Pre-WWI memorial practices for British war dead

Section for all discussions and the posting of photographs or links regarding Victorian related monuments, war memorials and graves - both in the UK and elsewhere.

Pre-WWI memorial practices for British war dead

Postby Adam Brown » 22 Jan 2008 00:45

From what I've been able to find out the Crimean War seems to be the first war for the UK where some communities erected memorials to the men they lost in the Crimean War. Regiments and ships had erected memorials before this war but not town and villages.

In Scotland, a Crimean War Memorial with five names has been found in Balmaclellan in Dumfries and Galloway. Five men are listed on it. Another man, an officer, is also listed on a nearby gravestone.

This small community lost six men in the Crimean war, the same as they lost in the Second World War. This must have had a profound effect for them to erect the monument.

You can see photographs of the memorial and a transcription here:

I would be interested if anyone knows of other Crimean War community war memorials in the UK? I believe the UK National Inventory of War Memorials (UKNIWM) lists some.


Adam Brown
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Great War Memorials – Response based on Boer War Memorials

Postby Adam Brown » 29 Dec 2008 12:53

I’ve just posted a couple of lists of Scottish Boer War Memorials.

and viewtopic.php?f=63&t=935

They were based on a list I’d compiled last month on another forum. It’s worth mentioning that this list came about because of another thread on the SWMP forum which is worth mentioning here too.

The background is that my thinking recently is that the method of commemorating a community’s dead had been evolving over the previous 50 years prior to 1919 and when the end of the First World War came people knew exactly what form that commemoration should take based directly on the Boer War memorials erected twenty years before.

It’s maybe a debate that could be brought to this forum?

Here’s my summation from the other forum. I’d welcome your comments and thoughts on how much the effect of the Boer War had on Britain was remembered when the nation wanted to commemorate its Great War dead.


People in Scotland have a need to remember their dead, that much we definitely know.
The simplest way is to erect a headstone over a grave. If there is no individual grave in a local churchyard there is still that need, and to use a 21st Century term, ‘closure’ can be achieved by:

1. Inscribing a name on a family headstone to someone not buried there
2. Erecting a substitute headstone in the cemetery even if the body is in another part of the world.
3. Erecting a memorial over a mass grave (which may or may not list a name)
4. Erecting a memorial listing the names of those who died overseas somewhere locally

This need for closure has probably been around for some time but in the later part of the 19th century and early 20th century extra factors came into play which were not around before then.

There were many monuments being erected to local worthies in the centres of towns, not just on their graves – statues, obelisks etc. a public commemoration for those worth remembering.

There was now a middle class who could now afford to erect headstones and expected their death to be commemorated in stone and remembered and visited by their relatives

There was large number of emigrants in the colonies that had left family behind and deaths abroad were being commemorated by their families in Scotland on headstones

Even the working class had a little bit of disposable income which meant even if they couldn’t afford their own headstone they could contribute a small amount to a community collection.

There was a large market for newspapers and more literacy so many people were aware of what was happening in other parts of the country. Memorials and monuments being unveiled would have been widely reported nationwide.

There were also some military factors perhaps worth considering.

Regiments had started to erect monuments to the men they lost on overseas campaigns. It may have been easier for regiments to find the funds to pay for memorials because pay could be stopped (at a soldier’s request I’m sure) by the paymaster.

By the time of the Boer War, British soldiers were even getting their own graves – unheard of before that time.

In 1900 local Rifle Volunteers who were part-time soldiers volunteered to serve alongside their regular counterparts in service companies. Militia battalions were embodied and served on overseas garrison duties. Therefore civilians in uniform were serving and dying and being buried as soldiers abroad.

So, to start summarising (thank goodness you cry!). By the end of the Boer War there was that need to find closure for the local boys who had died abroad, but now all the factors above can be taken into consideration and for the first time (Balmaclellan's Crimean memorial excepted) Scottish communities erected civic war memorials on a comparatively large scale.

When it comes to the First World War I think we have an extra factor to take into consideration. Not only was the need to commemorate there again but the sheer scale of it was completely unprecedented.

Is it safe to say a mass hysteria took place in the aftermath of the Great War? Every community be it a town, a school, a club, a society, a church i.e. any group of people who shared a common loss felt they needed to have a memorial or roll of honour - a focus for that shared grief, and this in turn led to a boom in memorials.

Perhaps on top of this mass grief was also a 'memorialising bandwagon' where no community wanted to be left out?


Adam Brown
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Joined: 22 Jan 2008 00:09
Location: Edinburgh

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