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23 February 2019
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For the fallen

A hundred years on from Britain’s entry into the Great War, the nation’s memorials are under threat as never before from vandalism, accidents, erosion – and corporate change. Here, Frances Moreton, director of the War Memorials Trust, explains how FMs can be guardians of remembrance.

Memorial 1

24 March 2014

Memorials will be a focal point for activities across the country this year as communities mark the centenary of the First World War, paying tribute to those who served and, in particular, those who died. 

Those communities will take many different forms, not just geographical, and will include companies, workplaces, schools and institutions that erected memorials to remember their people. 

It is an opportunity not only to pay our respects, but also ensure that all our war memorials are in the best possible condition for events in the next few years and for many years ahead. 

War memorials are often assumed to be the cenotaphs or crosses seen on village greens or in town centres, but they are far more varied and diverse than that. 

Plaques, stained-glass windows, buildings, lychgates, benches and clocks are just some of the forms they take. They can be found inside and outside; in public spaces, community buildings, schools or in commercial premises. Many will be within facilities managed and staffed by readers of this publication. Are those memorials ready for the centenary? 

Safeguarding our heritage

War Memorials Trust is the charity that works for the protection and conservation of war memorials in the UK. It provides advice and information on a range of war memorials issues as well as managing grants schemes that can help repair and preserve war memorials. In addition, it has an educational programme for young people recognising the importance of ensuring that tomorrow’s custodians understand the importance of our war memorial heritage. 

One of the trust’s key centenary initiatives is War Memorials Online (www.warmemorialsonline.org.uk), supported by English Heritage, Historic Scotland and Cadw. This website is seeking to create a greater understanding of the condition of our war memorials. 

Anyone can register and upload information on war memorials and their condition. They can share locations, add photographs and suggest custodian details. It is an opportunity to identify those memorials in poor or bad condition that need attention as well as to celebrate those memorial custodians who are doing a wonderful job in cherishing this aspect of British history.
Many facilities will have war memorials and we would encourage you to ensure that the details of war memorials you know about, or are responsible for, are added to War Memorials Online to help build that national condition picture. Sharing this information will ensure that those memorials from companies, workplaces and schools, which can often be forgotten when people think about war memorials, are recognised and their condition is known.

Going forward, it is hoped that custodians and the public will regularly update this information, helping to build an understanding of the state of war memorials over time and make sure that potential problems are spotted early and action is taken to maintain them in the best possible condition. 

Reporting conditions

Any memorial reported through the website as being in poor or very bad condition, or any concern highlighted, is passed to the trust’s conservation team to investigate. The team comprises conservation officers who manage our casework, grants schemes and policy work. 

There are 100,000 war memorials in the UK and four members in the team; it is a challenge but a combination of direct advice and a comprehensive website offering helps ensure that people can get the right information. 

Although each war memorial has to be assessed on an individual basis because of their variety, there are common issues facing custodians upon which the charity regularly provides advice. The biggest threat to memorials is the simple process of ageing – often exacerbated for those outside by weathering. 

These need to be regularly monitored and good photographic records kept of them over time. That way, if work is required features, inscriptions and names are recorded and can be preserved to maximise the longevity of the memorial. 

Memorial 2

A fine balance

Another issue faced by many custodians is dealing with earlier over-cleaning. There is a debate over how clean memorials should look and getting a balance between the age of materials and people’s expectations can be a challenge. But it is important to remember that the more often it is cleaned the more material is removed. In addition, some cleaning products and techniques will potentially introduce chemicals or damaging treatment. These methods may produce spectacular short-term results but cause long-term damage. For example, high-powered jet washing is often considered for stone memorials. But such a system can cause indents in the stone that speed up the rate at which it deteriorates because its top layer has been damaged and will disintegrate quicker. 

Another challenge facing those caring for memorials is the issue of relocation. When buildings close or their purpose changes, war memorials can be forgotten, damaged or destroyed. One such case is the memorial shown in pieces on page 28. It was removed when a building was renovated and the pieces were found dumped. The trust worked with others to rescue and repair it so it is now on display again as a fitting tribute. 

If building closure or change is being considered the trust encourages people to think about memorials as early as possible. 

Relocation should really be a last resort, particularly with complex or freestanding memorials, but may occasionally be undertaken. It is worth considering if a company is moving whether the memorial has more meaning with the organisation or with the location. This may vary and it is important to consult employees or stakeholders to involve the community whose former members are commemorated on the war memorial. 

The worst thing that can happen is for memorials to be removed and stored. The chances of them getting relocated again get slimmer, and more challenging, the longer they wait. We have memorials in store that were donated to the trust after having been found in storage. Some originate from a company that was incorporated into another, with the new one having further evolved and developed over the years. Although they accept the original company as part of their heritage, getting the memorials back to them and on display is an ongoing challenge. 

Souls of the departed

Many stories, though, have positive outcomes. The Greater Manchester Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) buildings and shop fittings department war memorial remembers those who died in the First World War (www.warmemorialsonline.org.uk/node/125236). 

Originally sited in the shop fittings department in Trafalgar Street, Broughton, the memorial was discovered in 2009 in a scrap yard, where it was believed to have lain for at least 15 years. A reference to the memorial contained in the CWS journal for employees – “Ourselves”, Volume VI, Number 11 dated November 1930”  – indicates that the tablet was, “fixed to the wall of the entrance vestibule to the offices, where it is seen by all, both as they pass the open door or as they enter the premises”. It states that the memorial was the focal point for a short Remembrance Day ceremony arranged by ex-services employees during which a wreath of Flanders poppies was suspended below the memorial, where it remained until renewed the following Remembrance Day. 

The memorial was moved with the department when it relocated to Vere Street in Salford during 1931 and is recorded as being at this address into the 1980s, during which decade the building was demolished and the record of the memorial was lost. Following its rediscovery in 2009, the trust offered a grant of £2,500 towards repair works and it has now been relocated to a new home in Salford. Grant schemes administered by the trust are open to both individuals and organisations. 

Some larger companies have undertaken projects to record their war memorials; while others have good archives that can hold information and memorials if appropriate. The British Postal Museum and Archive website hosts the Royal Mail Groups War Memorials Database. This has details of the memorials across the Royal Mail, each of which has been recorded. 

A number of memorials will have been relocated when post offices closed, but they are normally still sited in Royal Mail facilities and have information labels alongside the memorials providing people with a wider understanding of the memorial. Information boards or cards can be very useful in highlighting memorials, however, they need to be appropriate to any site and in keeping with the nature of the memorial as inappropriate signage can often cause offence. 

Larger organisations may wish to have central information on their war memorials, but anyone can ensure that the memorials in their facilities are recorded using War Memorials Online. 
If you are interested in further information about looking after war memorials contact the trust’s Conservation Team on 020 7233 7356 or conservation@warmemorials.org or visit www.warmemorials.org/conservation-advice. 

Alternatively, report your concerns through War Memorials Online. If you are seeking advice, please be aware that the more information and photographs you can provide the better. Context is also important in understanding factors that might be influencing the condition of memorials, so include photos of both the memorial and its surroundings. 

War Memorials Trust is an independent charity that relies on donations to protect and preserve war memorials. If you are interested in supporting the charity or getting more involved as a regional volunteer, visit www.warmemorials.org/get-involved. For further information contact War Memorials Trust, 42a Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0RE.