Guide to War Memorials in the UK


There has always been a tendency for soldiers to erect memorials to their fallen colleagues after a battle or campaign especially when there has been a significant loss of life. This memorial can vary from a simple wooden cross to an elaborate marble edifice.

Likewise in the United Kingdom when a particular campaign comes to public notice there has often been a public subscription which has led to a memorial to a Regiment, Battalion or in some cases an individual.

During the Great War both of these took place with battlefield and local UK memorials taking a similar form, usually a wooden cross. These crosses appeared in many churchyards throughout the UK from 1917 onwards.

Agreement was reached for the Cenotaph in London to be the UK memorial to the dead which was later followed by the symbolic Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey.

There was a considerable public feeling of the need to mark the sacrifices of soldiers in local terms which led to the establishment of committees in Towns and Villages throughout the country to raise funds for the erection of a local war memorial.

After some thought, the movement was split with the majority preferring to erect a physical memorial whilst some decided to use the money raised for some project such as a village hall, school, alms houses and even allotments to make the country a better place and by use of the word Memorial to represent the sacrifice that many of the inhabitants had made.


Who was included on the memorials?

Unlike for the CWGC, there was no guidance on who to include and over what period and there was no official contact with the Armed Services to provide lists of men from that locality. Inclusion was left up to the discretion of the committee which means different criteria for different memorials..

In smaller villages ensuring that all were remembered  was no problem as it was well known who had left the village to join the services. In larger villages and small towns this became more of a problem and people were left of the list.

There are many instances of the same man appearing on several notice boards as perhaps his parents nominated him in the village that he was born, Then he was nominated in the village in which he lived when he enlisted and he was also nominated for the village in which his wife was living during the war at the time of his death.

There are also many instances of men no appearing on any war memorial as they were not nominated by any relatives and none of the committee were aware of their service.

There are also a few instances of men deliberately being missed from the list as the Committee organisers disliked or disapproved of that soldier.

The details listed includes again from just the name to name, rank, number, date of death, age and battalion.

Does it only include Servicemen who died?

Once again it depends on the committee who raised the funds and organised the construction. A rule of thumb seems to be that in areas where there were large numbers of men and women killed only the dead are listed. In areas where few men were killed then both the dead and surviving men are shown on the memorial. There were Parishes for whom no men died during either of the two World Wars but who still have memorials. They tend to indicate the dead and survivors. A few will list civilian casualties of bombing.

Does every Town/Village have a memorial?

Virtually all towns and the majority of villages do have a memorial although some memorials may be shared between several villages. Most memorials are in a public spot or in the churchyard but a few are located in public buildings like halls and churches.

Are there private memorials?

There are many private memorials that were erected by firms, schools, church congregations, clubs etc. These tend to be erected at a place associated with the subscribers.

There are also a few memorials erected by a family to one or more of their members with most of these in churches although a few are in favoured locations like parks.

Who Owns the Memorials?

Most town and village memorials are now owned by the Parish/Town Council. A few erected by firms or schools would be privately owned with some having been moved or donated to museums/record offices.

How do I find details of the memorials?

The best way is to make a personal visit but if this is not possible there are several sites online like the Imperial War Museum's memorial pages have photograph's and name listings of the memorials. A Google search of a memorial will normally bring up those details.

A few of the original records made by the committee organising the war memorials have been preserved and are available in records offices.