South Elmsall and Moorthorpe War Memorial

This week i have been contacted by a local resident, Megan O’Marr, who wishes for an error on the South Elmsall and South Kirkby war memorial to be amended.

Background Information and Location

The war memorial is primarily an elaborate market-stye stone cross, atop a stone pillar, mounted on a four tiered stone base. The plinth is hexagonal in shape, with marble panels fitted into recesses, inscribed with the names of the fallen. It is located on the junction of Barnsley Road and Carlton Court, off the adopted highway, in the town of South Elmsall, West Yorkshire (OS grid reference: SE 466 110). The memorial features the names of residents of the town of South Elmsall and the village of Moorthorpe, who are known to have died in both world wars. It is located just inside the Parish boundary of South Elmsall, though the village of Moorthorpe (whose boundary is yards from the memorial) is administered locally by the Parish council of South Kirkby and Moorthorpe Town Council. To add to the confusion the town of South Kirkby also has it’s own war memorial.

The Initial Proposal of the Memorial

In May 1919 South Kirkby Parish Council looked into the idea of creating a memorial to fallen residents of the parish, with the preferred option being to build a nurses’ home. South Elsmall Parish Council also wished to memorialise the fallen, though it was undecided over whether to build a service mens’ institute or twenty bungalows for war widows. In July 1920 South Elmsall Parish Council approached the Doncaster Co-Operative Society, in an attempt to purchase a plot of land on which they intended to build a fire station and a war memorial. However, this proposal did not come to fruition and by January 1923 land was being sought from the Carlton Main Colliery Company, with the War Memorial Committee of South Elmsall Parish Council overseeing the transfer of ownership of the land. In February 1923 Messrs. Walker & Thompson (the original architects contracted to the “original scheme” agreed to cease the contract with the War Memorial Committee and the balance on payments was settled, with some monies being refunded to the War Memorial Fund.

The Erecting of the Memorial

By March of 1923 the War Memorial Committee were still publicly calling for the public to submit names to the memorial for inscription, with only 85 names being put forward by family members so far. Again in March the council made the public aware that they had concerns over how few names had been submitted, it was also becoming evident that Earl Haig was not going to be able to perform the unveiling of the memorial. In April the council issued a public notice that names of lost soldier and seamen needed to be submitted by the end of the month, with a full list of names already submitted by the public being provided in the local newspaper. Later that month Mr Bond (the architect, based in Grantham) confirmed to the War Memorial Committee that the erection of the monument would be able to take place any time after the 1st of June, as long as all names had been submitted for inscription by the end of April. The committee pressed forward with plans to unveil the monument, sending out letters to the Home Office and the Archbishop of York, requesting attendance for the event.

The committee were dealt a blow in May, when the Archbishop of York declined the offer to attend and dedicate the memorial, due to prior engagements, the Bishop of Beverley was agreed on as the replacement representative. The date of the 2nd of July was firmly agreed as the date of unveiling. At the last moment the committee (so overjoyed by the workmanship) that they agreed to pay an extra £15 to £20 to have the names on the memorial engraved in an ‘old English’ font. The contract for laying down granite chipping around the base of the memorial and “any other minor work necessary” was given to Mr Ernest Fox of South Elmsall, though no length of contract seems to have been agreed upon. Literally days before the ceremony was due to take place the committee were again given bad news, with the Rev. J. W. Greenstreet (the vicar of South Kirkby) informing them that he was unable to attend. The local Catholic church, however, decided they would attend, though they would play no part in the service. The Home Office sent better news, Major General Kennedy would be their representative and perform the unveiling. The final order of the procession was agreed upon.

The Unveiling and Dedication Service

It was decided by the War Memorial Committee and the Frickley Prize Band that the event should be triumphant in note, rather than mournful, and as such the music for the procession reflected this. Adding to the occasion a platform was built off Dearne Street to house a choir of local school children, conducted by Mr J. Gawthorpe. Another 200 local orphans and war widows were given a place in the procession though the town. The order of the procession was; Frickley Prize Band, Major General Kennedy (and escort), the clergy, orphans and widows, discharged servicemen, others.

The procession departed from the ‘British Legion Club’ on ‘Elmsall Hill’ (now High Street) and marched down the hill and through the town to the memorial, where a large crowd had amassed at the memorial, which had been erected by Messrs. Bowmans & Co. of Stamford. Major General Kennedy performed the unveiling, assisted by Major Montgomery and the monument was dedicated by the Rev. H. F. Elwood (of Darton). Mr A. Smith (Chairman of South Elmsall Parish Council) thanked the Carlton Main Colliery Company for the land on which the monument was erected “for the gift on behalf of the local authority”. The Rev. R. Jones (Wesleyan) and Rev. G. H. Smith (Primitive Methodist) both offered prayers, buglers from Pontefract performed the last post. Captain Thomas Mottram performed the marshalling duties on the day.

The War Memorial Committee

The South Elmsall War Memorial Committee met monthly (often more) at the Miners’ Institute (on Barnsley Road in Moorthorpe). Minutes from the meeting were published locally in the South Elmsall & Hemsworth Express newspaper, as were public notices. The public at the time would have been fully aware of where to go and who to contact regarding the scheme, due to this public consultation via the local press. For example, in the case of the appeal for names to be submitted by the public a full list of names (including rank and spelling of names) was published in the newspaper and time was allowed for the public to make the committee aware of any mistakes or omissions, in fact the committee positively begged for the public to come forward on the matter. The Chairman of the committee was Mr Arthur Smith, the secretary was Mr R. S. Greenwood. Minutes of the meetings are now held by Doncaster Archives (ref DD/WN/B8/29).

Raising the Funds

Principally the money for the war memorial was raised via public subscriptions, though noted local landowners were heavily involved in the raising of funds through various means. Correspondence with Mrs S. J. Warde-Aldam exists at Doncaster Archives (reference DD/WN/B8/29) and Captain and Mrs Addy of the Carlton Main Colliery Company also were heavily involved. In July 1923 this led to an interesting situation when the War Memorial Committee raised concerns over a suspected ‘missing’ £100 gift from the Carlton Main Colliery Company. It was found that the money had instead been given to the ‘Peace Celebration Fund’ and was already spent by them in that cause. Mr Tom Parsons and Mr A. Goddard were appointed by the committee to investigate the matter and find the deficit in the funds. This issue rumbled on until September, when Captain Addy ensuring that the colliery company donated a further £50 to the fund and he himself adding a further £10, making the Parish council very happy.

As of September the committee reported that they were a mere £22 from settling all outstanding costs from the scheme. The costs were publicly reported to have totalled £412 10s.

The Issue of Ownership

It is clear from the earlier attempts by South Elmsall Parish Council to find land for a memorial that they always intended to own the land on which any memorial was to be erected. The War Memorial Committee, which was created to oversee the project, eventually secured land from the Carlton Main Colliery Company, with the deeds to the land being handed over to the committee immediately prior to the unveiling of the memorial. The deeds were presented by Captain Addy (of Brierley Hall) on behalf of the colliery company. In July South Elmsall Parish Council decided, at their monthly meeting, to write a letter to the colliery company to “thank them officially for the indenture they made to the council…” in “…conveying the land situate at the bottom of Dearne Street to the council…” However, it was noted that Councillor Winterburn (then responsible for the war memorial project) had not yet received the deeds which had been given to the War Memorial Committee by Captain Addy on the day of the unveiling. The issue of ownership was settled in September 1923, when at another meeting of the Parish council the issue of adding railings to the memorial site was raised, with it being suggested that “the Parish council might undertake this work, in view of the fact that the site now belonged to them for all time…”

This month Wakefield Metropolitan District Council confirmed (via email with myself) that Wakefield Council do not own the memorial or the site on which it stands, neither does the Highways Agency, as the site is not on the adopted highway. Also this month the Imperial War Museums own memorial register had no information regarding ownership of the memorial, and Catherine Long of the Imperial War Museums confirmed this to be the case via email to myself.

On the whole the erection of local war memorials was normally overseen by a committee, which was often wound up once the memorial had been dedicated. The War Memorials (Local Authorities’ Powers) Act 1923, which was given Royal Assent on the 16th of July 1923 (just days after the dedication of the memorial in South Elmsall), gave local authorities the power to maintain and repair war memorials and ultimately gives the power but does not place a duty on a local authority (either Parish or Civil Councils) to maintain any memorials that do not have a known and proven ownership. The Act (and subsequent Acts) also gives local authorities the power to restore and adapt memorials (including to make corrections and additions at a later date in subsequent conflicts and wars) and even to move a memorial, depending on it’s Listed status. The War Memorials Trust may be able to offer advice and funding to local authorities on the alteration of mistakes or omissions from war memorials.

Why is the Memorial not Listed?

This month the Conservation Officer of Wakefield Metropolitan District Council confirmed via email to myself that South Elmsall and Moorthorpe War Memorial is not currently listed. The Imperial War Museum register also confirms that the monument (ref 29180) was last surveyed by Wakefield Metropolitan District Council in 1999 and is not listed. Not every type of memorial is suitable or even eligible for Statutory Listing, however many do deserve to be. In 2013 English Heritage began a scheme to list over 2,500 freestanding war memorials in the United Kingdom and positively encouraged applications for listing during the centenary period of the First World War. It is important that war memorials that can be offered protection via listing are given that protection, as without it war memorials have no legal protection beyond normal planning regulations. As the memorial is a freestanding one, with a proven and documented history, it seems logical to apply for Statutory Listing of the monument at the first opportunity, it is also to be encouraged that Wakefield Metropolitan District Council and South Elmsall Town Council work better together to survey and protect the monument, which has not been the subject of a recorded survey in over 17 years. Both of these issues will be put forward by myself to the relevant bodies.

It is without question that South Elmsall Parish Council (now South Elmsall Town Council) went to great lengths to consult publicly with the families of lost soldiers and seamen when the memorial was being planned. The council published some of the minutes of meetings from the committee in the local press, alongside other public notices and invited the public to respond. However, it is quite obvious from those published minutes and public notices that the Parish council were aware of, and even concerned by, a lack of information coming from the public, for whatever reason.

It is worth noting that the village of Moorthorpe is home to St. Joseph’s Catholic church and school and then had Catholic links as it does today. Something which is lightly hinted at in newspaper coverage of the dedication ceremony is that the Catholic community all but removed themselves from the service, unlike the Church of England, Methodists and Primitive Methodists who sent official representation to the dedication and to publicly give prayers. Further to this apparent lack of involvement on the part of the Catholic church there appears to have been some issue at the committee meeting when the news of the Catholic non-involvement in the dedication ceremony was read aloud.

Added to this is the curious case of Gunner W. O. Marr, as inscribed on the memorial. Gunner Marr was actually known by the surname O’ Marr, who are a family with connections to the area to this day. According to families own oral history the O’ Marr’s were a Catholic family until the 1920’s or 1930’s, at which point Lawrence O’ Marr (himself awarded the Military Medal) for some reason left the Catholic church. Lawrence was the brother of William. In April 1923 the committee published a list of names in the local newspaper of servicemen who had been killed in the war, submitted by the family and friends of those who had fallen. On that very list William is also listed as Gunner W. O. Marr. It can only be assumed that the O’ Marr family either allowed the mistake to be replicated on the memorial, or missed the notice in the newspaper, though why it was not corrected immediately after the unveiling if they missed the error in the newspaper is a mystery. It is worth noting that this was against the backdrop of unrest in Ireland, with the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and the creation of the Irish Free State in 1921 there were ongoing troubles between the IRA and British Army, all feeding into anti-Catholic sentiment in England and life must have been difficult in Catholic communities in rural Parishes. William was killed on the 22nd of October 1917 at Ypres, Lawrence returned to the area and married. As of this month the war memorial in South Elmsall still incorrectly lists William as Gunner W. O. Marr.

There appears to be some confusion within the Parish council about what it (as the local authority) has the right and the duty to do, in regards the conservation and alteration of the memorial. Without any doubt, unless the Parish council can find some later transfer of ownership of the site, South Elmsall Town Council (the successor to South Elmsall Parish Council) own the site upon which the memorial stands. Beyond this, the Parish council also has the right to carry out alterations, corrections and maintenance of the memorial, as per the War Memorials (Local Authorities’ Powers) Act 1923 and later Acts. Even without ownership of the site South Elmsall Town Council has a moral duty to ensure that the information on the memorial is correct, as it is a historic record and should be accurate, even if this means that the Parish council needs to make corrections (something which it absolutely has the right to do). It is also painfully obvious that whilst English Heritage is actively pursuing the Listing and preservation of free standing war memorials Wakefield Metropolitan District Council feels it fit to not give a full survey of one such memorial, for approaching twenty years. It seems fair that both South Elmsall Town Council and Wakefield Metropolitan District Council now begin to fully recognise their duty to the relatives of the families commemorated on the memorial, whether that is a legally bound duty or a moral one, and actively seek to put in place a formal contract that recognises the ownership of the site and then seek to work with English Heritage to get the monument Listed status.

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