Saturday, November 7, 2020

Westwell, Oxfordshire

Lives cut off

Cotswold villages: I live among them and think I know what to expect. Stone cottages, cottagey gardens, church towers, a background of hills. Nearly everything is built of the oolitic limestone for which the region is famous – from the churches to the shallow soil flecked with bits of pale flaky rock, it’s all about the stone. Then a Cotswold village presents me with something that makes me pause. Like this: a menhir-sized lump of limestone mounted on two gigantic stone steps. What could it be?

It turns out to be a war memorial. An inscription records that it was put up by Stretta Aimee Holland, who lived at Westwell Manor, to commemorate her two brothers who lives were lost in the First World War. Second Lieutenant Harold Price, who served with the 3rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers, was killed at the Second Battle of Ypres on 24 May 1915, the worst day in the war for the Royal Fusiliers, who lost 536 men. Lieutenant Edward John Price was a submariner whose vessel was stranded in the Dardanelles. He was taken prisoner by the Turks and died in a prison camp in central Turkey, perhaps a victim of the Spanish flu epidemic.

The brother’s names are inscribed on an odd-looking brass plaque, which turns out to be a numeral from the clock on the old Cloth Hall at Ypres that was salvaged by Harold Price after the First Battle of Ypres. I find this rather odd memorial strangely moving. Its combination of salvaged French metalwork and local stone not only recalls the battle but also embodies lives lived, tragically, both at home and abroad. And am I fanciful in seeing the memorial’s rough-hewn state as a vernacular version of the broken column on some monuments and symbolic of lives not simply ended, but unfinished or broken?


Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

This so much resembles a two-step village cross, I would probably have thought that this was what is was, and walked straight past.

Sally Johnson said...

Lovely.  This is what makes England England. 
I suspect people think they are looking for castles and cathedrals, but what they really want are pubs and heartfelt personal memorials to the heroes who went before us ... people we can aspire to be, who sat where we sit.  This memorial made me cry for the heartbroken family left behind.

Let us remember the thousands of heartbroken families left behind this Christmas with empty seats at their tables. So many memorials to come to replace the unheld funerals.

Jenny Woolf said...

What a very unusual memorial, I am not surprised that it caught your eye. It somehow makes the people involved seem more real after all this time. The salvaged numeral is so poignant, one realises how much was decimated during that cruel stupid and senseless war.