“An Imperishable Record” is the title of a feature which appeared in The Hoylake and West Kirby Advertiser of 22nd December 1922, describing the dedication of the Grange Hill War Memorial in West Kirby, Wirral, England.
The title picture is of the soldier on the War Memorial. It was taken on the gloomy morning of 11th November 2012 just before the annual Service of Remembrance. A similar image lies permanently lodged in my memory and helps to form my perceptions of history and politics, war and peace. My Dad showed me the soldier one dreary mid-winter’s afternoon when we were spending the day with his mother, my Grandma. Mrs Gladys Roberts of Greenbank Road, West Kirby. I remember the sense of timeless melancholy as the wind sighed around the sculptures and we contemplated the soldier’s improbably titanic physique, the accompanying lists of names and the pious epitaphs. I felt a little overwhelmed as my otherwise laconic Dad expressed anger at the loss of all those precious local lives and enunciated the commonly held belief that these poor men and women had died for nothing.
A year or two later I was taken up Grange Hill by my maternal grandmother, Mrs Annie Hadwin of Broughton Avenue, West Kirby. It was a typical late August day for those years – warm, humid and dowsed by intermittent thunderstorms. The paths leading up to the memorial had become occasional rivulets, bordered by tiny lateral moraines of fallen gorse needles. My Gran seemed more jolly and carefree than my Dad had been, even while she pointed out the name of her beloved husband who died in 1944. Perhaps she was holding her grief at bay, determined not to spoil a precious day with her grandson. She pointed at a cluster of Great War names and told me that they were my uncles. I did not really understand how they could have been and failed to take them in.
Within the last few years, partly motivated by a desire to discover who those “uncles” were, I have returned to the Memorial many times and begun to research the life-stories of all the people recorded thereon who died during the Great War. The three men my Gran was pointing at were George, Thomas and William Holmes, close relations of her mother, Louisa Holmes (1886-1960) of Hoylake:
In fact, only Thomas was an uncle of mine. He was Louisa’s elder brother who died aged 38 in Belgium in 1915. In 2010 I visited his grave in Wulvergem Churchyard near Ypres:
The other two Holmes men were Louisa’s cousins. George died during the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915 and William on the Somme in 1916. Further researches have revealed my connections to many more men recorded on the memorial. But this is not about me. It is about the people who are recorded on the memorial and everybody from the surrounding area who died but whose names were not inscribed upon it.
“An Imperishable Record” is a grandiloquent phrase, typical of the time – an attempt to soften the unbearable and incomprehensible loss of nearly 400 local men and women during the Great War of 1914-1918. Presumably the monument itself was thought to be imperishable. Sadly, we know better: even concrete and granite are mutable and impermanent and inscriptions vulnerable to frost, wind and rain. Indeed, in the brief time since the monument’s dedication, most of the people whose names it bears have been forgotten by its neighbours, even though, as a body, they are faithfully honoured every Remembrance Sunday and by casual visitors on a daily basis.
With your help, I now aim to make the original wish for an “Imperishable Record” to come true. In reality, nothing is imperishable, especially not the internet, but it is at least a means of publishing the biographies of our fallen ancestors and of enabling all interested parties – whether they be descendants, family members or fellow researchers – to assist in the project of turning the names on the panels into real people once again.
Please contribute information, ask questions and make observations at the end of each post and page on this site. By that means, we will be creating a dialogue and thereby getting as near as we possibly can to bringing our fallen ancestors to life. We will not be stopping there, because we will also be re-creating the world in which they lived. None of the casualties were islands – they were all parts of families, neighbourhoods, churches, chapels, clubs, societies and communities. Arguably, In many ways, the people they left at home suffered as much as if not more than did the deceased. This site will start to explore the experiences of as many people as possible, both civilian and military, in order to achieve a more rounded understanding of the effects of the Great War on local society.
As I write (on 18th November 2013), I have written biographies for about 80 of our local Great War dead. I will post each of these separately as quickly as I can. There is a Page called Names. This contains the names of all the people recorded on the Grange Hill Memorial as well as those who were not inscribed thereon but were recorded in The Hoylake and West Kirby Advertiser of 22nd December 1922 and in other sources which are explained on that page. As biographies are written, they will be added to the site as Posts and hyperlinked to the lists on the Names Page. So, if a name is highlighted on the Names page, you can click it and you will be taken straight to his or her biographical Post.