01. Who or What looks after War Memorials?
This depends on where it is.
If inside a building, the owners of the building are responsible.
If outside, it will be the local Council unless Trustees were appointed.
Many memorials were handed over to the local Council at the unveiling ceremony.
If nobody lays claim to the main outdoor memorial, the local parish or borough council has the power to assume responsibility and to use local funds for its maintenance.
02. How many War Memorials are there in the UK?
It is estimated that there will be over 100,000. There are over 4,600 in the north east alone.
The number will never be absolute. People are still erecting memorials to the the two Great Wars, and there have been recent conflicts in which those who took part have been commemorated.
03. Which is the oldest War Memorial in the UK?
What do you mean by old? There is a modern one to the Roman Legions at Vindolanda!
The Ancient Battlefields Society logs memorials from battles such as Heavenfield, Otterburn, Flodden. The ones we list are mainly from the Crimea onwards.
04. Why can I not find my ancestor’s name on the War Memorial?
The placing of names on memorials was not obligatory. The authorities left it to local communities to organise their own memorials, to raise funds for their erection and for their upkeep in the future.
Usually local War Memorial Committees were set up and they organised the fund raising and collection of names. Local newspapers, parish magazines, school journals and similar publications carried advertisements listing names collected so far and asking for any others. The War Memorial Committees tried very hard to ensure that as many names were included as possible.
As well as on outdoor monuments, names can be found on memorials at their residence, their schools, their churches and chapels, their places of work and where they played – cricket, rugby, football, Working Men’s clubs, and so forth.
Often there was an interval of a few years between the end of the war and the creation of a memorial, and many things could have happened in that period of time.
• A family might not want to have the name added, because they simply wanted to put the past behind them and get on with their lives.
• A mother might say that her son needed no memorial as his name was engraved on her heart.
• The dead man might have left a widow and children, and these might have had to move away in order to survive. She might, for example, have been forced to leave a tied house.
• The dead man’s widow might have married again and wanted to put the past behind her.
• The casualty may have been an orphan or, if an only child, his/her parents might have died in the interval, leaving no family to propose his/her name for inclusion on the list.
• The casualty may have been of a differing religious denomination, and was therefore excluded if, for example, Non-Conformists and Roman Catholics were not to be listed on a "Parish" Memorial. These churches might well have provided a memorial for their own members.
• Some families refused to accept that their loved one was dead and went to their own graves still hoping for a safe return. To add his name to the memorial meant accepting the unthinkable.
• Some men may have changed their names to escape criminal justice, or to sign up without their parents' knowledge, and their real name, and fate, was not known.
• If the man were shot at dawn, the family or the local population might not want to include his name. This would be a local decision, because there was never any decree from the authorities that their names should not be added.
• In the case of the Second World War - with fewer casualties - there was some reluctance to fund additional names on an existing Memorial.
05. How can I have a name added to a memorial?
Answer: To add a name to a memorial
We would like to insert a note of caution here and urge researchers to try and find out why a name was omitted in the first place before they proceed, because they might - for instance - be going against the family’s wishes. With the passage of time, this argument is weakening, and whatever the cause was before, the families now might well be only too pleased to add the name.
We suggest, too, that a check is made that the names are not included on another local memorial. Parish and county boundaries have changed over the years and there was often an overlap. Do a surname search on the NEWMP website to check. We also suggest that researchers look for variations of spelling of surnames, for example, Mathew or Matthew.
Firstly, find out who owns the memorial.
War memorials are very much local affairs, and central government has nothing to do with them. Parish and town councils have authority under an Act of Parliament of 1923 to erect and maintain their local memorials.
- If it is a public memorial, go to the local authority – the parish or town council, and negotiate with them.
- There is a move to have all free standing open air memorials and lych-gates recorded as Listed, usually Grade II. Up until 2015, this meant that permission for any adjustment would need to be sought from Heritage England (formerly English Heritage). This no longer applies. Heritage England wish to remove the extra barrier, and are happy to list a memorial after its restoration.
- If the memorial is inside a parish church, or in its grounds, a Diocesan Faculty would be needed for any adjustment, and this will add to the cost.
- If it is in a Nonconformist or other denomination of church, you will need to discuss this with their local minister or priest.
- If it is in a school, or club or other private premises, then go directly to the person in charge of such premises and negotiate with them.
- You might also consider creating an individual memorial - a seat in the park, a tree, or on a candlestick in the church. In which case, you will still need to talk to whoever is in charge.
- North East War Memorials Project is happy to carry information on the relevant “Every Name A Story” page on its website under your own name, including any stories or photos which may be attached to the name. Please contact us, and we will be only too happy to oblige. There is no charge
Our aim is to pull all this information into one massive tribute to all those who suffer through war, either because they fought or because they were left to pick up the pieces.
06. Some War Memorials show unit and regiment details, why do they all not?
Money for memorials was gathered locally. The War Memorial Committee made these decisions, and this was often dictated by the funds raised. Sometimes they didn’t put ranks and regiments because they wanted all casualties or servicemen and women who served to be treated equally. You need to look at the original documents of the relevant Committees and organisations to find this sort of information – Record Offices are a vital resource for this purpose.
07. Are all War Memorials accessible?
If outdoor, then theoretically, yes. There are a few exceptions which are in gardens or graveyards where the gate is locked for security reasons.
Many churches are now locked for the same reasons. The authorities, and those in charge of schools, offices, and places of work should all be contacted beforehand.
08. How do I research a War Memorial?
As regards its location and unveiling, start with the local newspaper and/or Diocesan Faculty book if the memorial is inside a Church of England church. This information for the north-east is on our files.
However, for a much fuller explanation please see our section on how to research a War Memorial here
09. Some War Memorials have been moved from their original location. Why?
In some instances, roadworks or other building projects have made it necessary to relocate those in public open places.
In others, the reduction in the number of Chapels and Churches, or the redevelopment of schools, closure of workplaces, has forced the changes. Sometimes, if in a remote situation, they have been brought nearer to people to reduce the chance of vandalism.
We are very keen that a close track is kept by local people on where their own Memorials are, especially when changes such as this are proposed. Please tell us of any changes, so that we can keep our files up to date.
10. There are omissions and errors on War Memorials. Why is this?
Nobody’s perfect! Some men signed on under an assumed name, either to prevent their parents finding out, or to escape civilian justice. People did their honest best at the time.
Despite a common misconception that the population were stable in those days, and did not leave their villages until called up, evidence shows a very significant level of migration, especially to seek work.
Casualties could be commemorated where they lived, where they were born, where they worked, where they played, or where they died.
11. Why are War Memorials important to the UK heritage?
They give a major clue to the massive degree of social upheaval engendered by the Great War.
After the war many men – or their wives & families– couldn’t cope with disfigurement or disability, mental or physical.
Women had taken men’s jobs while they were in the Forces, and had a new found freedom which they were reluctant to relinquish.
Some women found someone else while men were away, and marriages broke up.
Some men who returned found ordinary life too dull and signed on again.
In the Second World War the significant number of RAF, and indeed civilian, casualties reflect the importance of Air Power and the march of technology.
12. Where can I input feedback and comments as well as information about our local War Memorial?
See our feedback form here
13. Where can I get extra information on War Memorials?
See our guide on researching your War Memorial
If you find something we don't have, please tell us - we'll be happy to acknowledge your help!
14. Why are War Memorials missing?
After the 1939-45 War, and during the nineteen fifties and sixties, many people felt that we had dwelt on the World Wars far too long and wanted to put it all behind them.
Added to which, many churches or buildings have been adapted for different use. Memorials were destroyed or thrown out. Some, thankfully, were placed in attics or cellars and are now being restored and put on show with great pride.
Nowadays, with revived interest in the Great War, and the growth in Family History research, the thinking tends to be different. Many memorials are being brought out from hiding places, to be cleaned, restored, or even replaced where necessary, and located where access is available.
15. How many types of War Memorials are there?
How long is a piece of string? There are over 100 different types in the North East. These range from village halls and hospitals to birdbaths; from crosses and statues to school prizes; from mini-roundabouts and bus shelters to church furnishings; from playing fields to annuity funds. There must be many more variations over the whole of the UK.
16. Why are there different shapes of crosses that adorn War Memorials’?
Some of the crosses are based on ancient styles - Celtic, Saxon, for example. Some are named after saints, such as St. Columba. The church dedication would provide a clue.
If you would like to research the background to this design decision for any particular Memorial we would be delighted to host, and credit, the results of your work.
17. What inscriptions are used on War Memorials?
Many are from the Bible, many from war poets or other sources. Some are used over and over again; some are ad hoc
, made to suit the memorial they adorn.
We have a separate section on the Website which lists quotations used and their sources, as far as we have been able to ascertain them. If you can identify the source where none is given please tell us.
Please look here
18. What about the men who were shot at dawn in the Great War?
As far as the authorities were concerned, once these men were dead, that was the end of the matter. They were buried where they fell, and in the fulness of time, they were given exactly the same grave marker as everybody else, bearing just his name, number, rank, regiment and age. Nothing else was added to discriminate them.
Families were allowed to pay for the addition of a few words at the bottom of the headstone, and there is one gravemarker which includes the words "Shot at Dawn". This information was added by his father, who goes on to say that this was a son of whom any father would be proud..
If, as in the case of Hugh Burdon, the grave was blown up or destroyed, the name was added in the appropriate place to those others who had no known grave, such as the Menin Gate, Thiepval, Arras, or in a local CWG cemetery.
When it came to local parish memorials, there was no instruction that their name should not be added to the local war memorial. If such a name is missing, the reason has to be much closer to hand. Either the family has been too shamed to include it, or there has been local antipathy.
19. How do I erect a new memorial?
A war memorial is very much a local affair, nothing to do with government. It's surprising how many people want to erect a memorial now, even to the Great War, and often including modern wars.
There are several things you can do.
- Get a group together of people who are like-minded to form an ad hoc committee. You might like to set up a properly constituted Trust with appointed officials. This might be carried on after the dedication for maintenance, but it is not obligatory and would be decided by you.
- Approach the parish council and see how they feel.
- Planning permission will be required for an outdoor memorial.
- Notify the local regiment or its modern equivalent and /or its museum or archives.
- Involve local schools, churches, shops and businesses, also societies like the Women's Institute, Local History Society, and such like.
- Have good posters made and placed wherever they are acceptable.
- Contact the local branch of the Royal British Legion. They don’t use funds for memorials, these are used for welfare, but they will back you up, might do some fund raising of their own, and certainly put on a good display at the dedication!
- Tell your local M.P. and all the councillors who are involved in your district.
- If you want your memorial inside a parish church, or in parish church grounds, you will need to consult the vicar who will need to get a Faculty from your Diocese, which involves cost.
- If you want it in other privately held grounds, or inside a privately held building, such as a nonconformist church, you will need to involve the owner.
- A letter to a local newspaper could produce funds. These days, newspapers are read over the internet, and people with family connections living away from the district or abroad might well respond.
- Put an article in the church magazine.
- Put an article in the parish newsletter.
- Put a letter through every door.
- Place an appeal on your local village website.
- Keep people updated on progress.
- Decide what kind of memorial you want, and what kind of information is to go on it.
- Get quotations from several stonemasons, or metal plaque makers, and create a budget. Listen to the experts' advice. Sometimes material has to be sourced from around the world.
- Nowadays, a rough boulder with a plaque attached is acceptable.
- If you want names of those who fell on your memorial, then somebody will probably have to research these.
- Make sure accessibility is easy for all.
- If you want flowerbeds and these need to be maintained, ascertain who will do this, and keep grass trimmed.
- Above all, allow time! Don’t say - "we want one next week." Take time, and make sure that what you finally end up with suits most people.
20. Are all outdoor memorials listed by English Heritage?
Some are, and some are not.
There is a plan in 2015 to give Grade II listing to all freestanding outdoor memorials in public places which are more than 30 years old. Those in churchyards are a different matter.
When a memorial from the north-east is listed, we add that information to our files. Heritage England, in turn, is offering to hyperlink on their files back to our files.
If you are thinking of doing some work on your unlisted memorial, Heritage England will not stand in your way. This would take up time. They are prepared to list your memorial after the work has been done as "icing on the cake".