The Blackdown Hills War Memorials Project was borne from a conversation between Andy and Steve during a coffee break at the Museum of Somerset. High on news agendas of the day were troubling stories about theft of metal plaques from memorials, and their trade amongst unscrupulous scrap dealers. Having recently completed a university project on the memorials of Devon and Somerset Andy was also aware that many older memorials were suffering markedly from the effects of weathering and their inscriptions becoming faint. Given that there is no comprehensive database of UK memorials it became clear that we are in danger of losing valuable information. As testaments to the sacrifice made by brave men and women in the name of freedom and service to their country we decided something must be done to record our memorials before something is lost that cannot be recovered.
The threats to UK war memorials are manifold, including theft, vandalism, development, accidental damage and weathering. Sadly, the War Memorials Trust reports that in 2011 there were 60 attacks on memorials across the UK. A notable case from the local region concerns the Plymouth Hoe memorial where metal plaques listing the names of the city’s war dead were stolen in 2008. Our war memorials therefore need protecting. They have no state protection, apart from a very few that have listed building status. Along with commemorating the noble war dead, they are special in other ways too. They represent a localised, community-based act of remembrance. In a modern digital world of centralised data storage, our war memorials tell an increasingly rare local story of contemporary social networks and attitudes with a clear West Country accent.
There are official projects that seek to record UK memorials but unfortunately their resources are limited, impacting on the rate they can assess the estimated 100,000 memorials in the UK. We want to take a relatively small area like the AONB and make a record of all the memorials in that area. The benefits of this work are many. Not only will it work provide a valuable database of information on memorials, but it will give a picture of the state of preservation of the memorials in the AONB, and for the first time provide an accurate map of their distribution and an accurate figure for their total number across the Blackdown Hills. Researchers of war memorials of the southwest will for the first time have a complete record for a given area.
As part of our work we hope to highlight some of the more interesting memorials and via our leaflet and website suggest those that should be visited as part of a historic tour of the Blackdown Hills along with wartime attractions such as the numerous airfields and museums.
We will also have a database of names of those who gave their lives for such an honourable cause. At some point in the future this will be made accessible via the internet and you will be able to search for names of local servicemen and women. We hope this feature will have global appeal since international forces passed through the area during World War II, including the 439th Troop Carrier Group USAAF, 101st Airborne Division and 82nd Airborne Division US Army, who set off for the continent from RAF Upottery. Many of these brave men would never return and they are commemorated at a distinctive memorial a mile from the airfield.
We want your input! If you know of any memorials that are lesser known, perhaps off the beaten track, then please get in contact either via email firstname.lastname@example.org, or via the blog where you can leave a comment on any of the posts.
The project is run by the Hemyock History and Archiving Association and ends in August 2013. It is funded by Making It Local, a locally managed grants scheme in the Blackdown Hills and East Devon AONB areas, incorporating funding from the EU, Defra and Leader. The project is also supported by the Blackdown Hills AONB Sustainable Development Fund.