Thursday, November 17, 2011

Swindon's Cenotaph

"All the approaches to the Town Hall were densely packed with people," reported the Swindon Advertiser at the unveiling of the cenotaph on Saturday October 30, 1920.

"Especially touching was the scene when the relatives of the fallen came forward to deposit their floral tributes at the base of the memorial," the front-page account continued.

In his dedicatory speech, Alderman S.E. Walter, Mayor of Swindon, spoke of how "upwards of 6,000 men went out from their homes in Swindon to fight for what they believed to be the liberty and salvation of the world."

Anxious to create a lasting memorial to those men, Swindon dignitaries perhaps failed to appreciate the post war hardships families continued to endure.

An ambitious scheme launched by the then Mayor, Alderman C.A. Plaister in May 1919 was for a memorial hall.

A public appeal was announced and a donation of £100 was made by both Alfred Manners and Major F.P. Goddard to get the ball rolling. Fund raising limped along to £400 "when the fount of donations apparently ran dry," reported the Advertiser.

Alternative suggestions were invited and at a meeting held on December 4, 1919 the newly appointed Mayor, Alderman Walters revealed a decision had been made "to lay out the old canal site as a pleasure ground and to erect a cenotaph." The estimated cost of the cenotaph was £6,000 while the council would bear the cost of "beautifying the canal site."

Quite what happened to that plan is not known but by July of the following year the cost of the cenotaph had been revised at £1,000. However donations still failed to follow.

Then the Swindon Advertiser came to the rescue launching an imaginative new appeal more in keeping with the average persons's pocket with the "shilling fund," raising 10,882 shillings in the first fortnight.

Money continued to roll in throughout the summer of 1920. As workmen removed the fountain near the Town Hall in preparation for work to begin, the fund topped 19,000 shillings.

Fund raising Swindonians included Walter Hook, manager at the Arcadia Picture House whose contribution totalled 334 shillings by the means of children's collecting cards.

The fund eventually closed at the end of September having raised 22,158 shillings, exceeding the target of £1,000 by over £132.

Messrs. John Daymond & Son of Vauxhall Bridge Road, London, who completed the work in less than two months, erected the 20ft high Portland stone memorial.

At the unveiling in time for the Armistice Day commemorations the memorial remained unfinished with the words 'To the memory of the men of this Borough who fell in the Great War 1914-1918' yet to be carved. In 2002 it was agreed to add the words 'all wars and conflicts since 1945.'

William Hooper photograph courtesy of Paul Williams visit

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