How Lancashire decided to remember the county's war dead

Preston and its neighbouring towns and villages have always loyally remembered those local servicemen and women who died for their country. Local historian Keith Johnson looks at how we honour our war dead

By Mike Hill
Friday, 8th November 2019, 4:56 pm
Unveiling ceremony for Preston War Memorial on June 13, 1926 performed by Earl Jellicoe
Unveiling ceremony for Preston War Memorial on June 13, 1926 performed by Earl Jellicoe

In late May 1925 an unveiling ceremony took place in Preston Cemetery of the ‘Cross of Sacrifice’, which was built by the Imperial War Graves Commission in memory of upwards of 320 sailors, soldiers and airmen of the town who died during the Great War and are buried therein.

The cross, draped in the Union Jack, was unveiled by the pulling of a cord by the Mayor of Preston, Alderman John Roland Hodgson, who spoke of the deep devotion of the men whose lives were lost.

Around the base of the centre portion is inscribed, ‘Their names liveth for ever’. The cross, which is of Darley stone, with a bronze sword of justice embedded, stands 14ft high. It is positioned at the beginning of the first avenue in the cemetery and in full view from the cemetery gates on New Hall Lane.

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Penwortham War Memorial

The memorial is identical to those situated in other towns and cities in the UK and countries such as France, Italy and Egypt. The intention was also to ensure similar simple headstones were placed on all graves of the war dead, as those placed on graves abroad.

The harsh reality of war touched all classes of society and among the victims of the atrocities were a number of orphaned boys who had spent their formative years at the Harris Orphanage in Fulwood.

The long-serving governor of the orphanage was Colonel Thomas Riley Jolly who, having overseen the training and education of hundreds of youngsters, had been particularly proud when so many old boys willingly enlisted for war duty.

After the war Col Jolly planned a suitable memorial to honour the memory of those killed, and thanks to the fund-raising efforts of a committee of old boys and girls, his hopes came to fruition. He was a proud man in late October 1924 when he unveiled the soldier monument in the orphanage grounds.

Crowds assemble to watch the unveiling of the war memorial at St Ignatius Church, Preston, on March 26, 1922

The impressive white marble figure, in the form of a youthful soldier standing with his firearm reversed on a pedestal of polished granite, with a dedication inscribed in letters of gold, was to be a lasting reminder of those who had fallen.

Col Jolly, speaking with visible emotion, explained how, when the call came, 127 boys had enlisted and of those 18 had made the supreme sacrifice, with a large number of others being wounded and disabled.

He said he was proud of them all and their brave deeds that had been recognised with at least seven military medals.

Sadly, more names had to be added to the Orphanage memorial death toll after the Second World War with four former orphan boys and a girl giving their lives for the country. On Meadow Street at the front of St Ignatius RC Church (nowadays the Cathedral of St Alphonsa) stands a war memorial dedicated to the men of that parish who had been killed in the Great War.

Memorial to Harris Orphanage boys who died in the First and Second World Wars

It was unveiled in late March 1922 by Col John Shute, watched by the Rector Fr Frederick Parry, along with other clergy and members of the armed forces as a large crowd gathered. The memorial, built of Portland stone, stands over 22ft high and is mounted upon a moulded plinth. A crucifix stands aloft with the figures of a sailor and soldier on either side.

On the bronze plaques surrounding the memorial are the names of the 228 men of the parish who gave their lives in the conflict and it was paid for by subscriptions from the parishioners.

In mid-March 1921, a memorial to the men of Penwortham who fell or served during the Great War was unveiled by Maj-Gen TH Shoubridge. A procession of relatives and friends of the fallen men walked through Penwortham to the Liverpool Road site headed by the Preston Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Band.

The war memorial, takes the form of a granite rustic cross, was erected by public subscription. The names of the fallen are inscribed on a stone tablet, while in a recess was placed a parchment record of all who had served in the war. In all 144 names were recalled with 72 of those having died in the conflict.

Boer War Memorial unveiling in October 6, 1904, where it originally stood in Market Place, before it was moved

Within the grounds of County Hall in Preston, off Fishergate Hill, where Christ Church once flourished, there is a war memorial cross of grey Cornish granite.

It stands 12ft tall in the old graveyard of the church and was unveiled in July 1921 by the Rev TA Schonberg who stated it was a moment of proud remembrance of the 69 men connected with the church who had given their lives in the Great War.

The memorial had cost £280 and had been possible through the parishioners relentless pursuit of subscriptions. Like so many others the memorial cross at Christ Church had another brass plaque added after 1945 recording yet more victims from the Second World War.

Should you visit the graveyard of St Paul’s Church (now the home of Rock FM) you will see in one corner a memorial cross erected by the parishioners of St Paul’s in honour of the 125 men of the parish killed during the Great War.

It was unveiled at the end of August 1920 by Lt Col S Simpson who read out the names of each of the men. He then told the large crowd gathered around the monument that some of those killed were personally known to him.

Those men having volunteered to join the 2nd West Lancashire Royal Field Artillery Brigade he raised in the dark days of 1915. Having journeyed to France with them he was all too aware they fought magnificently and showed great devotion to duty.

On the same evening, Emmanuel Church was packed as parishioners paid tribute to their war victims. Two memorial windows were unveiled in the Baptistery and the Rev WD Richards quoted the biblical text, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.’

A month later a large crowd gathered outside the church of St Mary Magdalene on Ribbleton Avenue to witness the unveiling of a war memorial to honour the 18 men of that parish who had been killed during the Great War. The monument is in the shape of a stone cross made of light Boltonwood stone and stands more than 12ft high and sits on a base 5ft square with three steps at the front.

A stone laurel wreath hangs over the cross, and a sword runs parallel with the face of the column. Three bronze panels record the names of the fallen with an inscription. The memorial funded by parishioners cost £200.

One of the earliest to display their grief were the members of the St Matthews Church congregation who, in December 1919 before a crowd of 1,000, unveiled a memorial window to the fallen soldiers and sailors from the church and school.

The Vicar the Rev C Townson reminded those gathered that nearly 700 men of St Matthews had answered the call and that 99 of them had perished performing their duty. The two light window depicts the Archangels Michael and Gabriel holding the scroll of honour inscribed with their names.

To observe the memorial to the war dead of the parish of St Wilfrid’s RC Church and the closely connected Preston Catholic College you must make a visit inside the church. Positioned on the right hand side amidst the ‘Station Of The Cross’ is a large marble crucifix set on an altar and flanked by two tablets which record the names of 114 men killed during the war.

This includes some 48 who were ex pupils at the Jesuit run Catholic College. The memorial was unveiled by Father Kopp on the middle Sunday of April 1922. On the sanctuary floor nowadays are two more tablets commemorating the dead from the church and the college during the Second World War.

A service of dedication and the unveiling of a War Memorial took place at St Mary’s CE Church in Preston in the first week of August 1922. Within the now closed church a memorial plaque contains the names of the 80 men who lost their lives in the Great War. Six of them died in the UK and are buried in Preston Cemetery the others laid to rest in some foreign fields.

It is doubtful that a larger crowd had ever gathered in the Preston Market Square than the one which assembled in mid June 1926 to witness the unveiling of the Preston War Memorial which had replaced the Boer War memorial which had been moved to Avenham Park.

A dense crowd of people even filled the adjoining streets. In the centre of the square the military gathered and the memorial was lined with ex servicemen and women. The man chosen to perform the ceremony was the distinguished Admiral of the Fleet Earl Jellicoe, who pulled the cord which saw the Union Flag fall away to uncover the sculptured figure of Victory.

In his speech he remarked that it was a great honour to take part in a ceremony in recognition of the almost 2,000 men of Preston who had given their lives for King and country during the Great War.

The memorial was built to the design of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who was the grandson of Sir George Gilbert Scott, the man who had designed the Preston Town Hall of Victorian days. The sculptor who toiled long to create the 70ft tall monument was Henry Alfred Pegram.

The memorial, carved from Portland stone, has a square, slightly tapered column and at the front is the tableaux which depicts grieving Victory in armour, holding aloft two laurel crowns, surrounded by representations of the dead.

At the very top of the monument there is sculptured an empty tomb with cherubs and strands of foliage carved around it.

The names of the servicemen honoured are inscribed on marble tablets within the Harris Museum, which Roll of Honour is on permanent display on the ground floor.

As recently as 2013 the memorial was fully modernised and extended, and now includes carvings in recognition of those who lost their lives in the Second World War and subsequent conflicts. It is regarded as an exceptional Grade I listed war memorial.

* These war memorials and much more can be found within the pages of Keith Johnson's latest book Preston Military Heritage (Amberley).