Stansted War Memorial

The original Stansted War Memorial

As World War One drew to a close people across Great Britain reflected on the need for a permanent memorial to those who fell. The Peace Procession held in London in November 1919 was marked by a temporary wood and plaster cenotaph in Whitehall, designed by Sir William Nicholson. It was replaced by November 1920 with the Portland stone Cenotaph seen today and designed by Sir William Lutyens.

Widespread discussion in the press over commemoration resulted in the War Memorials Local Authorities’ Powers Act that received Royal Assent on 18 July 1923. This empowered Local Authorities to levy a specified rate to construct and maintain a war memorial.

At their March 1919 meeting, the Parish Council decided upon the provision of a tablet, engraved with the names of the fallen, to be fixed to the interior east wall of St Mary’s Church. There would be a cross on the exterior, and another tablet on the wall of Stansted School. In the event, these latter two were not implemented. A sub-committee of Ms Berry, Mr Brown, Mr Debenham, Mrs Milton, Rev. Fisher, Mrs Pitt, Colonel Pitt, Mr Webb, Sir G Hohler and Mr Manley would plan and devise the implementation. The tablet was unveiled on 10 March 1920. It can be seen beneath the east window in St Mary’s Church.

The desire for a more substantial and publicly visible memorial remained and the Parish Council recorded in their records the conveyance of a parcel of land for this purpose. Sir Gerald Hohler of Court Lodge, Stansted, together with his brother Thomas Hohler of Fawkham Manor, were instrumental in the creation of the now well-known war memorial. Sir Gerald owned a drovers’ pond at the foot of Windmill Hill (now Stansted Hill) and offered it as the site of the proposed memorial.

The original Stansted War Memorial statue by Alajos Strobl (1856 – 1926)

Sir Thomas Hohler, KCMG, CB, JP, who in 1920 was the Head of the British Legation in Budapest, Hungary, was in touch with cultural trends and figures in that country. He was aware that the sculptor Alajos Strobl (1856 – 1926) had created a statue of a female palm-bearer in 1898. While Sir Gerald was contemplating the erection of a memorial, Thomas suggested Strobl could create a modified version with a different head which would be more suitable for the proposed War Memorial.

The bronze figure was cast in Budapest by the well-known foundry ‘Galliés Vignale’. Sir Gerald meanwhile, prepared and readied a Portland Stone square base and the names of the fallen in the Great War were carved into the memorial stone as a lasting tribute.

Many years later Dr Peter Pitt recalled an interesting story about the memorial – a few people involved in the planning stage had met on the site to arrange for a wooden mock-up of the pedestal to be erected. Sir Gerald Hohler had climbed up and held his umbrella aloft to represent the olive branch of the proposed statue. Mrs Drummond happened to drive past and remarked “Very nice, but did they have to have the statute so like Sir Gerald”!!

Sir Gerald Hohler at the unveiling of the memorial in 1923

One hitch before the memorial was to be erected was the delivery of the bronze statue from Hungary to Stansted in Essex as opposed to Stansted in Kent – an event repeated more than once since that time!

The memorial was unveiled by Colonel and Mrs Pitt from Fairseat House whose only two sons had been killed in action during the War. The sadness and emotion at the ceremony can only be imagined. This took place on Sunday 15th July 1923 and was accompanied by a dedication by Dr John Harmer, Bishop of Rochester, and Reverend F. Fisher, the Rector of Stansted.

All who saw it immediately valued the bronze statue of a young man bearing a palm bough. Its striking beauty and simplicity resonated with the lives of the many young people of the locality who had served in the Great War. About a quarter of those who served overseas did not return, a huge impact for these small village communities. It is placed superbly against the rolling downs and faces almost directly to the setting sun, which illuminates it emotively during summer evenings.

On Stansted Memorial, the list of names for WW1 is by military rank followed by alphabetical order. Other memorials listed the names of their dead servicemen in alphabetical order by surname and military ranks are secondary information (if included at all).

 

 

TO THE FALLEN 1914 – 1918
LIEUT. COLONEL A.G. KEMBALL C.B., D.S.O 54TH CANADIANS
MAJOR W.N PITT 2ND BN LINCOLNSHIRE REGT.
LIEUT. AND ADJUTANT J.M. PITT 1ST BN. DORSET REGT.
LIEUT. G.A. GOODMAN ROYAL AIR FORCE
SERGT. MAJOR A. KIRTON 11TH BN. AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL FORCE
CO. SERGT. MAJOR J.F. JOHNSON 9TH BN. KINGS ROYAL RIFLE CORPS.
PRIVATE A.T. BETTS ROYAL ARMY SERVICE CORPS.
GUARDSMAN H.T. BLACKMAN 1ST BN. GRENADIER GUARDS
DRIVER F. BOWYER ROYAL ENGINEERS
PRIVATE L.V BROWN 2ND BN. ROYAL WEST SURREY REGT.
DRIVER V.R. BROWN ROYAL FIELD ARTILLERY
PRIVATE E.C. BURNETT 1ST BN. ROYAL WEST KENT REGT.
PRIVATE L.A. MARTIN 28TH BN. AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL FORCE
PRIVATE L.A. SOLOMAN POST OFFICE RIFLES
PRIVATE B.R STREATFIELD 7TH BN. ROYAL WEST KENT REGT.

 

Note: a biography for each of these servicemen is included on the website under ‘Memorials’ in the ‘People’ section. The ‘History’ page of the website includes a ‘WW1 timeline’ showing the chronology of the battles and information on when the fifteen local servicemen died.

The biographies include two sets of brothers from Fairseat (Messrs. Pitt and Brown), a former serviceman who had retired to become a fruit farmer in Canada (Arnold Kemball), one of the last people to die in action in Italy (Gilbert Goodman) and a lad from Australia who had the opportunity to go home but stayed and was killed in Cairo (Alex Kirton).

These names are read aloud each year during the Act of Remembrance in November and a biography of each is included on this website under Memorials in the People section.

The Roll of Honour in the Church contains the name of 63 men who served overseas during WW1 including 14 who died. Because Driver Victor Brown did not serve overseas his name is omitted from the Roll of Honour. However, he became ill whilst in the Army and died shortly after being discharged and this secured his name on the memorial next to that of his older brother, Lionel. Victor Brown is also the only one of the 15 fatalities from WW1 to be buried in the UK (in St Mary’s churchyard).

In March 1915 to avoid the difficult transportation of war fatalities, the British Government decided that Imperial soldiers should be buried where they had fallen and should remain there. This was highly controversial at the time and led to the establishment of military cemeteries and ultimately to the formation of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It follows that the only CWGC headstones to be seen in the UK are of servicemen who died in the UK.

There was no official method of gathering and recording names on memorials. In small villages like Stansted and Fairseat, the gathering of names was probably done by word of mouth and checking details was a manageable task. In large towns, this was a much more difficult process and many mistakes were made.

The level of connection to an area that governed whether a name was included on a memorial or not was also left to local discretion. As a result, some of the names on the Stansted memorial are of men who were born in the area and who had lived there most of their lives and others who had a more remote link. Also, some of the names are also recorded on memorials in other towns and villages.

Stansted War Memorial inscription of Kipling’s ‘Recessional’

The poem inscribed on the back (eastern) side of the main plinth is based on ‘Recessional’, a poem by Rudyard Kipling which was composed for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, in 1897.

God of our fathers, known of old, Lord of our far-flung battle-line, Beneath whose awful hand we hold Dominion over palm and pine
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget – lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies; The Captains and the Kings depart: Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice, An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget – lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away; On dune and headland sinks the fire: Lo, all our pomp of yesterday Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet, Lest we forget – lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe, Such boastings as the Gentiles use, Or lesser breeds without the Law
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget – lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust In reeking tube and iron shard, All valiant dust that builds on dust, And, guarding, calls not Thee to guard;
For frantic boast and foolish word – Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!

 

Sir Gerald had previously donated the Memorial to Stansted Parish Council and on his death in 1934, he bequeathed to the Parish Council a strip of land around the memorial to be planted as a garden together with a sum of £300 to be invested for the upkeep of the Memorial.

After World War II the names of six servicemen who had died during the war were added to the memorial.

1939 – 45
LIEUT. COLONEL G.C.P. LANCE D.S.O. 7TH SOMERSET LIGHT INFANTRY
WING-COMMANDER C.G. HOHLER ROYAL AIR FORCE
PETTY OFFICER C.K. HOOPER ROYAL NAVY
LEADING STOKER A.W. COLEGATE ROYAL NAVY
PRIVATE E.R. GOULD 8TH BN. THE ROYAL SCOTS REGT.
PILOT OFFICER P.A. NASH ROYAL AIR FORCE

Note: a biography for each of these servicemen is included on the website under ‘Memorials’ in the ‘People’ section.

The WW2 biographies include 2 Royal Navy men whose ships were sunk by the Scharnhorst and the Theile (Messrs Arthur Colegate and Charles Hooper), a Wing-Commander who disappeared over Malta (Craven Hohler) and an Army career man who was killed in action just after D-Day (Geoffrey Lance).

In October 1964 the statue was sadly stolen by tearing it from the stone plinth, probably with a lorry and ropes. Understandably, there was outrage. Chairman of the Parish Council, Vivian Walton noted the theft as ‘absolutely appalling’, while Colonel Wintle denounced the theft of this ‘much-loved village landmark’.

1965 Newspaper article regarding the war memorial statue theft

The following article by George Hollingbery was published in a local newspaper:

The olde worlde village of Stansted, Kent, awoke today seething with anger and bitterness. For in the darkness of night thieves plundered the village of its most precious and treasured possession, a beautifully sculptured war memorial to the 15 heroes of Stansted who fell in the First World War.

The raiders drew slowly into the village at 3 a.m. They trundled their lorry on to the neatly kept grass verge, smashing down the own chain-link rail. Then they pulled down the £3,000 bronze statue of a naked man holding palm leaves from its ten-foot high white stone plinth probably using the lorry in the operation.

One of the first people to discover the raid was the village postman. Soon villagers gathered on the memorial green in silent groups. Exclaimed Col. A. D. Wintle, professional soldier and author who fought in two world wars, and who now lives in the village: “This is an outrage. It was an attractive memorial and everyone here was very proud of it.’

As more villagers made their way to the village centre, Mrs Blowey, wife of the Rector, the Rev. Harry F. T Blowey, who was awarded the OBE while serving as a gunnery officer in the First World War, said: “It is sacrilege. We are all terribly upset, and frightened that the thieves will melt down the bronze statue before the police can recover it.”
Another villager said: “Our memorial is a work of art and was presented by Sir George Hohler, MP.” And as detectives in Kent were ordered to find the statue, cottagers appealed to the thieves: “ This was a memorial to 15 brave young men who gave their lives for our country. Please do not betray them.”

Memorial dedication by the Rev Blowey in 1965

Fortunately, the statue was recovered from a quarry near Swanley, Kent, and following repairs was replaced securely and rededicated by Rev Blowey who earlier had remarked on the anxiety felt by many that the very valuable statue might have been melted down for almost valueless scrap metal.

The importance of the memorial was recognised by Historic England in 1984 when it was given a Grade II listing with the following citation “Memorial to the fallen of the First World War. Circa 1920. A tall square stone pedestal on a low plinth, with a nude male figure above looking straight ahead and holding a palm in outstretched arms.” Ref: 1236154

Information on the second theft of the statue in 1965 and the subsequent casting of a replacement figure, is available under the ‘Events’ section of the website which includes a photo gallery.

Author: Tony Piper
Editor: Tony Piper
Contributors: John Mattick, Dick Hogbin
Acknowledgements: N/A
Last Updated: 27 January 2021