The hard battle to save a war memorial

by ANTONY CLAY

Chairman of the Friends of Bolton upon Dearne Memorial Lewis Jackson.

EVERY year on Remembrance Day, people make a point of showing their respect for those who lost their lives in battle. Whether it be attending a church service, standing at a cenotaph or taking part in the traditional two minutes’ silence at 11am, there is the same commitment across the country amongst all age groups.

But there is one village where the fight to keep their war memorial has also been important, bringing people together to stand for what they believe in.

The story of Bolton-upon-Dearne’s war memorial, located on the old Lacewood Primary School site at Furlong Road, is one of steely determination to save a site which the people feel is so important to their heritage that they just weren’t prepared to see it demolished.

The Friends of Bolton-on-Dearne War Memorial have battled for years to make sure the monument is maintained, and it has become an increasingly popular site for the annual Remembrance service.

Members of the public and former members of the military choose to stand and remember the dead, whatever the weather, each November.

The setting for the war memorial may seem incongruous, in the middle of a street and opposite small green area, but it has become a well-loved focus for the community.

This year, people were asked to leave pieces of coal or stones painted black as a tribute to the area’s miners whose efforts in the world wars kept the military machine going.

In 2018, rows of poppies made from beer cans created a dramatic effect.

Eileen Westhead-Petty, an honorary member of the Friends of Bolton-upon-Dearne War Memorial, is proud of the structure and what it means to the village.

“This is original to the whole of England. There is nothing else like it,” she said.

Chairman of the Friends of Bolton-upon Dearne Memorial Lewis Jackson, lays a wreath at the memorial.

So what is the story behind the war memorial?

It was originally built way back in 1924 on the site of the old Lacewood Primary School.

So when plans were revealed in 2010 to demolish the old school and replace it with housing on the site, the war memorial’s future looked distinctly bleak.

But a group of local residents were having none of it and set about tirelessly campaigning to save the monument, despite obstacles being put in their way by the powers-that-be.

The Friends of Bolton-upon-Dearne War Memorial were formed.

Artist Eileen Westhead-Petty with her installation remembering the miners, at the Bolton upon Dearne Memorial.

“I was livid they were going to wipe out the memorial of those who have died in the war and thought we would not be bothered,” said Eileen.

“They gave us every hurdle to jump over.

“Because I was so passionate about saving it in 2010, I got my dad to come to it. I said get your beret and your medals and made him come. He was the only one there that first year but next year there were more people and their medals and caps, After that there have been more people each year.

“There are a lot of people over the years who have done a little bit to help.”

Artist Eileen Westhead-Petty with one of her installations at the Bolton upon Dearne Memorial.

It was Eileeen who, last year. devised an art installation which got the monument plenty of publicity. The artwork featured 109 crosses, poppies and footprints, with a cross for the memorial itself.

Secretary of the Friends of Bolton-upon-Dearne War Memorial, Sue Hodgson, said that originally Lord Halifax had wanted a memorial for Goldthorpe which was placed inside a church. This prompted activity to get a memorial for Bolton-upon-Dearne.

But raising the cash proved a problem – given a £3,000 building estimate – so nothing happened.

But a large inglenook fireplace in an old building came to the attention of the people wanting the memorial which was eventually taken down by council workmen brick by brick and rebuilt at Lacewood Primary on the spot where the memorial is now.

Friends of Bolton upon Dearne Memorial co founder and treasurer Margaret Fudge with the new information board.

George Farquhar-Pennington, who had won an award for designing a housing development in the village, was approached and asked to make the fireplace into a memorial.

Sue said that Mr Washington, the head of the school at the time, fought hard to get the memorial built and “there was a lovely opening ceremony”.

Sue said that when local people learnt that Barnsley Council wanted to knock down the school, they were told the war memorial would be put into the garden of the Royal British Legion premises nearby.

But the problem was that there was no garden.

Sue said: “When we saw there was no garden existing we contacted the War Graves Commission and said we were concerned it was going to be demolished.

“We were out on our own.”

Friends of Bolton upon Dearne Memorial. From left to right are: co founder and treasurer Margaret Fudge, co founder and secretary Sue Hodgson, chairman Lewis Jackson and press officer and artist Eileen Westhead-Petty.

A committee of eight people was put together to save the memorial.

“We carried on and we fought and we fought and had meetings with agencies,” said Sue.

It was eventually agreed that two fewer houses than planned would be built to leave space for the war memorial.

The grounds in which the memorial stands were gifted to the people of Bolton-upon-Dearne on the understanding the site would be used for education purposes.

But the Charity Commission threw a spanner in the works by claiming that the war memorial was not educational and so had to come down.

Sue said: “Having done immense research we realised it was a jewel in our crown so we wrote to English Heritage and they came out.

Art made and donated by RAF Leeming.

“We got a Grade 2 listing which made it harder for the Charity Commission to demolish it.”

The Friends were eventually given custodianship of the site.

“In the end the Charity Commission said let them have it but they cannot have all of it,” said Sue.

The Friends got to see the building plans for the site and discovered that planners wanted to have a road through half of memorial site. But the builders agreed to change the plans and gave five years worth of free use of the site from 2018.

“We are hoping that it stays like that,” said Sue.

“We are limited now to what we can do but we are trying very, very hard.”

The group is maintaining the war memorial – which a study found was so strong it would last for decades – and there are now moves to add a memorial to miners.

“Hopefully next year it will all be finished, ten years after we started it,” said Sue.

Staff from RAF Leeming in north Yorkshire have made metal and wooden soldiers for the site and there are plans for a garden to be grown.

“We have been lucky that our chair’s sister is a lay minister and comes around every year to deliver a service,” said Sue.

“We are trying to keep it alive.

“I say to people we are stood where the wives and family members stood at the opening service.

“We want people who have moved into the village to feel welcomed. They don’t have to have a family member but they can come and attend. We are one big family.

“If anyone brings anything to leave we don’t throw it away. The war memorial is the villagers’. Whatever they want to bring we will not knock it.”

Eileen said that last year, 80 people came to the Remembrance service despite bad weather. This year the turnout was impressive again.

She said that she felt deeply moved by the interest and respect shown by local school children when visiting the site.

“I went to the assembly last year and I cannot describe how it felt to watch three to four year olds show respect by being quiet and respectful when being at the memorial,” she said.

The war memorial in Bolton-upon-Dearne is as much a testament to the fighting spirit of the modern community as it is as a way of remembering war heroes.

And the memorial seems set to stay.

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