Solihull War Memorial

The unveiling and dedication of Solihull War Memorial in The Square, Solihull, took place on the afternoon of Sunday 19th June 1921 in a ceremony arranged by Brigadier-General Walter Robert Ludlow (1857-1941) whose youngest son had been killed at the Battle of Beaumont Hamel in 1916. This was not the first memorial to the fallen that Solihull parish had erected – a Calvary shrine had been unveiled at Easter 1917.

The Birmingham Daily Gazette 1st October 1919 announced that Solihull had made up its mind about its war memorial and, after a scheme for a people’s institute met with considerable opposition, it was decided instead to erect a memorial monument in the village square.

By January 1920, £1000 had been subscribed for the purpose.

On Sunday 19th June 1921, the Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire (the Earl of Craven) was received at Malvern Park by Dr Adolphus Vaughan Bernays (1857-1938), the Chairman of the War Memorial Committee.

Around 500 people assembled in Malvern Park, including:

  • the Band of the Norton Training School Royal Warwickshire Cadets
  • Solihull Kings’ Royal Rifle Cadets (Church Lads’ Brigade)
  • relatives of the fallen
  • about 200 ex-Service men led by Major J. N. Townsend D.S.O.
  • local ex-Volunteers
  • Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses
  • the Bishop
  • choir
  • local clergy of all denominations
  • the Lord Lieutenant and staff
  • the local magistracy
  • Chairman and members of Solihull District Council and Parish Council
  • the Memorial Committee
  • governors of Solihull United Charities
  • boys of Solihull Grammar School
  • Girl Guides
  • some senior Boys and Girls from the Elementary Schools

All were instructed to be in their place by 2.30pm ready to walk in procession from the park gates to the Square, where a crowd and a Guard of Honour was waiting.

On arrival at the memorial, the Lord Lieutenant inspected the firing party and the cadets of Solihull School’s Officer Training Corps (OTC) who presented arms, before resting on “reversed arms.” Earl Craven unveiled the memorial at 3.30pm after saying “a few appropriate words.”

The last post was sounded by buglers and then Dr Bernays, chairman of the War Memorial Committee, read out the 103 names of the fallen that were inscribed on the memorial. He made a speech that was described as “impressive and sympathetic” and he alluded to his acquaintance with almost all of the men from their infancy. He concluded with the quotation:

There’s not a name upon yon carved stone,
But of a “hero” – what altho’ the dead
Have all gone down into the deep unknown,
And what altho’ their bones are scattered;
They speak for whom their being was surrendered.
They have been wept, and they will be remembered.

After a minute’s silence, Reveille was sounded. Dr Bernays then handed over the memorial to the care of Solihull Rural District Council, with the Chairman, Mr H. C. Smith accepting the memorial on behalf of the authority.

After the hymn “O God our help” was sung to the accompaniment of the band, the memorial was dedicated by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham “to the honour and glory of God… in living remembrance of our brothers who went out from among us and gave their lives for their country in the Great War.”

A special prayer was said, after which the hymn “All people that on earth do dwell” was sung, followed by a verse of the National Anthem. Various contingents then proceeded to the church, with the choir and clergy singing the hymn “Ten thousand times ten thousand” accompanied by the band. There was a short service in the church, attended by an estimated 900 people, at which the Rector said prayers, and the Bishop gave an address and the Blessing.

Well-wishers were invited to bring along flowers , which could be deposited inside the North Entrance of the Churchyard and, after the service, placed around the memorial.

The memorial was designed by Birmingham architect, William Henry Bidlake (1861-1938) in the Early English Gothic style. The names of the fallen appear on panels above its four-stepped octagonal base. Surmounting the whole structure, which tapers to a height of 21ft., is a crucifix of laurel wreath.

It seems that the British Legion had looked after the war memorial but that, in 1933, the Council decided to allow Toc H to take care of the memorial. However, the British Legion complained to the Council in March 1934 that the remains of poppies and wreaths were still there from the previous November and that the memorial looked very untidy. The matter was referred to the Highways Committee and it emerged that there had just been something of a misunderstanding with Toc H had not wanted to remove the wreaths for fear of upsetting people.

Plaques were added to the war memorial commemorating those who died during the Second World War 1939-45 and the Korean War 1950-53.

On 27th April 1962, members of the Solihull group of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament held a 12-hour vigil at Solihull War Memorial in protest at the resumption by the USA of nuclear tests. About 20 members of the group, including Rev. Gerald Matthews, curate of St Margaret’s Church, Olton, manned the vigil in two-hourly shifts.

The Square, 1982, showing the war memorial in its original position

In 1994 when Solihull High Street was pedestrianised, the war memorial was moved a few feet towards the church in order to allow improvements to the traffic flow at the top of the High Street. At this time, restoration work was carried out on some details of the monument but no restoration was carried out to the four figure reliefs.

The four Portland limestone relief figures on Solihull War Memorial were restored during 2009 following an approach to Solihull Council by Solihull Rotary Club. During the restoration, an interpretation of the four figures was made by the sculptor, Michael Scheuermann, as the detail was missing owing to the weathering of the stone.

He aimed to be as faithful as possible to the intentions of the earlier work, although he has made some alterations – for example carving a face on the airman where previously there had been a flying mask. His interpretations of the figures are described in the captions below.

In 2011 the war memorial was granted Grade II listed status.

On Remembrance Sunday each year, the war memorial in The Square is still the focus of Solihull Council’s commemorations 100 years after it was first unveiled. Crowds gather at the memorial to witness the Mayor of Solihull laying a wreath on behalf of the borough and to take part in a service of remembrance. Councillors, Honorary Alderman, other dignitaries and invited guests then process to St Alphege Church for a civic service.

The Mayor of Solihull, Councillor Flo Nash, lays a wreath at Solihull war memorial on Remembrance Sunday, 2018

Tracey
Library Specialist: Heritage & Local Studies

© Solihull Council, 2021.
You are welcome to link to this article, but if you wish to reproduce more than a short extract, please email: heritage@solihull.gov.uk

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