Although the language is old-fashioned, this front-page report in the South London Press conveys something of the emotions of loss, regret and pride the local community felt in the years after the end of the war. The details – the women carrying “wreaths or little bunches of flowers, according to circumstances” – carry a poignancy even all these years later.
The afternoon of the unveiling ended with a terrific downpour, and this must have felt to many like the release of the unbearable tensions of the day.
Stockwell’s War Memorial is now largely ignored by the local population, although it provides a place for the most vulnerable and lost of society to sit during the day. But it should be remembered that this was once a place of spiritual and emotional power for Stockwellians, who, through the First World War, had suffered the greatest loss of life the world had ever known.
South London Press
Friday May 5, 1922
TO STOCKWELL MEN
Princess Alice Unveils Memorial to Over 500 Gallant Citizens
STRIKING CEREMONY BEFORE LARGE GATHERING.
Before a gathering of many thousands and with a ceremony worthy of the occasion, Stockwell War Memorial was unveiled on Wednesday by Princess Alice (Countess of Athlone). The memorial stands in a prominent position at the junction of South Lambeth-rd. and Clapham-rd., and for some hours before the ceremony was announced to take place the large open space surrounding the garden site, upon which the memorial tower has been erected, was thronged with a densely packed crowd. In its way, it was a unique ceremony, and the interest could hardly have been surpassed has it been a national instead of local affair. Among the onlookers were many ex-Service men and women wearing medals and decorations, and a large number of women in mourning, carrying wreaths or little bunches of flowers, according to circumstances, to place at the foot of the memorial in honour of their fallen. This spontaneous appreciation on the part of so many thousands came as a fitting tribute to the perseverence and endeavour, in the face of many difficulties and set-backs, on the part of the committee.
Not only were the streets packed, but from railings, surrounding windows and house-tops, and other points of vantage, eager spectators watched the unveiling. The solemnity of the occasion was well remembered, and standing in the centre during the actual ceremony, everywhere was so hushed and quiet that it was hard to realise, without looking round, that masses of men, women and children were closing in on all sides. Occasionally a tram would clank its way through, but even these paused, as faintly at first, but swelling into one great chorus, the words of the hymn, “Oh God, our Help in Ages Past” were caught up by the waiting hundreds. Amid the same reverent silence came with marked distinctness the words of prayer and benediction pronounced in solemn and impressive tones.
Princess Alice was accompanied by the Earl of Athlone, and was met by the Mayor of Lambeth (Councillor W. S. Bishop), who attended with the aldermen and members of the borough council, all wearing their robes of office. As the Princess drove up, a guard of honour, composed of a detachment of the East Surrey Regiment, under Capt. Bayliss, received her with a royal salute, the guard presenting arms and the band playing the National Anthem. Their Highnesses inspected the guard of honour with the Mayor, who afterwards presented the aldermen and members of the council to them. Ona small platform erected in front of the memorial were the Countess and Earl of Athlone, the Bishop of Kingston (Rt. Rev. P. M. Herbert), the Mayor, the Town Clerk, Rev. J. Smyth Wood (Trinity Presbyterian Church, Clapham-rd.), Rev. H. Elkerton (St. John, Clapham-rd.), Capt. W. M. Young, M.B.E. (chairman Memorial Committee), and Mr. Samuel Bowller (hon. secretary). Inside the enclosure were the members of the borough council and their ladies, Mr. H. G. Purchase, M.P. (Kennington), and representative municipal and local men and women, together with a large number of subscribers. At the far end were the choir of boys and girls from Stockwell (Spurgeon’s) Orphanage, and the band of “W” Division Metropolitan Police. Detachments of the British Red Cross (Lambeth division), under Miss Breese, Church Lads’ Brigade and Girls’ Life Brigade were also present. Besides the chairman and secretary, the committee consisted of Messrs. P. Bryman, L. Charles, H. C. Howard, D. M. Jones, H. King, J. Mayo, W. M. Morgan, H. W. Norman, S. H. Stanley, and S. Streeter.
The ceremony opened with the singing of “Thy Will be Done” (W. Partridge) by the Orphanage Choir, and the playing, as the assembly stood bare-headed, of Chopin’s “Marche Funebre” by the “W” Division band. Impressively and solemnly, Rev. J. Smyth Wood then read the opening sentences, the first in the burial service; that, alas, in these days so familiar epitaph. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”; and then those words of mingled pride and comfort, “Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name liveth for evermore.” One of hte most affecting parts of the whole ceremony was the singing, led by the choir of children’s voices, of “Oh God, our Help in Ages Past,” when save for the melody of the hymn, all round was hushed – and echo of an unforgettable incident during the unveiling of the Cenotaph in Whitehall two years ago,. Standing at the foot of the platform, facing the monument and people, Rev. H. Elderton read out the first nine verses of the third chapter of Wisdom, that striking epitome of the hope and solace which comes from faith.
“TO THE MEN OF STOCKWELL.”
Captain Young, as chairman of the Memorial Committee, invited Princess Alice to unveil the memorial. It was a day, he said, long looked forward to by the people of Stockwell. On the memorial were engraved some 560 names, but he committee recognised in spite of their energies, they could not expect to have compiled a complete roll. The memorial was, therefore, erected to the glorious memory of the men of Stockwell who returned not again. It was hoped that, directed with such a purpose, the memorial might be a source of comfort to all passers-by who had sorrowing recollections of the Great War. It was his privilege, added Capt. Young, to ask Her Royal Highness to accepted their best thanks for consenting to perform the unveiling.
Stepping down fromthe platform, Princess Alice released the Union Jack covering the face of the memorial, and so unveiled it with the simple words: “To the glorious and lasting memory of the men of Stockwell, who laid down their lives for their King and Country.” Breaking the silence which followed, rang out the notes of the “Last Post,” sounded by buglers of the East Surrey Regiment, followed by the “Rouse.” The clock in the tower was at the same time set going. “For all the Saints” followed, and then the dedication by the Bishop of Kingston.
Mr. Samuel Bowller, on behalf of the committee and subscribers to the memorial fund, formally presented the Mayor the deeds of the garden site, and the key of the memorial tower, to be held in perpetuity for the inhabitants of the borough.
The Mayor said he had very much pleasure in formally accepting the deeds of the memorial and garden site surrounding it, particularly as for many years it had been an unbuilt-on space, but more or less enclosed as far as the public was concerned. He was glad that now it would be open to the public for ever, especially as it had erected upon it such an excellent memorial to the men of Stockwell. Expressing his thanks on behalf of the borough to the Earl and Countess of Athlone, the Mayor said that they were very humble people, but they did heartily thank the Earl and Countess, and extend to them cordial welcome.
STRIKING FLORAL TRIBUTES.
A wreath from the executive committee was placed at the foot of the tower by Princess Alice, and the ceremony concluded with the Benediction by the Bishop and the National Anthem. Many beautiful wreaths, including one striking tribute from a “Few old Stockwell Boys,” and another from the Brixton and Kennington branch of the National Citizens’ Union, were afterwards laid around the base of the memorial. For some time, a constant stream of people passed round the memorial, some scanning the names for that of one belonging to them, others placing wreaths and flowers, until the storm which had threatened all the afternooon, but fortunately had held off during the actual ceremony, burst, and dispersed the crowd.
Selected by the War Memorials Committee of Royal Academicians from designs submitted by forty British architects, the memorial takes the form of a cenotaph-shaped tower, terraced and with steps leading up to the base. It is forty-five feet high, built of Portland stone, and displays a four-dials clock. On the font, above the door, is a figure symbolical of “Remembrance,” and the carved inscription: “To the Stockwell men who served in the Great War, 1914-1919.” On a wall of the camber and visible through the door grille, is a marble slab inscribed with the names of the members of the committee. The five hundred and seventy names are those of men whose homes were within half a mile of the memorial, the freehold of which was acquired by the committee and conveyed to the borough council, has been laid out as a public garden by the council and will be retained as such by them.
© South London Press