To coincide with the 75th anniversary of VE day, I reflect on war memorials and their varied and complex settings and often multi-phased constructions and relocations. I tie this to an example of my repeated Archaeodeath theme of exploring ‘lapidaria’ composed of historic gravestones created when churchyards are cleared.
These themes coincide in the case of St John’s Churchyard, Brymbo, formerly the site of St John’s church (for the Welsh, built 1891 and replacing an earlier church of 1837).
The church was demolished after 1974 and the war memorial relocated to its former site from when it had been on the High Street to occupya position near the high altar of the original church.
Google Earth via of the memorial garden, formerly the churchyard of St John’s
This war memorial was originally dedicated in 1920 and commemorates the dead of the parish who died in the First World War, and augmented with a plaque commemorating the Second World War.
‘We Will Remember Them’. There are 59 names in total for the First World War, but the register fails to record the 26 from the Second World War.
Lacking (as usual) in the online materials about the memorial is a discussion of its distinctive relocation from a former site and its current context. First up, it is odd and indicative of its translation and repositioning that the First World War plaque is set looking north, while the Second World War names are on the west (front) side. Often they are opposite or the prominence is given to the first: the First World War names. So this is a distinctive arrangement representative of its translation.
The wider memorial context of the former churchyard is worth further discussion. The war memorial is set at the centre of a cruciform pavement in what was the former church.
Meanwhile, the memorial garden remains populated by recumbent gravestones, two tomb chests, one now protected by ugly green railings as if it were an electric substation, a few upstanding gravestones.
Yet most arranged around the churchyard wall, closely packed but set diagonal to the wall so that their names can stil be perceived at an angle. They bustle together in rows, as if waiting for transport to a future destination. It is a further striking example of the practice of arrangement dislocated gravestones, preserving whilst displacing them as discussed recently here and here.
The church has been replaced by the war memorial, its churchyard has become a memorial garden, and the civilian graves of the 19th century have been cleared and now stand in regimented rows guarding the remembrance of the war dead.