This academic year’s level 5 (second-year) Contemporary Past module (the second year it has run) sees us exploring all manner of aspects of present-day landscapes, monuments, built environments, and material cultures from an archaeological perspective.
The 4th field trip was a self-directed exploration by the students, followed by a class-based discussion of their observations regarding transience and homelessness. Hence, I didn’t report on it here, unlike the 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
Recently, I took the students on the 5th field trip. This expedition was all about exploring war memorials in West Cheshire. We did a similar trip for last year’s group: which involved four war memorials:
- Great Barrow
- Ashton Hayes
This time we visited 5 churches in West Cheshire, two repeat visits and three new ones:
- Great Barrow
In this post, I’d like to focus on the revisit to Great Barrow, where previously I had discussed the war memorial on the southern edge of the churchyard. However, on this field trip we observed a further unexpected yet decidedly interesting intersection of mortuary commemoration and the commemoration of the war dead in the churchyard extension to the south-west of the church.
Now, many churchyards in England and Wales have multiple martial dimensions to their commemorative schema. In addition to war memorials either incorporated into them or close to them, churchyards and churches might have books of remembrance, flags, and stained glass windows as conflict commemorative media. There might also contain a range of war graves, either with private memorials as parts of family graves or discrete Commonwealth War Graves Commission gravestones.
Yet a further memorial dimension takes place at Great Barrow. For here, in the churchyard extension, on its southern side, there is a fractionally populated garden of remembrance demarcated by a low hedge, and containing gravel and two rows of recumbent memorial plaques. The focal point of the garden of remembrance is a low, large tree which has a path leading up to it.
At the end of the path, in front of the tree, we encountered a memorial revealing that the entire garden of remembrance was established with a dedication to a local brother and sister and commemorating their brother who died 18th October 1942 Palestine from wounds received fighting in the North African campaigns during the Second World War (presumably sometime in the aftermath of the First Battle of El Alamein and before the Second).
The black memorial stone is distinctive: low and similar in height to a cremation gravestone, it is wider than any comparable memorial. Furthermore, as noted above, all the other cremation plaques are recumbent ledgers and orientated east-west whereas this is erect, placed in front of the central tree, and facing north towards the entrance of the garden of remembrance plot. So in scale, uprightness, orientation, textual formulae, it is marked apart from gravestones, and yet clearly alludes to them.
A garden of remembrance is usually not dedicated, although I’ve seen instances of a memorial commemorates its founding. Instead, it is supposed to be a collective space into which are inserted discretely plotted memorials to private individuals and families which are situated over ashes in relative close proximity. In this parish churchyard, however, the recent and future dead of the parish who are cremated and interred in the churchyard will augment a garden of remembrance with a martial dedication beneath a central cenotaph and memorial tree.