Dorset remembers: The war memorials of Dorset and the history behind them
PUBLISHED: 14:37 05 November 2018 | UPDATED: 14:47 05 November 2018
To mark the centenary of the end of World War One we visit some of the memorials erected across Dorset to remember the fallen in the ‘war to end all wars’
A BBC poll in 2002 voted Sir Winston Churchill ‘The Greatest Briton’ for his inspirational leadership in World War Two but few realise that, without Churchill’s dogged determination, there would not have been a World War One Armistice in 1918.
His experiences in the mud of the Ploegsteert trenches in the winter 1915-1916, as Colonel of a battalion of Royal Scots Fusiliers, convinced him to return to politics and fight for peace in a better way. Against much opposition, in July 1917, Lloyd George made him Minister of Munitions where Churchill advocated a radically new offensive weapon to end the stalemate at the Western Front - the tank.
Lord Kitchener, as Secretary of State for War, had considered the tank as a defensive novelty but, after his death in 1916, tanks were eventually used as assault vehicles at the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917. The British lines advanced five miles in 17 days.
This signalled the beginning of the end and, in August 1918, 500 tanks supporting 75,000 men proved decisive in the Battle of Amiens. Germany soon capitulated and 11 November 1918 was declared Armistice Day.
Of the 6 million men who had been mobilised, just over 700,000 British troops had perished, and the grateful living determined that their sacrifice would never be forgotten. Permanent memorials were erected in towns and villages across Europe as focal points for remembrance ceremonies on Armistice Day. In Dorset these memorials ranged from cenotaphs, stone pillars and crosses, to stained-glass windows and plaques in stone, bronze and brass, mostly inscribed with the names of those who lost their lives in some foreign field.
On the road junction island opposite Clayesmore School grounds, the triangular sandstone memorial column, with representation of a soldier with rifle, bayonet and puttees, stands on a four¬-stepped base. A bronze plaque bears the names of five Sutton Waldron men, 14 Iwerne Minster men and two Red Cross nurses, Minnie Monro and Annie Neish, who died whilst serving in military hospitals.
In the shade of ancient trees lining Park Walk, the memorial cross with Saxon intertwined decoration stands on a two-stepped square base and plinth. Made from local sandstone, it is incised with 30 names on two sides. A third is inscribed ‘Lest We Forget. In proud and grateful memory of the Men of Shaftesbury who gave their lives in the Great War 1914-1919’.
In the Recreation Ground off Ridgeway, 44 names are inscribed on the Portland stone column’s bronze plaque ‘In Memory of the Officers and Men of Broadstone District who fell in the war’. In St John the Baptist’s Church in Dunyeats Road, there’s a beautiful triple-section memorial window in the nave’s west wall. Designed by Martin Travers in 1920, it shows a kneeling soldier with his rifle, and a sailor with hands clasped in prayer.
Situated in a hedged garden by the side of the lake, Poole’s brick-and-stone memorial column’s unusual design ensures that a stone cross is visible from all four sides. Built on a lozenge-shaped two-stepped red-brick plinth, the monument bears no names just the date ‘1914-1918’ and ‘They died so that we might live’.
In the first six months of World War One, this rural community was named ‘The bravest village in England’ and recognised by the King for sending the highest proportion of its men to fight.
Inside the Church of the Holy Rood, 24 names are beautifully written on the gold-framed Roll of Honour, stating where and when each man died. The memorial window in the west wall of the tower was designed by Mary Lowndes (1857 – 1929) and made by Lowndes & Drury of London.
St Paul’s Church, next to Hammoon’s thatched Manor House, has a brass memorial cross on its communion table. On the three-tiered square base is inscribed ‘In memory of (three named men) who gave their lives for their Country in the Great War’ and, on the lower tier, ‘And as a token of thankfulness for the safe return of their Comrades in Arms’.
Inside St Nicholas’ Church, 28 names are beautifully written on the framed illuminated Roll of Honour. Outside, the names of these ‘Men of Child Okeford and Hanford who served their King and Country in the Great War’ are inscribed on the octagonal sandstone base of the memorial pillar, which stands at the road junction opposite the Baker Arms.
The monumental Portland stone cenotaph at New Ground overlooks Chesil Beach. Inscribed ‘In memory of our glorious dead 1914-1918’ the plinth’s upper level bears 237 incised names of the men who died in the Great War. The lower level carries the names of those who died in World War Two.
Inside St Laurence’s Church, on the nave’s south wall, a highly polished brass plaque bears the inscription ‘In grateful remembrance of the Men of this Parish who laid down their lives in the Great War 1914-1918’, together with their 17 names.
At the east end of the Promenade, Weymouth’s seafront cenotaph was dedicated on 6 November 1921. The square Portland stone pillar has a square capital incised ‘1914-1919’ inside a laurel wreath. Bronze plaques on all four sides, covering nearly the whole surface of the column, bear 383 names of the men who ‘Answered the call of their King and Country and gave their lives in the Great War’.
The Arts & Crafts’ memorial is located at the Debenham family’s Bladen Valley estate. It was designed by Eric Gill (1882-1940), one of the most celebrated sculptors of his time. The slender limestone column, with effigies of a woman feeding her baby and a soldier with his sword, bears the inscription ‘To those who fell in the Great War 1914¬-1919’ and seven names incised on the plinth.
Unique in Dorset, the memorial cairn overlooking Swanage beach is built with massive, rough-hewn, locally quarried Portland stone blocks. On the south face, the inscribed stone plaque reads ‘In Memory of Swanage men who fell in the Great War’. The other sides bear a total of 99 names, a huge number for a small town.
Two churches in High East Street have memorial plaques outside but the impressive rectangular Portland stone Cenotaph in South Walk, unveiled on 24 May ‘Empire Day’ 1921, is Dorchester’s major World War One monument. Four cast-bronze plaques bear the names of 238 men and one woman, Nurse Constance Hodges. Another is inscribed ‘In Memory of those of Dorchester who gave their lives in the Great War for King and Country’.
Outside the Saxon St Martin’s-on-the-Walls Church stands the Portland stone ‘shaft-and-wheel’ memorial cross on a three-stepped octagonal base with 72 incised and black¬-painted names, 12 on each side.
The west face is inscribed ‘In memory of the brave men who gave their lives for King and Country in the Great War 1914-1918’.
In a grass bank in the north-east corner of Fordington Cemetery, behind St George’s Church, a stone memorial commemorates 45 German soldiers who are buried here, once inmates of the prisoner of war camp based just outside Dorchester. The memorial depicts a kneeling German soldier with bowed head and holding a rifle. The inscription reads ‘Hier ruhen Deutsche Krieger in fremder Erde doch unvergessen’ (Here lie German soldiers in a foreign land but not forgotten).