate the greatest struggle that this or any other nation has ever emerged from victoriously.”
On Friday evening, 30th May a second public meeting was held again in the Shire Hall and began with a report from the committee. It proposed a monument and a memorial hall but this left three questions, (1) the form? (2) the site? and (3) the cost?
(1) A substantial, plain and durable monument with inscriptions was proposed.
(2) Sir Edward Pearson had recently bought the triangular land containing shops and offices opposite the Mercury office. The cost of the land was rumoured to be £3,000. He and Lady Pearson had donated this land to the town “as a site for a simple and dignified monument.”
But where would the hall be sited? A property behind Sir Edward’s land would have been the best option but this had recently been acquired for business purposes. The next possibility was a position near the castle entrance in The Wash,
Sir Edward said that the committee had “a strong feeling that the memorial should come first but equally strong feeling that the dead had sacrificed their lives so that the living might benefit and it was therefore thought that some memorial building should be erected for the use of the living and those who came afterwards.
An appeal for £15,000 would be set in motion.
The committee was re-elected with the following new members Lady Pearson, Alderman Ginn, Mr. B.S, Faudel-Phillips, Capt. Reginald Smith, Mr. Gilbey, Mr. A.S. Gilbertson, Mr. Edgar Page, the Reverand J.T. Hodgson, Mrs. G.R. Durant, Mr. & Mrs. Lacey, Mr. Elsmore (representing Discharged Soldiers Federation) and the commanding officers of the three county regiments.
On 28th June a member of the Mercury staff wrote: ‘The committee for the appeal on behalf of the Hertford & District War Memorial fund would appear to be confirmed optimists. At any rate they have the gift of imagination!’ The writer did not think it likely that the £15,000 would be raised. He went on to say: ‘It was a matter of regret that practically all the parishes in the town have already initiated appeals on behalf of their parochial schemes and memorials. This unseemly haste is not in good taste, and certainly not in keeping with the patriotism which is so often preached and so rarely practised.’ The memorial would cost between £2,000 and £3,000 and the building of the hall would depend on the amount of money subscribed.
The Hertford appeal was not launched until the end of October 1919 so that it did not clash with the Peace Celebration appeal. Although the armistice had been signed on 11th November, 1918, negotiations continued until the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June 1919 and beyond into 1920. After much discussion it was decided to hold a National Peace Day on 19th July 1919 and there was an appeal to help fund this day of celebration and a victory parade. This was not universally accepted as many thought that the money would be better spent supporting returning service men suffering from physical and mental scars.
On the 1st November Sir Aston Webb, President of the Royal Academy visited the town. He explained to the committee that Portland stone would be a better material for the monument than granite because it was extra-ordinary enduring, more sensitive and would tone down with the surroundings better. Although the cost did not influence his decision, it was also cheaper. He recommended Sir George Frampton as the sculptor. The design for the hart would best be completed in metal. It would have a fine finish and again tone down beautifully. It would be four feet high and cost around £1,000. The completed monument would cost 1,500 approximately. Sir Aston was requested to produce detailed drawings and estimated costs.
Donors were listed in the Mercury in November and December at the end of which around £1,400 had been raised. As well as the appeals for the parish monuments, appeals for Mayor’s Fund for War Orphans’ Christmas and National Federation of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers were also being held. £106 was raised in January 1920 and at the end of that month a further appeal was instigated.
Sir Aston was request to produce an estimate for the hart to be cast in bronze. The final statement of account totalled £2,394 18s 11d. The architects fees were £145 and the cost of the name tablets and lettering cost £191 8s 11d.
The War Memorial Committee had originally decided that the names of the fallen would not be included on the memorial. This caused a furore amongst the locals and the decision was reversed at a meeting on 21st July 1920. The names of the civilians killed in the airship raid on 13th October 1915 were also added.
The names of those killed in World War Two were added in 1948.
The Unveiling of the Memorial
There was a reserved enclosure for relatives who had been asked to apply for cards of admission at the Castle the previous week.
The Memorial was finally unveiled on Sunday, 6th November 1921 by the Mayor, Alderman J. Burnett Smith. The proceedings which started at 3pm, had begun by the singing of the hymn “Oh God our Help in Ages Past” and after the unveiling the Last Post was sounded by buglers of Hertford Grammar School Officer Training Corp. The Archdeacon of St. Albans read the dedicatory prayers which was followed by a prayer from H.R. Cripps, the Baptist Minister.
Wreaths were laid by The Mayor for the Corporation; Corporal. Burt, V.C. who was wearing his ‘For Valour’ medal, on behalf of the Hertfordshire Regiment; Sergt. R. Walker on behalf of the Old Comrades Association of the Hertfordshire Regiment; Captain Douglas Burgess on behalf of the Hertford branch of the British Legion and Sergt. Dewbury on behalf of the Herts R.F.A. Three boys from the grammar school laid a tribute in the shape of the school badge. Others were sent by Girl Guides, Boy Scouts and Boys’ Life Brigade. Afterwards scores of floral tributes were laid by relatives of the fallen. A wreath in the form of a floral, open book was sent from the employees of Steven Austin & Sons inscribed with the words “In remembrance of our fallen comrades – Pro Patria.”
The hymn “For All the Saints” was sung and the ceremony was concluded by the sounding of Reveille, again by the buglers, and the singing of the National Anthem.
After the conclusion of the service relatives and friends were allowed time to lay their own wreaths before the public was admitted onto the dais surrounding the memorial.
The stone plinth was designed by Sir Aston Webb. Mr. Alfred Drury, R.A., was responsible for the design of the bronze stag which was cast by Morris Art Foundry, London S.W. The whole was erected by Messrs. Andrews & Son which had a works in Ware Road, Hertford. At the ceremony Sir Aston was represented by his son Maurice who was accompanied by Mrs Webb. Mr Drury was also present.
The names of 352 men from Hertford and the neighbourhood who had died in the war were transcribed at the base of the memorial along with the seven men and two children who were killed on the night of 13th October 1915 in the airship raid on the town.
After the Ceremony
After the ceremony everyone was invited to tea at which the Mayor, Alderman J Burnett Smith presented to Sir Edward Pearson an album containing the resolution “The grateful thanks of this council be, and are hereby, recorded to Sir Edward Pearson, Knight, for his munificent gift to the Town of Hertford of certain freehold land and hereditaments at the west end of Fore Street, as a site for the erection of a monumental memorial to the memory of the men from Hertford and the district surrounding who fell in the Great War, 1914 – 1918, and for the widening and improvement of the highways near thereto.”
The hall was never built.