One of the advantages of using a Geographic Information System to map entities like war memorials is that you can create maps based on any particular criteria stored in the database. This gives us the ability to ask certain questions of the data in order to answer specific questions.

A question that could be asked of the Blackdown Hills War Memorials Project is “What regiments are mentioned on the memorials, and what does this tell us about local recruitment?”
A way to approach this is to map mentions of the main local regiments to see if any patterns emerge. The prominent local regiments were the Devonshire Regiment and the Somerset Light Infantry, as well as the Yeomanry of West and North Somerset, below combined with the SLI for ease of use.

If we map the mentions of The Devonshire Regiment then we see that they all occur on the Devon side of the county border:


The locations of war memorials in the AONB that mention The Devonshire Regiment (represented by the regimental badge). Devon – Somerset border shown as dotted green line.

If we map the mentions of The Somerset Light Infantry (and associated Yeomanry Groups) we can see that they occur all over the AONB:

The locations of war memorials in the AONB that mention the Somerset Light Infantry or associated yeomanry regiments (represented by the regimental badge). The Devon-Somerset border is show as a dotted green line.

The locations of war memorials in the AONB that mention the Somerset Light Infantry or associated yeomanry regiments (represented by the regimental badge). The Devon-Somerset border is show as a dotted green line.

From these results it can be seen that the recruitment into the Devonshire Regiment appears to respect county lines. By contrast men serving in the Somerset regiments were from all over the AONB.

A massive drive was made in 1914 to recruit as many men into the ‘New Armies’ as possible. Recruitment centres were set up and men came from miles around to sign up – many expected to be home by Christmas. The main centre for recruitment into the Somerset Light Infantry was in Taunton, about 10 miles north of the AONB. The SLI expanded massively, from having two Battallions and one Reserve in early 1914 to eight Battallions on active duty by the end of the same year. The Devonshire regiments along with their respective Yeomanry forces did the same, also expanding exponentially, with their focus on Plymouth and Exeter to the south.

Recruitment into the Forces (the Army in this case) was simple enough, but the internal workings and needs of different regiments once you were in was entirely different. Although a man might initially sign on with the Devonshire Regiment there was no fixed guarantee that that man would stay within that regiment. In Broadhembury for example there are two officers who died whilst serving in the West Kent Regt., despite having signed up in Devon. These men were officers, and were most likely moved to fill a gap in officer numbers sometime during the war, possibly after deployment to the front.

Privates and NCOs were reallocated much less often, but when they were it was usually according to individual skillsets. We must keep in mind that the men that signed up in 1914 were not unemployed previously. Many of them came from working class but skilled families of blacksmiths, farriers, carpenters, or mechanics. These were all very highly sought after proffessions and men were moved from regiment to regiment to replace any gaps which occurred. If this was the case on the Blackdowns any movement of men may well have occurred before troop deployment; for example if the Devons had 13 Carpenters and the SLI only had 5, some balancing of books might take place. This would enable any specific skillsets to move from the Devonshire Regiment to the next closest, the Somerset Light Infantry.

The recruiting process was simple, but the intentions of the human mind are not. Many men signed up with the regiments they held closest to their hearts; perhaps a relative had served with a certain regiment previously; perhaps historic greviences within the family meant a mind was swayed; maybe the distinction of Light Infantry was appealing? Researching individuals was not part of this Project’s remit; we cannot tell if someone in Broadhembury identified more with Somerset than Devon; we cannot tell if that person commuted that way and so signed up in Taunton; but what we have done is present the information that we know in a clear, accessible form that everyone might use to answer these and other questions.

NB: It should be noted that not all memorials mention the regiment of the soldiers. These maps were made using the available evidence and this is assumed for the purposes of illustration to be representative of the true situation. It should also be noted that the data includes names listed on rolls of honour, a subset of the whom were lost in battle.


The fieldwork phase of the project is now complete. The final set of memorials to be recorded were those around RAF Upottery. On the day we met up with Robin Gilbert of the South West Airfields Heritage Trust who told us the story behind the Moonhayes sentry-box memorial and gave us a tour of the new heritage centre at Cherry Farm. The very last memorial to be recorded was that housed at the Smeatharpe Village Hall, where we were kindly given access by parish councillor and hall administrator John Cornish.

The BHWMP team with Robin Gilbert of SWAHT.

The Smeatharpe Village Hall Great War Memorial. L-R Andrew Read (BHWMP), Steve Trick (BHWMP), Robin Gilbert (South West Airfields Heritage Trust). Photo: John Cornish.

The project publication, a map of all memorials in the Blackdown Hills is currently with the printers and will subsequently be distributed to local museums. An electronic version will appear on this blog at the same time. Work now begins on the legacy phase of the project where we formally share our database with various organisations, and conduct further outreach in the form of talks to local history groups, and write-ups for local history society newsletters.

Please continue to check this blog for the publication of the project leaflet and further maps, statistics and observations of the 50 memorials catalogued.

The South West Airfields Heritage Trust website can be found here.

As with any academic project it has become necessary for us to impose some restrictions on what we can class as a War Memorial. This has led us to use the following definition:

A War Memorial is any commemorative object which is dedicated to either individuals or groups, named or unnamed, who have died in battle or as a direct result thereof.

Under this definition we have weeded out a few niggles and avoided having to look around whole graveyards for a general who died having choked on a larger than average potato at his 78th birthday party. The definition also means that we miss out a few important places in the survey, as they cannot be classed as war memorials, but Monuments.

English: A daguerreotype portrait of the aged ...

A daguerreotype portrait of the aged Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington taken in 1844.

The most famous of these monuments on the Blackdown Hills is The Wellington Monument. Dedicated to the memory of  (debatably) the most famous man in 19th century British warfare, the Wellington monument is exactly that: a Monument. The Duke of Wellington served all over the world throughout his career, especially in India, Spain and most famously at Waterloo in 1815. He was also lucky enough to survive the experience, come back, become prime minister and die at the ripe old age of 83. The people of Wellington, rightly being proud of their namesake, errected a 53m (175ft) high obelisk to him, but under this definition it is not a war memorial.

One of the reasons this project is important is because it records the names of those who died in conflict, most of whom remain unknown to any and all passers by. There are authorities on everyday subjects, but very few authorities on everyday people. Whilst it is not the aim of this project to research the lives of the people who are named on the memorials, it is one of our aims to enable people today to have access to information about those everyday working men who died in the conflicts of yesteryear. We hope that this project will lead in to other projects and that the data we collect will inspire and enable others to research relations listed on Blackdown Hills memorials.

Fieldwork is now finished, and by the end of September we hope to release an information leaflet to parishes on the Blackdowns and any interested Museums in the area. We are also working on a website to host all the data we have gathered and to give you further information about any follow-up projects we may undertake in the future. Watch this space!

53m tall, shaped like a bayonet, one of Britain's finest Monuments.

53m tall, shaped like a bayonet, one of Britain’s finest Monuments.

English: Blucher Wellington and Napoleon's def...

Blucher, Wellington and Napoleon’s defeat (1815). They certainly didn’t do it alone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Britain as a whole, war-related memorials were uncommon until 1802 when, in response to Napoleon’s policy of memorialisation, £40,000 (about £1,250,000 today) was set aside by government for the creation of the Committee of National Monuments, from which memorials and monuments were to be constructed. Initially this fund was largely used inside Greater London, however gradually ‘monument mania’ caught on across the country, backed by the public and the insistence of newspapers.  By 1838 the Times was reporting with regret that within a radius of 30 miles inside the city of London there were not more than 17 statues. It found comfort however in the fact that this was a definite improvement over those present twenty years earlier, when less than half that number had been erected, most of them being of monarchs (King, 1998).

The first non-royal public memorials in London were constructed in 1809 and 1816; the first in Devon and Somerset however, are a lot more difficult to determine. Where records in London were meticulous, those in rural areas are not. Bristol and the cities of Exeter and Plymouth display some memorialisation, although most, especially in the latter two, are relatively private affairs situated inside public buildings. A contender for the first such memorial would be the Wellington Monument, on the border between Devon and Somerset on the Blackdown Hills, although only because it was started in 1817 – it was not to be finished for 40 years thereafter (Corke, 2005).

Across the board it is clear that officers are more prominent on memorials and much more common in the wider record of 19th Century memorials than the private soldier. There are many reasons for this including the 19th century class system, record keeping, officers’ use has figureheads, their fame and perceived example etc. By the time of the First World War however, attitudes were starting to change.

The Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), often just refered to as the Boer War, was the first conflict to utilise large numbers of Volunteer and Yeomanry Battalions. In this it set a precursor to the mass mobilisation and conscription present in Britain during both World Wars. Coupled with advances in press coverage made during conflicts such as the Crimean War in the 1850’s, people could now see hear and read about the importance of not just the commanders and the armies in general, but about individuals. Medal lists were published, mentions in despatches were read and quoted and complete casualty lists were kept. The people at home became closer to the troops than ever before, and slowly came to realise that all but the highest ranking generals were all in the same boat.

20th Century memorials reflect this change in attitudes. On the Blackdown Hills we can evidence this in several places where ranks are not mentioned at all and the dead are listed alphabetically instead, such as at Buckland St. Mary and Chardstock. In other places such as Corfe ranks are displayed in public outside the church, but all names are presented without rank inside. At Staple Fitzpaine the situation is similar in that names are present in order of rank but without the rank being given, leading to slight confusion on first viewing.

In modern times with our recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan we can see this trend continuing. Modern memorials are either dedicated to all the men and name none of them, or all the men and name all of them, most often without details of rank.

References & Further Reading
Corke, J. 2005 War Memorials in Britain Shire Books, Buckinghamshire
King, A. 1998 Memorials of the Great War in Britain: The Symbolism and Politics of Remembrance Berg, Oxford

The term ‘First World War’ was first coined in September 1914 by German philosopher Ernst Haeckel who claimed “there is no doubt that the course and character of the feared ‘European War’ … will become the first world war in the full sense of the word.”.

For millions of men all over the world, including more than 8 million who served in the British Forces alone, Haeckel’s words became terrible reality. Few corners of the world were left untouched, new technologies lead to insurmountable casualties and horrific new injuries, as well as new theatres of war. The first aerial bombings of civilian targets; the first uses of mustard and chlorine gases; the first use of tanks; the first blood banks; the first ever use of the value trillion to estimate the cost of the war in 1919 all lead to the feeling that this was the war to end all wars. Surely there could be no worse suffering than this.

The Treaty of Versailles, not signed until 28th June 1919 (hence many war memorials listing 1914-1919) officially agreed the end of the war. One Article in the treaty, Article 231, later to be labelled the War Guilt Clause required Germany “[to] accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage” during the war.

The treaty forced Germany to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente (Allied) powers. In 1921 the total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion Marks (roughly equivalent to US $442 billion or UK £284 billion in 2013), a sum that many economists at the time, notably John Maynard Keynes, deemed to be excessive and counterproductive. The argument by Keynes that the terms were too harsh—a “Carthaginian peace”—convinced many British and American leaders, but left the French unmoved.

The result of the competing and sometimes conflicting goals among the victors was a compromise that left none contented: Germany was not pacified or conciliated, nor permanently weakened. The problems that arose from the treaty would lead to the Locarno Treaties, which improved relations between Germany and the other European Powers, and the renegotiation of the reparation system eventually resulting in their abolishment in 1932. It is the opinion of many a historian that Article 231 was also instrumental, through careful interpretation, in the rise of National Socialism in Germany.

In short, The War to End All Wars was to be, at least in part, a cause of the larger and even more costly struggle just twenty years later.

Chardstock Memorial

Chardstock Memorial

In those lives there are lessons. We would do well to remember them.

When undertaking any fieldwork project this early stage tends to be the most exciting – exploring the area, getting to know the people and places you’ll be working with and generally learning as much as you can as quickly as possible. Neither myself or Steve come from a standing start for this project, but after just a few fieldwork report entries we’re both seeing interesting results.

Take Pitminster for example, a memorial to those from the Parish who died in the First (here and commonly at the time called the Great War) and Second World Wars. It’s beautiful location is well over a mile from the actual village, half way up a hill next to a well used commuter route. Today if a memorial is built it is usually easy to visit, easy to see and a centrepeice of a population centre. Although Pitminster’s Memorial, half way up Blagdon Hill, is impressive in itself, it suffers badly from its exposure to the elements and has become difficult to visit next to an increasingly busy road. For these reasons and more Pitminster PCC, the Memorial’s custodians, have voted in favour of moving the War Memorial to a more suitable position within the village (see A modern reminder of the continued importance of remembrance.

Pitminster not only highlights the importance of War Memorials to today’s communities, it also presents us with some interesting data. Firstly, it is the only war memorial we have ever seen which gives the dates of the Second World War as 1939-1946. It is probable that one of the people on the 2WW side of the memorial died in 1946 (perhaps in the on-going unrest in places such as Palestine), and the dates are altered to allow for this, or it could be a simple mistake on the part of the insciber, which is unlikely.

The inscriptions are unusually descriptive and seem to be well thought out. The photo below shows the First World War side, and the text ‘…MEN OF PITMINSTER…’ – in that conflict only men from the village perished. On the reverse side it states ‘…PARISHIONERS OF PITMINSTER…’ – one lady is commemorated. Whilst this is far from unique it is unusual to be able to discern just from reading the memorial which force any individual served in. We know a lady is listed because the forces are also given: Army, Navy, RAF and WAAF (Womens Auxiliary Air Force).

We are creating this database for people today to use to discover the secrets which lie beneath the names in the stone, the stories behind the real people who lived and died, and to learn any lessons their stories might teach.

We will remember them.

hemyock ww1 whole memorial

Fieldwork for the Blackdown Hills War Memorials Project has begun in Hemyock. The first memorial to be catalogued is the World War I cross in the village square. This memorial lists the names of those local men lost in the First World War. Attached to the stone base are additional plaques remembering casualties of the Second World War and the Malayan Emergency of 1956.

Using our recording sheet we note the names on the memorial, and any other inscriptions. Additionally we record other information including location, building form and material. Photographs are taken from a number of different viewpoints. The textual information is then entered into our database, and the location added to the map of memorials in AONB. This procedure will be repeated for all other memorials.

Follow this blog to track our progress and for more posts on memorials in the AONB.