First World War memorials are often never far from water: situated as many are at churches, in churchyards, market squares and other key locations in historic settlements. Yet some are often situated explicitly beside and facing over water. I’ve discussed numerous examples of these in relation to seascapes and coasts during my previous musings on war memorials here. Check out this post, for example, on Angle’s war memorial. However, I haven’t yet addressed war memorials facing over rivers. One example is Caversham, a village historically in Oxfordshire where the well, bridge and river have sacred associations with St Anne.
The memorial is situated on Christchurch Meadow on the north bank of the River Thames. It is a Grade II listed monument (IWM 9058). It bears the names of 260 dead of the First World War, 173 from the Second World War, and one from Afghanistan, plus 9 Second World War civilians. The Imperial War Museum and Historic England websites describe it as ‘octagonal’, but it is actually hexagonal with three broad faces and a Latin cross.
The First World War inscription is simple: 1914-1918 / TO THE GLORY / OF GOD.
The plinth below has a more extensive Second World War memorial text: THEY WHOM THIS MEMORIAL/ COMMEMORATES WERE NUMBERED AMONG/ THOSE WHO AT THE CALL OF KING AND/ COUNTRY. LEFT ALL THAT WAS DEAR TO/ THEM. ENDURED HARDSHIP. FACED DANGER/ AND FINALLY PASSED OUT OF THE SIGHT/ OF MEN BY THE PATH OF DUTY AND SELF/ SACRIFICE. GIVING UP THEIR OWN LIVES/ THAT OTHERS MIGHT LIVE IN FREEDOM/ LET THOSE THAT COME AFTER SEE TO IT/ THAT THEIR NAMES BE NOT FORGOTTEN/ 1939 – 1945
The location is distinctive, on the meadows east of Caversham Bridge overlooking the Thames by Pipers Island. This is a public space, flooded after heavy rain and thus very close to the river’s flow and shifting its association with the water with the seasons. It is accessible on foot from the village, but visible from the tow paths on both sides of the river. Hence, the memorial looks out over the Thames rather than inward to the settlement.
This is a memorial connection to nature, but also to time and life. The river is very much the historic focus and livelihood of the village, a threshold between counties (Berkshire to the south and Oxfordshire to the north) and a timeless flow of water linking past, present and future.