Kennet Valley War Memorials - Fyfield, West Overton and East Kennett
Researching the erection of our local Great War memorials after one hundred years is not easy: sources are limited and local knowledge almost gone. Unfortunately the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre confirm that they hold no detailed Parish Council minutes of the period, and there are no early photos in their collections. However newspaper reports of the time can be consulted; also there are a few references in church records, and later Parish minutes.
During 1919, the Marlborough Times printed articles on villages in the area celebrating the end of the war, and planning suitable memorials. Our villages were no exception:
- In July, Overton Lockeridge and Fyfield joined the Peace Celebrations held nationally and throughout the Empire on Saturday 19th (following the signing of the Versailles Treaty at the end of June), and held a large tea party with a prize band and dancing. 72 soldiers were present. Sadly a rainstorm meant the planned races had to be postponed!
- In August, concerning the Overton memorial, “A meeting was held in the Lockeridge School on Monday, August 25th, when it was decided that instead of the lych gate which had been proposed, a stone cross should be erected. The change was necessary owing to the prohibitive price of old oak; at least another £100 would have to be raised to carry out the original proposition. This was felt to be impossible. Mr Giffard presided over a very small attendance, owing no doubt to the inclement weather.” (An interesting article since Fyfield went on to build such a lych gate).
- In November, East Kennett held a welcome home meal at the Dispensary for their returning soldiers, and promised “they would place a marble tablet on the North wall of the church” to their nine fallen.
- In December, in a description of Lockeridge School’s Christmas Treat, Peace beakers were handed out, which “had not been available at the Peace celebrations”.
By the end of 1919, many villages in the area had progressed their plans. Indeed a few memorials had already been designed, built and unveiled. The Marlborough Times faithfully prints full accounts of all the ceremonies, and often carries advertisements for local stone masons offering their services.
No doubt our small villages were still busy fundraising, and possibly trying to establish an agreed list of the fallen – many died of their wounds, or died from the effects of gas perhaps, after the end of their military service.
East Kennett appears in the Diocesan archives, where there is a Petition to the Faculty containing a tracing of the marble tablet, paperwork of the permissions needed, and also the cost, £27. There is no reference there to either Fyfield or Overton memorials.
Fyfield’s lych gate was the first to be ready, and below are extracts from the full article in the Marlborough Times of the service of dedication in March 1920:
Bishop Joscelyne on Thursday, at Fyfield, dedicated a lych gate, which has been erected at the entrance to the new burial ground in memory of men of Lockeridge, Fyfield and Overton who sacrificed their lives in the Great War. ….Parishioners gathered in large numbers, and it was seen many of them were still in mourning for those they had lost in the war… The impressive ceremony commenced with the singing of the 23rdPsalm, and then followed the recital by the Bishop in resonant voice of parts of the sacred burial rites of the Church and other prayers… Standing beneath the structure the Bishop concluded the office of dedication, the Benediction being followed by the sounding of the Last Post and the Reveille by Patrol leader Frank Peck, and the singing of the hymn “The Saints of God: their conflict past.”
….In a short address[at the service following, within the church] the Bishop said he was sure they would like him to remind them that the service in which they had just taken part was as solemn as any service before God could be. They would always remember that their lych gate in memory of the brave lives bravely given from that place was solemnly dedicated to God….. “We remember them. May be they think of us. Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus.”
After the blessing, pronounced by the Bishop, the hymn “The sower went forth sowing” was sung, and the service concluded.
Next came East Kennett, in May 1920:
The little church of East Kennett was crowded on Tuesday evening last, on the occasion of the dedication of the memorial to the men of the parish who gave their lives in the Great War.
…The Archdeacon dedicated it with these words: “I dedicate this tablet to the glory of God, in loving and grateful memory of those who gave their lives in the Great War.” While all were still standing the organist played the Dead March in Saul most impressively, after which the hymn “The son of God goes forth to war” was sung.
The Archdeacon took as his text Wisdom, iii, 9. They had gathered together, he said, and filled that church, as he found they always did on those occasions, to honour their loved ones who had given their lives to win the war….Then rang out the impressive notes of the “Last Post”, sounded by Bugler Frank Peck. The Archdeacon pronounced the Blessing, and as a concluding voluntary the organist played “The March of the Israelites” (Costa).
…The singing during the service was well rendered and hearty, and the whole service was appropriate and impressive.
Finally, Overton’s cross was dedicated in January 1921 – later than Fyfield because of “the difficulty of obtaining labour”. This was not uncommon after the War for obvious reasons.
With impressive ceremony the memorial to the men of Fyfield, Lockeridge and Overton who lost their lives in the Great War was unveiled on Sunday afternoon last, by Col. R.M.T.Gillson, D.S.O., Wiltshire Regt.
…About 140 men went from the parish to serve their King and country, and it is a proud record that of these twenty-four [actually 23 on the memorials] should have made the supreme sacrifice. Another memorial, a lych-gate, erected at the church at Fyfield was unveiled in March last. The reason for the delay in the erection of the cross at Overton has been the difficulty of obtaining labour. …The Parish Church at Overton was crowded with relatives and friends of the fallen men, and the parishioners....The service began with a verse of the National Anthem, after which the Vicar (the Rev.T.G. Morres) read the sentences from the Burial Office.
….Col Gillson then gave an address.That day, he said, was the day on which they were going to unveil the cross in memory of the men of the three villages of Overton, Lockeridge and Fyfield, who laid down their lives for all that people held most dear, for King and country, liberty, and for wives and families. “I believe that these memorials which are being erected everywhere in our villages and towns will be invaluable in the years to come, to remind us, not only of those who died, but that men and women proved themselves willing to sacrifice all at the call of duty when their country was passing through the greatest crisis she had ever gone through”.
The dedication services – which you can read more fully in the UKN online, and will be placed in the churches later this year - are similar in approach, but have their own stamp upon them. They reflect the very real feeling of a funeral – which the families of the fallen had been denied, given the policy of all soldiers, officers and men, being buried together in cemeteries where they fell. Some families had been waiting a very long time to mourn their loved ones with the healing ritual of a church service.
We do not know why Fyfield and West Overton should each have a memorial bearing the same combined Parish names engraved upon them. And how did little Fyfield afford the lych gate which Overton could not? Could it have been the gift of Henry Giffard of Lockeridge House (who lost three sons and a Maurice son-in-law in the War)? He worshipped at Fyfield church.
Both these memorials were designed by Charles Ponting, the architect, who by that time lived in Dorset but had started his career in Lockeridge, rebuilding Overton church and building the school, the Who’d’a Thought It pub, and many cottages and houses. He moved to Marlborough and built the Town Hall among other works there. He also designed the Marlborough Town memorial. He was the Diocesan Surveyor for the South West.
Thereafter, Armistice Day/Remembrance Sunday services were held at both memorials. In the PCC Minute Book, it is recorded in October 1921 that – “the vicar read a letter from the Archdeacon acting for the Bishop designate suggesting that Armistice Day should be kept on the first Sunday in November. A special service was held on 6thNovember at 3pm at Overton.”
And again in October 1923 it was agreed – “that a short service should be held on Armistice Day at 10.55 at the Memorial Cross, followed by Matins in Church and the names on the Roll of Honour being read out also at Evensong at Fyfield.”
Sir Sydney Giffard, grandson of Henry Giffard, remembers the annual processions of ex-servicemen, scouts, guides and parishioners marching from Lockeridge to West Overton church and its memorial cross for the 11 o’clock service, and says that a similar service would be held in Fyfield at Evensong. All 23 names of the fallen would be read out at each location.
Now, in the twenty first century, the Remembrance Sunday Service tradition continues in all three village churches, as all over the nation, in much the same format. Copies of 2017 Service sheets are archived in the Merchant’s House, Marlborough, with this article. They show the same Act of Remembrance round the memorial: reading out the names of the fallen, reciting the words “They shall not grow old…”, and the two minutes silence (West Overton still has a bugler to sound the Last Post and Reveille). The Commitment to Peace follows, and finally the National Anthem. There are no longer processions, or attendance by scouts and guides whose local troops are long gone, but the essence of Remembrance remains.
A few references to maintenance of the West Overton memorial are recorded in the PCC Minute Book: in May 1922 - “It was suggested that something should be done to the ground round the War Memorial to give it a more finished appearance; but no satisfactory decision was arrived at.” A year later – “that the Secretary should be asked to make enquiries as to whether the lettering on the Overton War Memorial could be improved upon. Also that two flower beds should be cut on each side of the Memorial – Mr Swanton undertook to see to the making of the beds and the Secretary for the flowers required for them.”
In January 1925 – “Hillier’s estimate agreed for colouring the letters, dressing the whole stone with preservative – and correcting in three places.” And in September 1925 – “War Memorial under repair.”
Finally, in the Parish Annual Minute Book, West Overton, we have references to WW2: in March 1948 it was agreed to add the names of the 1939-45 fallen to the existing memorials in Fyfield and Overton at a cost of £30, “to be raised by house-to-house collection.” In March 1949 it is recorded that the names were “now inscribed on the War Memorials at Overton and Fyfield churches”.
In 2014, John Hutchins and Geoffrey Gibson-Piggott researched the names of the WW1 fallen throughout the Upper Kennet Benefice and published a booklet, now kept in the churches.
In February, 2018, West Overton’s memorial cross was listed grade 2, and the PCC are now planning some basic cleaning of it, and together with the PC organising a full restoration of Fyfield’s lych gate.
To commemorate 100 years since the ending of WW1, still known as the Great War, it is planned to plant a copse of trees at the bottom of the Recreation Field, Kennet Valley Hall, followed by a tea party for the whole community, on November 11th 2018.
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM
Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre:
Marlborough Times on microfiche (also held in Marlborough Town Library) – 1919/20/21
PCC Minute Book – ref 1079/85
Diocesan archives – ref D1/61/59/42
Parish Annual Minute Book, West Overton
All research notes and the full transcripts of the Dedication Services will be placed in the Fyfield, Lockeridge and West Overton village archive, kindly held by the Merchant House.