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Woodchester Wayside Cross: Britain’s first war memorial

woodchester_wayside_cross_modern_photograph

Built between July 1916 and May 1917 the Wayside Cross at Woodchester was probably the first war memorial in the country.

The idea of a memorial was first conceived by Father Hugh Pope, who was Prior of Woodchester, in 1915 following the deaths of two parishioners: Lt Maurice Dease who won the first VC of the Great War and Lt George Archer-Shee who became infamous as a result of Terence Rattigan ‘The Winslow Boy’. These two deaths were followed shortly after by the loss of the Priory’s garden boy, who had been adopted by the Dominican Brothers. Father Pope wished to have something to remember these men and set about the task of building something tangible so that they would be remembered. A Wayside Cross similar to those seen across Europe and Northern France was chosen. It was to be placed on high ground by the side of the road running past the Dominican Priory.

Undeterred by lack of funds Father Pope decided to collect money by opening the memorial not only to Catholics but Anglicans in the village and then the Stroud Valleys and finally further afield to London, Manchester and Birmingham for all classes and creeds. Eventually he gathered names from South Africa, Australia, Canada and even France. One hundred and forty names were to be inscribed or painted on the stone slabs that supported the cross.

 

 

Eventually enough money had been collected and on 3 June 1917 the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton dedicated the Wayside Cross before 5,000 people. The road had to be widened to accommodate the crowds and contemporary photographs show how the valley was filled to capacity with Companies of the Gloucestershire Regiments, Boy Scouts and parishioners. The following year, in August 1918, ten thousand people attended the first Remembrance Sunday.

One hundred years later, on 10 June 2017 at 4:00 p.m., Woodchester is rededicating the memorial in the presence of the Princess Royal and other local dignitaries. The present Bishop Declan of Clifton will be assisted by both the local Catholic and Anglican priests in charge. Relatives of those whose names are on the memorial together with representatives from most of the regiments in which they served are attending. Foreign Embassies are sending Military Attachés, local groups are sending scouts, cadets, guides, cubs and the Royal British Legion will watch 140 local schoolchildren lay a flower for each of the names on the memorial. Before the service the Nailsworth Silver Band will be playing a medley of songs from the period to which the congregation will be invited to sing along. After the service an exhibition in St Dominic’s school will tell the stories of those whose names are on the Wayside Cross.

The Wayside Cross has become once again an impressive monument; a fitting memorial to the heroes of Stroud and beyond who, 100 years ago, knowingly made the ultimate sacrifice. It is also a tribute to the steadfast efforts of the Dominican Prior, Father Hugh Pope, the first to conceive of a war memorial and to have the conviction to carry the project to completion. 

A full list of the names on the memorial can be found here

With thanks to Woodchester Parish Council and Woodchester Priory

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