THE  DOVER WAR MEMORIAL  PROJECT

 

war memorial at dusk, photographed by Michelle Cooper
 

 

The Memorial

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"THE MEANING OF THE TOWN MEMORIAL" PART TWO
 by Marilyn Stephenson-Knight

The Town War Memorial, standing outside Maison Dieu House, was intended both to remember those we had lost and educate those who were to come. Seeking not to glorify war, but to emphasise spirituality and self-sacrifice, its design denotes Youth rising beyond the difficulties of life.  

But the material Memorial is incomplete. It’s just a few blocks of granite and some shaped bronze. The vital other component of the Memorial is intangible; it is the mind of the person who sees it. Without that the Memorial has no meaning. The Town Council discovered this just after the unveiling. They’d debated the design for months, and to them the symbolism of the bronze figure was clear. But to the people of Dover it was not, so the Council erected a notice of explanation. 

This is the story of the Intangible Town Memorial - the part of the Memorial that lives inside our heads. Before the material Memorial can be created there has to be an Intangible Memorial. That has a many-branched history thousands of years long. But here, we’ll concentrate merely on the immediate roots in Dover!  

In January 1915 came the first public mention of a Great War memorial. The Dover Express asked for notification of all casualties, to ensure a full list for an eventual memorial. The death announcements from families who contributed could be seen in themselves as, week by week, forming a personalised memorial, which also included news of those war srhine, St pauls, by Simon Chambersstill serving. Later, in June 1917, Father Grady of St Paul’s, Maison Dieu Road, would dedicate a war shrine, and he too spoke of a time when Dover would look back on the war. His concern was that memories would fade, and the shrine would then remind us of “the saddest days of our lives”.      

The first recognised Great War memorial in Dover was a motor boat. Named the “Henry Gartside-Tipping”*, it was donated in June 1916 to Missions for Seamen by the Lieutenant-Commander’s family. Embarking from Dover, he had been killed off Zeebrugge the year before; at 67 he had been the oldest naval officer serving. A huge crowd attended the ceremony on the beach near the Clock Tower, along with a choir, a drum-and-fife band, and a host of VIPs.  

During the war a number of memorial services were held in Dover. In view of the situation a commonly used hymn was “Oh God our Help in Ages Past”. The services were often funereal – in November 1916 St Mary’s, Biggin Street, used part of the order for the burial of the dead. Naming the fallen, the vicar commended them to “God’s merciful and loving keeping”. 

Seven months later when the war shrine was dedicated at St Paul’s, Father Grady advanced this, stating that by praying for their eternal rest we can try to repay the dead for their sacrifice. The shrine was in the form of a large crucifix, which, he added, was appropriate, because Jesus’ death was the “supreme and model sacrifice”. Those who died fighting “for freedom and justice” imitated, because they died for us. Thus was implied that because of the nature of their service and death, the war dead had entered a more glorious plain. Several church services also cited other transcendents for which the dead had sacrificed themselves - their country, the King, the Empire, freedom, and justice. The war shrine at St Mary’s carried the legend “For God, King, and Country”.  

Just as those fighting were often remembered in prayers, shrines too were not solely for the dead. In January 1917, one was erected for serving soldiers at Nightingale Road. This was the Knowlton of Dover, for nearly all the male residents were eligible to fight. Those still in combat were also considered of higher ideals - prayers for the safety of these “gallant men” were led by the Vicar of Barton Road, and the shrine was unveiled by Mrs Dunn, mother of a combatant.  

By the first anniversary of the Armistice, in 1919, thoughts of Great War memorials had crystallised into a need. Several villages around Dover had begun collections for a memorial. Already one, a window at the Primitive Methodist Church, poppy day advert, 1937, They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them. Courtesy Dvoer Expresshad been unveiled. At the request of the King, the Last Post and the silence had become part of Remembrance ceremonies. Dover obediently observed the silence at 11am. Unfortunately, without a signal for the beginning there was some confusion. By the next anniversary, the Dover Express hoped, there would be a Memorial and a “properly conducted demonstration”.   

In 1921 the poppy was adopted. The bright red on every jacket brought a November summertime to Remembrance in Dover. Just after Armistice Day the memorial at St Mary’s had been unveiled before a vast crowd. Although the occasion might stir feelings of loss, said the Bishop, there should be in the fallen, “a sense of pride in them for what they did … It is right to erect a memorial to their memory. Nothing is too good for them”. 

That year and the one before had seen a crop of memorials dedicated, including the unusual one, offered with thanks, of electric light at the Tower Hamlets Mission Hall. By Armistice Day River and several outlying churches could hold outdoor services at their memorials.  Mrs Smith in Dover, whose four sons had served, “read with envy the accounts of the village memorials”. In mind of the “great debt we owe those who fell,” she continued, “the least we can do is to possess a small statue with the names of Dover’s fallen inscribed on it”.  

Cost was presumably an issue though, for a sub-committee of the Town Council had instead suggested a shrine in Maison Dieu Hall. It would hold a book naming the fallen - and those who had done war work.  The newspaper editorial agreed with Mrs Smith. This idea was “not good enough”. Furthermore, such a memorial was inadequate for town Remembrance ceremonies, and mixing up the living and the dead was neither “adequate nor suitable”.  

Debates raged. By 1922 the Dover Express had called the proposed shrine “mean”, and, worse, had pointed out that functions in the Hall would most disrespectfully obscure the shrine with benches of beer barrels. “If all that Dover can do ... is make a niche in the wall,” the newspaper thundered, “it should be made on the outside …“  At least then Dovorians deprived of graves for their loved ones would have somewhere to lay their tributes. Highly critical of what it saw as unnecessary “secrecy and delay” the Dover Express added that the people of the town “should have been left to decide the form and site of the War Memorial”. The whole episode was particularly painful, because the magnificent Marine Station memorial had that year been unveiled, and at Armistice Day was covered with wreaths. The only consolation was a street-filled service of Remembrance at St Mary’s memorial, which the Mayor attended.  

*

During the war and after the Armistice Dover had seen many precedents for the eventual construction of the Town War memorial. Each helped form the Intangible Memorial, which was not only the essential counterpart but also influenced the material design of the Town Memorial.  

Personal and individual knowledge, as with the announcements in the Dover Express, was a very strong component of the Intangible Memorial. It shaped the material Memorial, as this knowledge was reflected in the Roll of Honour, including questions of who was and was not eligible. At the same time it gave the Memorial a great meaning. This, as the years have passed, is largely lost to us today. (It is this aspect that the Dover War Memorial Project primarily seeks to recover.)  

prayer from the War Shrine at St Pauls, by Simon Chambers A further component of the Intangible Memorial was the collective sense of suffering and commiseration. This would have built up over the years, with interactions between neighbours as well as public announcements, as in the papers. It was clearly expressed in Dover during the memorial services and unveilings. The Intangible Memorial also provided comfort for the bereaved. An often repeated view at the memorials and unveilings was that families should have great pride in the achievements of their loved ones, who had sacrificed themselves for a greater good.

Such sacrifice was seen to give great honour and glory, and also to provide an example for those left behind. This was one of the reasons why those who had survived, and civilian casualties at home were not included on the Town Memorial. 

Thanksgiving too was key – not only for and from those who had returned, which was often expressed in subscriptions, but for deliverance, and above all for those who had died in bringing that deliverance. These components of the Intangible Memorial were key to the debates that raged on the design of a Town Memorial.  A practical aspect too was that for the many bereaved who could hold no funeral and had no grave to tend, a memorial and a Remembrance ceremony could stand in their stead. The Intangible Memorial thus informed the choice of a suitable site for the Town Memorial.  

Finally, the Intangible Memorial was a bringing together, a secular and religious mix wherein the whole community could be joined. The community was not just the present, but the past and the future people also. For the Intangible Memorial remembers the past and uses it as a lesson for the future.  

courtesy Dover Express set 38 2 of 2

The Town Memorial was unveiled on 5 November 1924. It was beautiful. It may have been long in coming, but during that time the Intangible Memorial had been negotiated and matured. Moderate and restrained in its material form, the Town Memorial was enormous in intangible antecedent and meaning. In a phrase, the Town Council had “got it right”. This was a feeling shared by Dovorians of the time. As a Councillor said, it was “one of the most popular things that had happened in Dover for a great many years”.

 *

The story above is but one version of many of the Intangible Town Memorial. Too, the tale does not end at the unveiling. There is much more to tell about the Meaning of the Town Memorial, and the next part of this series will explore further. But in the meantime, next time you pass, do have a look at the Town Memorial. What does it mean to you? Which version of the Intangible Town Memorial lives inside your head?

 with thanks to:

Mr Tony Belsey
Mr Simon Chambers
The Dover Express

This article first appeared in the Dover Society Newsletter for December 2006

Footnotes:

A further element in the meaning of the Memorial, and appropriate ways of remembering those who had died, may be detected in correspondence received by Mr Knocker, then Town Clerk, from a resident at 15 East Cliff. In November 1923, an E Hayward, probably Captain Edward Haywood, stating that the dead must be honoured indeed, enquired stated that "nothing is being done, or we are kept entirely in the dark". Mr Knocker explained that the design of the Memorial had changed, from a shrine to a material monument, and that these considerations, along with the need to raise more money, which they were attempting to do by means of matinee performances of suitable films at cinemas, had contributed to the delay in the creation of a Memorial.

This, however, did not console E Hayward, who rather acidly responded, "I think it is a very sad business when for  such a purpose funds cannot be obtained and  and hard to believe. I should say it was far better to return the subscriptions than to wait for money to dribble in from entertainments etc. A memorial erected by this means can be of no honour to the dead, and rather the reverse." By 7th January 1924, E Hayward had lost patience, and wrote, "Dear Knocker, I shall be obliged if you will cause my subscription to the Dover War Memorial to be returned to me. I never anticipated that such delay in the matter would take place. I consider this delay dishonouring to the men who died for England and I wish to have no share in it."

E Hayward's subscription of £5 was returned. (This would have been worth around £200 today) It was resent after the Town Clerk wrote again to E. Hayward in October 1924, just before the unveiling, blaming the former Town Council for the delays.

*

Despite the efforts, the War Memorial was unveiled in debt. Discussing the possibility of adding extra names in October 1925, the treasurer of the War Memorial Committee revealed that there was a balance of £4 17s 2d, but that there was still £10 due to Mr Goulden (who had received £1,190). Mr Goulden, appealed to for help, stated that his work was complete, and, feeling it would affect the artistic merit of the design, was rather sniffy at the thought of additions. However, after hoping that there would be no more names put forward, he conceded that an extra plate could be put at the rear and promptly estimated some £20 to £25 to do so. The Town Clerk meanwhile commented, with a weary and somewhat self-justifying air to the committee that they had tried to make the list complete, but as soon as the memorial was unveiled people who admitted they never read the papers had turned up to say their relatives' names should be on it. By the time the committee met again, two weeks later, another eight names had come in.

The whole episode proved academic, as the Mayor, at that second meeting, with an eye to the practical, said that the first thing to do was to find the money. Asked, perhaps with a rhetorical mien, by an Alderman if the relatives had offered to collect money, the Mayor reasoned that as they did not read the newspapers they were probably poor people. The answer, then, presumably, and as expected, was "no". The clincher was that there was by now a debt of £5 10s 2d on the memorial, as well as the £25 to consider. With Councillor Norman's helpful matter-of-fact summary that if they couldn't collect the money, they couldn't add the names, the Mayor, with some relief, stated, "We are free from blame". The motion that the names should not be added was carried unanimously . It would be another nine years before they appeared, and by then there were more.   

*

Mrs Mary Gartside-Tipping was later also to lose her life owing to the war. She had worked for nearly a year at the Munitions Workers' Canteen, Woolwich, before, in January 1917, joining the Women's Emergency Corps for service in the war zone in France. There she was shot by a (French) soldier, whose "mind was disordered" on 4 March 1917.She was posthumously awarded a Croix de Guerre, which had been withheld from women since November 1916, and given a full military funeral.  She was buried at Vauxbuin French National Cemetery. Plot III.B.5

Mrs Gartside-Tipping had married Mr Gartside-Tipping in 1890, and was the daughter of the late Captain Flynn RA.

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