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Clifton War Memorial

The war memorial dedication [Z50/30/15] - Captain Le Hardy clearly visible
The war memorial dedication [Z50/30/15] - Captain Le Hardy clearly visible

The war memorial in Clifton is, quite rightly, an attractive and eye-catching structure standing in Church Street near The Pond. The genesis of the memorial was in a special meeting of Clifton Parish Council on 24th July 1919 which was minuted as follows [PCClifton1/1]: "Mr. Norris made a voluntary report of the Victory Celebration Tea and Sports; and stated that the sum of £9.19.5 remained in hands of Treasurers. Mr. Taylor moved that this surplus sum be appropriated to the Memorial for fallen soldiers. This was seconded by Mr. Norris and carried. After discussion upon this object it was moved by Mr. Norris that the Village Pump be removed and the memorial be set up in its place. This, seconded by Mr. Taylor, was carried. Mr. Norris moved that Messrs Oliver, Daniel, Taylor and S. Wilson and Chairman be a committee to get designs of suitable memorials and report as to ways and means of carrying out the object. Mr. F. C. Inskip seconded - carried".

Another special meeting on 8th February 1922 was minuted thus: "The object of the meeting was then stated by the Chairman and it was resolved on a motion of Mr. F. C. Inskip, seconded by Mr. Oliver, that the opening ceremony for the War memorial should be held on the 19th March next and that the Bishop be asked to dedicate the same. The form of service then being decided upon it was moved by Mr. Stevens, seconded by Mr. Oliver that Mr. Le Hardy be asked to unveil the Memorial (carried). It was then resolved on the motion of Mr. Wilson, seconded by Mr. F. C. Inskip that Mr. Chambers of Forest Hill, believed to be at Clifton on the day, be asked to assist in the ceremony. Mr. Norris moved that 200 copies of the form of service be procured and be on sale by each member of Council at the price of 3d. each. Mr. Izzard seconded the motion which was carried. Finally, on considering the probable cost of memorial and subscriptions forthcoming to defray cost of same, the result was found to be satisfactory".

The Bedfordshire Times of 24th March 1922 reported the unveiling of the memorial: "The unveiling of the War Memorial took place on Sunday afternoon in the presence of a large concourse of village people and others from neighbouring villages. The memorial consists of a large block of Portland stone [also used for Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones], firmly fixed, encased and enclosed under the canopy of the former pump which was erected in 1881 by the late Rector, the Rev. H. H. Miles. The stone carries the inscription: "In honoured memory of the men of this parish who fell in the Great War, 1914-1918", and underneath are the names of the twenty seven men: Frank Armour, Frederick Arnold, William Arnold, Herbert Bland, William Burnage, Charles Bland, William Cooper, William Copperwaite, William Dodd, Daniel Dilley, Frank Earl, Ernest Gray, Joseph Goss, George Frederick Meeks, George Legate, Albert Legate, Frank Pateman, William Stevens, Arthur Sharp, Wilfred Slater, Alec Taylor, Frank Wright, Percy West, Bertie Watts, William Walker, Richard Wooding and Arthur Baldock. "Their names liveth for evermore".

"The ceremony opened with the singing of the hymn "O God, our help in ages past" and prayer by Mr. D. H. Hale. An address was given by Captain William Le Hardy, M. C. in which he eulogised the gallant deeds performed by the Bedfordshire Regiment, of which many of the fallen men were members. The regiment fought gallantly from the beginning of the war, and earned a splendid reputation throughout. He was proud as an ex-service man to have been honoured by being asked to unveil the memorial. He concluded his remarks with the words: "In honour of the dead I now unveil this memorial" and stood at the salute, facing the memorial for two minutes amidst perfect silence".

"The Right Rev. J. A. Newnham, D. D., L. L. D., solemnly dedicated the memorial, and the hymn "Rock of Ages, cleft for me" was sung, while beautiful wreaths were deposited at the foot or hung at the sides of the memorial by the sorrowful relatives. The Last Post was sounded by trumpeters from the Royal Air Force at Henlow, by permission of Group Captain A. Burdett Burdett, D. S. O.".

It is a curious coincidence that the ceremony took place on the anniversary of the death of the Rev. H. H. Miles and that the present memorial should have been placed under the canopy erected by that gentleman so many years ago. The combined memorial will thus serve the double purpose of keeping alive the memory of a much beloved Rector and the men who fell in order that we might be free".

Nine of the men killed in the First World War were definitely members of the Bedfordshire Regiment. Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has the war diaries for each battalion allowing a guess about how the men died to be made in each case.

  • Sergeant Arthur Baldock: 2nd Battalion, killed on 31st October 1914 - commemorated on the Menin Gate. He died in a massive German attack on British positions just outside Ypres, the last real effort to break through which was only defeated by the narrowest of margins. The Bedfords occupied ground overlooking the village of Zandvoorde and the War Diary recorded "the losses were very severe on this day". The battalion had been more or less continuously engaged for the previous fortnight.
  • Private Charles Bland: 2nd Battalion, killed on 18th September 1918 - buried in RonssoyCommunalCemetery on the Somme. This was one of the last attacks mounted by the battalion in the war - the first day of five in which the battalion fought near Ronssoy - total casualties were 49 killed, 12 missing, 186 wounded and 3 died of wounds.
  • Private Herbert Charles Bland: 2nd Battalion, died of wounds on 3rd November 1915 - buried in ChocquesMilitaryCemetery. It seems likely that he was wounded in the battalion's tour of the trenches near Givenchy-les-la-Bassée which lasted from 24th to 29th October.
  • Corporal William Cooper: 1st Battalion, killed 4th September 1916 - commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. He was killed during an attack, part of the ongoing Battle of the Somme, on Falfemont Farm and Leuze Wood, not far from the village of Guillemont.
  • Corporal George Dilley: 1st Battalion, killed 23rd April 1917 - commemorated on the Arras Memorial. He was killed in an attack on la Coulotte near Arras - a total of 320 men from the battalion became casualties on that day.
  • Lance Corporal Frank Earl: 4th Battalion, killed on 7th February 1917 - buried at AncreBritishCemetery, Beaumont-Hamel. He must have been hit by a stray shell or shot by a sniper in what was known as "daily wastage" because the battalion moved into the front line that day for a week's stint near Beaumont-Hamel.
  • Private George Legate: 7th Battalion, killed on 1st July 1916 - commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. He was killed on the now infamous "First Day of the Somme" - the day on which the British army lost more men than any other before or since. The day was largely a failure but two divisions, 30th and 18th achieved complete success. 7th Bedfords were in 18th Division and attacked the German line between Montauban-de-Picardie and Mametz. Despite its complete success, the battalion still suffered around a hundred dead.
  • Private Frederick William Meeks: 2nd Battalion, killed on 22nd March 1918 - buried at ChapelleBritishCemetery, Holnon. The 21st March was the opening day of the huge German attack which nearly drove a wedge between the British and French armies and so came close to winning the war for Germany. The day of Private Meeks' death the battalion were near Verlaines and the War Diary states: "Early in the morning a few Germans worked into "C" Company's position, from a Sunken Road just in front of our wire. "A" and "C" Companies were heavily shelled all day and at about 2 p.m. the enemy attacked in large numbers. "C" Company's position was taken and some of our men taken prisoner. The remnants of "A" and "B" Coy hung on till surrounded by large numbers of enemy. They fought very well and only a few got back. By 4 p.m. the enemy could be seen advancing on either side of STEVENS REDOUBT. At 5 p.m. orders were received to withdraw. The withdrawal was carried out at once, but there were a number of casualties as the withdrawal had to be made across open country and the enemy machine gun and shrapnel fire was very heavy. The Battalion withdrew to VERLAINES via GERMAINE - FORESTE - VILLERS ST CHRISTOPHE  and HAM. Billetted in VERLAINES for the night".
  • Private William Henry Walker: 6th Battalion, died of wounds on 16th March 1918 - buried in LijssenthoekMilitaryCemetery, Poperinge. The battalion were near Ypres and on 16th moved into the front line for a six day stint. Private Walker may have been wounded by a shell or sniper during the move and died later in the day or he may have been wounded during the previous stint, which ended on 11th March.

Eight men were killed in the Second World War: Robert Vernon Cockcroft of the RAF; R. Cockcroft; James Dunbadin of the 1st/5th Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire Regiment who died on the Burma Railway; Stanley Arthur Gosby of the Royal Army Medical Corps; G. Napier; Stanley Napier of the RAF; S. Page and Edwin George Rainbow of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.

Sadly, the memorial also records the name of a Clifton man who gave his life in a much more recent, indeed, an ongoing [2009] conflict. Private Jonathan P. Kitulagoda, aged 23 died on 28th January 2004. He served with Devon & Dorset Company, The Rifle Volunteers, a Territorial Army unit (he had attanded Plymouth University), and was killed by a suicide bomber in Kabul, Afghanistan. Four of his comrades were injured in the same blast.

Clifton War Memorial August 2009
Clifton War Memorial August 2009