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


At present war memorials in the Blackdown Hills, like all others in the UK, have no special legal protection.

Local parish councils implicitly take on the role of protector of memorials in public spaces, and under the War Memorials (Local Authorities’ Powers) Act of 1923 they have the power to restore memorials, but it is not an obligation. Churches take on responsibility for those within their grounds.

A way for a memorial to acquire some legal protection is for it to be designated a listed building. It then requires planning permission to affect change, and any unpermitted change is an offence with possibility of criminal conviction.

At present only two memorials in the Blackdown Hills AONB are listed buildings, the Whitestaunton Great War Memorial and Upottery village memorial. Whitestaunton is of special interest because it reuses a medieval church spire. Upottery is located in the picturesque public square surrounded by listed buildings.

Whitestaunton Great War Memorial

Whitestaunton Great War Memorial

One may ask why more are not designated listed buildings given their importance. According to English Heritage:

 “there is a presumption in favour of listing all memorials … particularly when inscriptions of casualties are included … discretion is still required , however, with memorials of limited formal or visual interest .. given the numbers of memorials within churchyards and cemeteries, it is no surprise to learn that many monuments of clear significance remain to be identified”

English Heritage Designation Listing Selection Guide: Commemorative Structures, April 2011, p.10

This strongly suggests that many more memorials in the Blackdown Hills could be designated. Given that we estimate there are over 100 memorials in the AONB the two currently listed represent a tiny proportion.

Upottery War Memorial

Upottery War Memorial

Along with listed buildings, county councils in the UK also maintain Historic Environment Records (HERs) which are databases of all sites of historic and archaeological interest for a given county. These are the basic starting point for heritage assets for an area and fulfil a development control and educational role. Inclusion of war memorials in HERs would be beneficial, as they will be flagged when council staff are considering planning applications. Although this will not carry additional legal weight it may be a contributing factor that results in their in-situ preservation or organised relocation.

At present only eight of the memorials in the AONB are included in an HER database, and they are all on the Somerset side. None of the Devon memorials are included in their respective county HER. According to staff at Devon Heritage Centre this is simply because they haven’t been submitted for inclusion, and there is a general presumption for all memorials to be entered.

At the end of the project we will submit all our data to both the Devon and the Somerset HERs. We will also compile a list of memorials suitable for designation as listed buildings.

Cataloguing is a starting point while working towards greater care of memorials at state level, and naturally we support the War Memorials Trust and Daily Telegraph in their continued efforts.

Thank you to everybody who has got in contact to tell us about memorials in the Blackdown Hills, we really do rely on information like this to make sure our coverage is as complete as possible. If you have any knowledge of lesser-known memorials in the Blackdown Hills please do get in contact either by commenting on a blog post, or by emailing blackdownmemorials@gmail.com

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 http://www.pitminsterparish.org.uk/pitminster-parish-plan.php). 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.