The Great War: Remembrance and Commemoration in Kenton

The War Memorial, which was the focus of my last post, was not the only way that the community in and around Kenton chose to commemorate the sacrifice and suffering caused by the great war of 1914-1919.

After the Armistice in November 1918, local communities across the country debated the best way to commemorate those who had been killed. The decision to bury the bodies of the dead in cemeteries alongside the sites of battle caused much anguish to many bereaved families, so another response to the loss and grief was required. Bereaved families, local communities and returned servicemen reacted to the mass bereavement by creating their own memorials. The form that the memorials should take was fiercely debated. Local gentry and clergy often favoured a memorial within the church or churchyard, whilst communities with strong non-conformist congregations preferred a location that was central to the village such as a village green. Returning servicemen and working people in particular frequently supported a more utilitarian memorial such as a water fountain, almshouses, a village hall or even, in larger communities, a memorial hospital. Utilitarian memorials were not just intended to commemorate those who had died, but were also concerned with those who had served and returned. Memorial halls in particular were seen as a way of promoting a more egalitarian community. They would provide a place for all classes and all denominations to meet together for social purposes and contribute to improving village life. They would also operate as self-governing institutions, free of local patronage, and controlled by democratically elected committees. In Kenton, several memorials eventually emerged from these debates.

Kenton’s memorials

The first of the war memorials to appear in Kenton was a temporary shrine in All Saints’ Church, which appeared sometime during the war itself. Nothing more is known about the shrine except that news reports of the time of memorial services held for the casualties mention a war shrine.

The most visibly noticeable memorial now is the obelisk on village green which I discussed in my last post. As this memorial was a private gift, no records have survived to show how the names to be included were identified. Some names appear to have been excluded and regrettably it is no longer possible to understand the reasons. In itself the memorial seems to have been felt to be inadequate to meet the needs of the community and so other forms of commemoration also took place.

memorial cupThe parish also set up its own memorial committee. A collection was raised for a ‘war memento’ to be given to every sailor or soldier from the village who had served in the war. The cost was £69 and money was collected for this by public subscription and by holding whist drives. The mementos took the form of two-handled loving cups in Welbeck plate on an ebonised stand bearing the inscription ‘Presented to the Sailors and Soldiers of Kenton who served in the Great War 1914-1919, from their grateful fellow parishioners.’ Ninety-four cups were presented to the men and to the relatives of those who had died. The cups were presented at a gathering in the Assembly Rooms at The Devon Arms on Friday 19 March 1920.

It was also decided to collect subscriptions for a ‘war shrine’ to be placed in the Parish Church of All Saints. The shrine was to consist of a memorial board which was commissioned from Herbert Read’s St Sidwell’s Art Works, the well-known firm of ecclesiastical woodcarvers. The board is of dark fumed oak with canopy work at the top, hinged wings at the sides and a shelf for flowers beneath. The names are listed in the order in which they died. Although placed in the parish church, the shrine itself was thought to be non-denominational and the dedication service on Sunday 11 July 1920 was attended by both the Anglican and the Methodist congregations. Eighteen names are listed on this memorial compared with the fourteen included on the obelisk.

The working people of Kenton also wanted to have a more utilitarian memorial in the form of a village hall. This would be somewhere where all sections of society could meet together regardless of age, gender or class. A committee of village people was set up to raise money for a hall. The most important of the fundraising events was the annual village fair and fancy dress fête known as ‘Our Day.’

Our dayDuring 1920, £400 was raised and the following year a further £200. Work on the hall began in 1922 and although still not completed it was opened in October 1922. The land and all the timber used in the building were given by Lord Devon. The Victory Hall, as it was known, served the village well for seventy years until it was destroyed by fire in 1991. It was reported that police thought the fire had been as a result of arson. Many of the village people were saddened by the loss of the hall which meant so much to them, their parents and their grandparents, and had served as a reminder of their loss and sacrifice during the War of 1914 – 1919. A new Victory Hall now stands in its place.


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