Remembrance in Stroud
PUBLISHED: 17:35 04 November 2014
Many men from Stroud lost their lives in World War 1. Philip Goodwin discusses the unique memorial at Woodchester Priory, which may have been the first in the country to honour the casualties of the Great War.
Many of us are remembering in 2014 the outbreak of the Great War one hundred years ago. The horrors that Stroud men met when they went to the Western Front in the hope of liberating Belgium and then France and elsewhere are well known today and we wonder at the courage of those who went to face the slaughter in the trenches and on the battlefield. Many tributes are still paid to the memory of those that made the ultimate sacrifice at each village and town memorial.
Some Stroud people may be aware that they were the first in the country to have a memorial for those that fell. Their sacrifice left their loved ones in shock and grief and it was the people of Stroud and the surrounding villages who first felt the need to express their grief with a memorial, proposed by the Dominican Prior of Woodchester Priory, Hugh Pope, on June 3 1916. Nothing of this sort existed in the whole country. He wanted to provide a place where his “neighbours” in the Stroud district could remember their sons, fathers and brothers. As he said in his proposal,“They went out with a handshake and their place knew them no more.”
He gave the land fronting the A46. Mr Thomas Falconer, an architect from Amberley, designed the monument, Messrs Wall of Cheltenham cut the stone plinth in its cruciform shape, Mr Leigh of Woodchester Park gave the stone and Mr Workman gave the wood. Donations from the general public were requested and exactly a year later on June 3 1917, the Wayside Cross was opened with a crowd of 2-3000 Stroud people. Over £300 had been collected and names from all over the district were then inscribed on the plaques at the base of the Cross. The road was widened by Messrs Newman & Hender to accommodate the crowds.
The first name inscribed was Lieutenant Maurice Dease who won the Victoria Cross in August 1914 for defending the allied troops with a machine gun on the bridge at Mons until he was shot five times and then died. He was the first V C awarded in the war and the first name inscribed on this the first war memorial. He was not a Stroud man, but frequently stayed with his aunt Clementina Mostyn at Woodchester. We are just coming up to the centenary of his death on August 23rd. other inscriptions among the 141 named heroes include Lt. William Jennings whose rescue in the Storming of La Boiselle earned his rescuer Private Thomas Turrell the VC, and Lt. George Archer Shee, who was later the subject of the play “The Winslow Boy”, who was killed at Ypres.
Stroud people may also take some pride in the fact that at the Wayside Cross on August 4 1918, the third anniversary of the outbreak of the war, the first ever Remembrance Sunday was held at the Wayside Cross with a congregation of 4-5000 people (according to the Stroud News and County Advertiser). The sermon was given by Cardinal Bourne who came from London to address the crowds.
In its 97-year-history, the Wayside Cross has often been forgotten and neglected, although many older people may still remember large crowds attending Remembrance services on Armistice Day there in the 1930s. However, there is a project for the complete restoration of the monument in this centenary year so that Stroud can once again honour their loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice and who deserve to be remembered and honoured. A major ceremony is planned for Remembrance Sunday, and
people passing from Stroud to Nailsworth may have noticed the work in progress.
If anyone would like to donate money to the monument’s restoration and upkeep, they should get in touch with The Church of the Annunciation, Inchbrook, Stroud. Generous help has already been given by Renishaw plc, Dennis Brown Wood yard, Councillor Dorcas Binns, Nailsworth Comrades Club, The Stuart Singers, Mr James Chamberlain and Mr Alan Hawkins, who will use his great skills as a stonemason to recut all 141 inscriptions of the names of the Fallen of Stroud. Mr Liam McLoughlin has been doing much of the work, and thousands of pounds have been raised in the hopes that the monument may become something which again brings honour to those who died and those who built this fitting memorial.