Work started last week on restoring the first memorial in our area in preparation for the centenary countdown to commemorate the start of the First World War in August 1914 and to remember the thousands across the Black Country who paid the ultimate sacrifice in foreign fields.
In a month’s time, on Saturday, September 28, the Rowley Regis war memorial that stands in the St Giles churchyard will be re-dedicated by the Archdeacon of Birmingham, Ven. C.E.
Hopton, and unveiled by Brigadier General W.R. Ludlow, after a clean-up programme, backed by Sandwell Council, is completed.
The Vicar, the Rev Ian Shelton, said: “The war memorial here at St Giles could well be the first in Sandwell, if not the wider Black Country, dedicated to the fallen of the First World War, that is undergoing a complete restoration programme.” Back in January local resident Geoff Tranter suggested at the council-led forum that the memorial should be restored to its former glory and that the names of the fallen should be remembered on more durable white granite slabs.
He said: “I have visited numerous battlefield sites on the continent and seen at first hand the marvellous job the Commonwealth and War Graves Commission do keeping the cemeteries in pristine condition. Then on returning home you realise that many if not all the memorials in our neck of the woods need urgent attention before they crumble away, and thankfully Sandwell Council were sympathetic to that point of view.” A meeting of a working group, comprising of local churchwardens, Sandwell Council and the vicar of St Giles resulted in a commitment to restore the white Portland stone memorial.
At the time Councillor Barbara Price, who announced that funding for the restoration work had been secured, said: “We are delighted that Sandwell Council and St.Giles Church have been able to work together on this project.
It is so important to honour the names of those young men who lost their lives nearly 100 years ago.” The work is being carried out by stonemasons Stewart Watkiss and Andrew Dickson, of Strongs Memorials of Bloxwich.
The war memorial at St Giles had become badly eroded, but thanks to research carried out by the late Malcolm Warby and his son Richard over ten years, the names of every single hero originally recorded upon it will now appear on the new granite slabs.
One name still just about legible at the base of the memorial is that of S. J. Guest (Samuel Joseph) who was killed in action at the Second Battle of the Somme on May 26, 1918.
His niece, Avis Law, who lives not far from the church, said she thought it was magnificent that the war memorial was being restored.
“I never knew my uncle, but that doesn’t matter,” she said.
“He was one of many who sacrificed everything to fight for his King and Country and I am very proud that he should still be remembered after all these years.
“I’ve been told he went down the mines as a boy aged 12, and saved his pennies to buy sweets, which his Mom, who ran a shop next to the Wheatsheaf pub, put in a big glass pot in the window. He became a father to daughters Ida and Dorothy, and enlisted quite late, probably past his 30th year.” Blackened ruin The Rev Shelton said that the Lt. Col. Rev. F. Chevaton was the vicar in 1920 when the memorial was first envisaged, and on the day of its dedication the church would still have been a ruin after the devastating fire of 1913.
“What an image the scene would have evoked. Remembering the fallen, celebrating the erection of the memorial in Rowley Regis, and all against the background of a blackened ruin,” he said.
What do you think would be a fitting way to remember the start of the First World War 100 years ago next year? Email us your thoughts to editor@blackcountrybugle .co.uk, or go online at www.blackcountrybugle.co.uk or write to 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.