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Poole’s wait for a war memorial

Chris Moreton recalls the controversy that surrounded the erection of what is today a familiar landmark in Poole Park

The Poole war memorial

In April 2009 Dorset Life reported an application to English Heritage for the municipal war memorial in Poole Park to be listed, and this was granted at Grade II in September. I made the application as a Regional Volunteer for War Memorials Trust, a charity which protects and conserves Britain’s war memorials. The memorial was dedicated on 16 October 1927, but why did a town of Poole’s size (then 48,000) wait for nine years after the end of the Great War to commemorate its war dead?

The delay in erecting a municipal war memorial provoked much controversy. The first free-standing war memorial in Poole had been dedicated in July 1919 at St Michael’s Church in Hamworthy. Even then, a town memorial was already under discussion. In February 1919 the Council proposed a tower at the Sea View viewpoint on Constitution Hill, and a Convalescent Home for Ex-Servicemen in the town centre. But a public meeting rejected these ideas and soon the Poole Herald was publishing the first of many letters bemoaning indecision. Most agreed that a building would be the best memorial – but what? The Herald published many suggestions, including – from an undemobbed and presumably unwashed soldier still in France – a public bath-house.

The dedication ceremony on 16 October 1927. This photograph belongs to Mrs Monica Johnston, daughter of the architect, James Allner.

In 1919-20 the Herald contained regular reports of war memorial dedications in Poole, including the ornate Broadstone cenotaph by the distinguished sculptor, Gilbert Rayes, also recently listed at Grade II by English Heritage. But in August 1920 an editorial complained that Poole had no municipal war memorial, whilst a village like Iwerne Minster did. During 1921 the paper reported not only new parish memorials but complaints about the tardiness of the Council over a town memorial. The Poole Debating Society discussed the issue in April of that year, when indecision created by the number of options was seen as part the problem. In September local dignitaries attended the unveiling of the Poole School Cross. The headmaster, Mr A J Mockridge, read out the names on the memorial, including his own son, George, and Leo Lilley, the youngest boy at the school when it had opened in 1904. In his address the Mayor of Poole expressed disappointment at the lack of a town memorial. One might think that he of all people could have done something about it.

By December 1922 there was still no action. £200 collected in 1919 for a town memorial was either returned to donors or given to the Cornelia Hospital, as no agreement could be reached on how to spend it. At the unveiling of a memorial in that hospital in December 1922 it was stressed that this was not a substitute for a proper Poole memorial. In the same month the same point was made when the British Legion announced plans for a Poole Ex-Servicemen’s War Memorial Club and Institute in North Road. The Herald used this occasion to berate the Council for having recently refused to set up a committee to promote a town memorial.

The possibly unique scallop and dolphin carvings on top of the memorial

The Ex-Servicemen’s Club opened in May 1923 and is still used by the Royal British Legion. But the town memorial issue fell quiet again until the Club’s first anniversary. The Treasurer, Captain G J Pitt, then urged the Council to act. Six more months passed, until the 1924 Remembrance Day ceremonies. Captain Pitt then wrote to the Herald to announce a fund to construct a cenotaph in front of the Club, since the Council refused to pay for one. Arguments began about location, the Herald preferring a site by the Library in the High Street, where Remembrance Day services were held. But 1924 closed with a breakthrough. The new Mayor, Alderman Herbert Carter, raised the question of a town memorial at his inauguration in November. The British Legion Secretary, Mr T Crowe, asked him to call a public meeting and launch a public subscription. Carter and Branch President Lt-Col Hatton Budge agreed to do this. Herbert Carter was one of Poole’s great Mayors, holding the post five times, and his influence was about to tell.

A committee chaired by Carter was set up in February 1925, and decided on a cenotaph or a Garden of Remembrance rather than a building. The Herald published a letter from Carter in March, stating that ‘something must be done to wipe away the reproach’ of a town like Poole having no municipal war memorial. By the end of March a site had been chosen. The Sea View viewpoint was rejected as it was a venue for coach parties, so lacked the right atmosphere for a war memorial. Also, it was too exposed in mid-November for Remembrance Day services. A lakeside site in Poole Park, described as a ‘secluded corner’, was chosen instead. The Herald was relieved that a decision had been taken and regularly published subscription lists, the first headed by Herbert Carter’s donation of £50.

The Burma Star memorial rose garden and the Mountbatten memorial make a satisfying assembly with the war memorial

Subsequent subscription lists showed much less generosity, and in September 1926 Carter wrote to the Herald to apologise for the continued delay. He complained that only the poorer central areas of Poole had contributed their fair share. Poole has a long and illustrious history but had been in decline for many decades before 1914. As a result, suburbs appeared to lack the civic pride to contribute to a municipal memorial and preferred to spend their money on their own parish memorials. Carter’s letter was a final appeal. They would go ahead with what they had. A spurt from £690 to £850 followed and in December the Herald published plans for the memorial by Mr James Allner FRIBA, Diocesan Architectural Surveyor to the Archdeaconry of Dorset. New memorial gates into Poole Park would lead to a slender 25-foot-high cross in local stone, built in 15th-century style – one of Poole’s most prosperous eras. The cross on top would have carved suggestions of the dolphin and scallops on the Poole coat of arms. The inscription (now sadly eroded) would read: ‘They died that we might live. We will remember them.’ Surrounding architecture would be of brick made from local clay, the whole surrounded by circular paving and approached by steps.

In October the Herald announced the imminent unveiling ceremony. It criticised the indecision which had caused the reproach to the town of a nine-year delay, and welcomed the development of an appropriate site for Remembrance Day services. On 16 October 1927 the memorial was dedicated, ironically with only one column and three photographs in the Herald, compared with greater coverage of memorials unveiled in the immediate post-war years. A big turnout of the great and the good of Poole graced the occasion, with army units, the British Legion, the fire brigade, the lifeboat service, Scouts, Guides and local bands and choirs. Rev. C Egerton Williams, Rector of Poole, conducted the ceremony, supported by Non-Conformist ministers. The dominant figure of Mayor Herbert Carter presided at the end of three successive terms of office. A few days later the Prince of Wales visited Poole and laid a wreath. He declared that the monument was unique – there can’t be many war memorials decorated with scallops and dolphins. On 11 November 1927 the Remembrance Day service took place there for the first time.

The memorial gates. The shield on the left bears the words, ‘God grant our town may worthy prove of these – her sons’ and the one on the right ‘Remember 1914-18’.

So at last Poole had a municipal war memorial. Today there are adjacent memorials to the Burma Star Association and to Lord Mountbatten, two of many memorials to Poole’s substantial role in World War 2. Credit goes to Herbert Carter and to the British Legion for persuading the people of Poole that, after years of dithering and lack of civic self-confidence, the Great War deserved a municipal memorial, and for obtaining one worthy to do honour to the sacrifice of local lives. Late in 2009, after representations from War Memorials Trust and Councillor Philip Eades, the Council agreed to proceed with restoration work to ensure that this important memorial continues to fulfil its purpose.

Anyone interested in war memorials can contact War Memorials Trust at:
War Memorials Trust
42a Buckingham Palace Road
London SW1W 0RE
Tel 0300 123 0764
www.warmemorials.org
Over 55,000 war memorials are recorded in the United Kingdom National Inventory of War Memorials at www.ukniwm.org.uk, although there are thought to be at least another 40,000 unrecorded.

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