War memorials

At the going down of the sun

by Simon Fowler

Had things been different in 2020 the nation would be commemorating the centenary of the unveiling of the Cenotaph in Whitehall and the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey by King George V on Armistice Day, 11 November 1920. And smaller crowds would have gathered around the civic memorials in Twickenham and Richmond to remember local men and women who had fought the good fight.

The Richmond area has a surprisingly large number of memorials to the dead of the two world wars, reflecting the sacrifices made by local men and those from afar who died in local hospitals while recovering from their wounds. Some are imposing, such as the memorial to the Men of Twickenham in Radnor Gardens and the cenotaph for the men who died at the South African Hospital in Richmond Park between 1915 and 1919. But many are simple plaques in churches and chapels. And a range of plaques at the former NHS Healthcare Village in Evelyn Road, Richmond include one to “The Milkmen of the Thames Valley”.

The memorials did not always take the traditional form. The Royal Star and Garter Home for badly wounded veterans at the top of Richmond Hill was designated as the British women’s memorial to the men who had not returned. Teddington has a memorial hospital and Kew a memorial park.

Almost all local cemeteries have one or more distinctive Commonwealth War Graves gravestones marking the burial place of a serviceman or, particularly for the Second World War, RAF aircrew who failed to return from raids over Europe.

In Twickenham’s Oak Lane Cemetery there is a single grave for Corporal H J Harrison, Army Service Corps, who died in November 1915. It is unclear why he lies here, perhaps Corporal Harrison passed away while on home leave.

Even if the war dead now lie in the fine Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries along the old Western Front they are also often remembered on the graves of their parents. For example, my great-uncle Stanley Crozier, who was killed during the last few weeks of the Great War and is buried in Belgium, is also memorialised on the gravestone of his mother, who lies in Teddington Cemetery.

Simon’s piece was first published in Twickenham and Richmond Tribune on 7 November 2020.