Garford War Memorial

Cycling through the small village of Garford (a few miles west of Abingdon, Oxfordshire) this week, I came across a very interesting war memorial. An old stone wall runs alongside the road through the village and built into it is a brick war memorial, with tablets listing the names and a small wooden cross inset.

Built by Dennis Godfrey, an Abingdon stonemason, it was unveiled on 20th June 1920. It's unlike anything I've seen before, and is also completely different from Godfrey's other memorials, which consist of more typical crosses in nearby Dry Sandford, Longworth and Shippon. Today, the memorial stands out as odder still as two houses have been built directly behind it (most likely around the 1970s), with views obscured by the tall memorial. It certainly stands out as one passes through the village, so in the immediate post-war years would have been a prominent and memorable tribute to the soldiers.

The memorial also has the benefit of listing both the ten men who died in the First World War as well as the 40 who served and returned to the village. An additional plaque was added for the village's two fallen soldiers from the Second World War. Garford was part of the county of Berkshire until 1974 when it was transferred to Oxfordshire, which is reflected in many of those named having an association to Berkshire regiments.

Including those who survived allows one to see the prominent families of the time. For example, the three Stimpson brothers are listed together. Alfred had served in the Royal Navy from 1912 to 1924, while Edward and Frank were both in the Army, spending the war mostly likely with the Army Service Corps and the Royal Berkshires respectively.

Unfortunately, the Lay family were not so fortunate. Of the four members who went to war, one was to die. Percy Lay went to the war with the Royal Berkshires until he was among several men who were transferred to the Machine Gun Corps. He was killed in action near La Cateau on 18th October 1918, during the final push to victory.

Capt Aldworth (IWM)
Percy Lay was likely one of the last local men to die in the war. Among the first had been Captain Thomas Rupert Aldworth of the 2nd battalion, Royal Berkshires. A career soldier, he had joined the Berks in 1904 after his education at Marlborough. The battalion had been serving in India before the outbreak of war, but was quickly moved to the Western Front. Aldworth was killed at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle on 11th March 1915, the first of the planned British attacks which led to the virtual destruction of the British Regular Army. Aldworth was posthumously mentioned in dispatches and is also remembered on a plaque in All Saints Church, Marcham.

His elder brother John Newton Aldworth was a Major in the territorial 1/4th battalion and was fortunate not only to survive the war, but also to have won the Military Cross on the Somme in 1916. His citation from 22nd September read 'For conspicuous gallantry in action. He was in command of two support companies to the attack, and, realising the situation at the critical moment, by his able handling of his supports enabled the objective to be reached and made good. He set a fine example of coolnness and bravery throughout the attack'. Soon after, he was sent to Senior Officer School for further training, his potential evidently showing through.

The names listed on the memorial are just written as an initial and surname. No indication of their service is given, not even of John Aldworth's high rank or bravery medal. While this can make it frustrating to research the men and match them to a service record, it does also speak to a democratisation of the wartime experience of the Garford families. Both those who died and those who returned are listed alphabetically and given equal space.

It is lastly interesting that some form of compromise appears to have been struck in the layout of the memorial wall. The plaques take the prominent space, with just a small wooden cross above, set back akin to a shrine. The religious symbol is there but is not directly related to the names and neither is any religious language used. This suggests that a balance was struck between the Christian and the civic in commemorating Garford's involvement in the First World War.


Records accessed via Ancestry

1 comment:

  1. Kathryn Thank you for this it is very interesting. I have written a book on the history of Garford and am interested in the the subject of your DPhil.