Many war memorials are now almost 100 years old.
Memorials are significant as a focus for community and family grief, for community commemoration, as part of a public art movement, and as a valuable source of historical information.
There is often no one source of information about a war memorial. This site is intended to give a starting point for your research into the history of a memorial.
What is a war memorial?
War memorials are tangible objects erected or dedicated to commemorate war, conflict, victory or peace; or casualties who served in, were affected by or killed as a result of war, conflict or peacekeeping; or those who died as a result of accident or disease whilst in military service.
Why are war memorials important?
After conflicts people need a focus for their grief, loss and pride. Although there are war memorials in the UK dating back to the 7th century the greatest wave of memorial building came after the First World War. As an important part of our rich cultural heritage they connect us with the global conflicts that shaped the world we live in today. They chart the changing face of commemoration as well as artistic, social, local, military and international history.
Different forms of memorial
Different forms of memorial
War memorials take many forms including:
- Freestanding Monuments such as sculpted figures, crosses, obelisks, cenotaphs, columns, etc.
- Boards, plaques and tablets (which can be inside or outside buildings)
- Rolls of honour or books of remembrance
- Dedicated building that serve as community halls, hospitals, bus shelters, clock towers, streets, museums, galleries etc.
- Church fittings like bells, pews, lecterns, lighting, windows, altars, screens, candlesticks, etc.
- Trophies and relics such as a preserved gun or the wreckage that remians at an aircraft crash site
- Land, including parks, gardens, playing fields and woodland
- Additions to gravestones (but not graves)
- Musical Instruments
How can I find out more about a memorial, memorial park or garden?
Search IWM’s War Memorials Register for information and references.
Many communities chose to commemorate their war dead with a memorial park or garden. Some of the finest examples in England are included on Historic England’s Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. A UK-wide gazetteer of examples is being compiled by Parks & Gardens UK.
Many local groups such as family or local history societies have researched war memorials and offer online information.
War memorial artists and craftsmen
A memorial may be a collaboration of multiple designers, artists and artisans. Mapping Sculpture holds information about less well-known artists and businesses involved in public sculpture, including plaster cast makers and stone carvers. The Public Monuments and Sculpture Association (PMSA) lists relevant war memorials and also publishes the 16-volume Public Sculpture of Britain , which describes history, work and materials with outline biographies of sculptors.
The Henry Moore Institute in Leeds has a collection of sculptors’ papers, photos and drawings covering British sculptural practice. National collections such as the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Academy hold collections relating to exhibitions, architects and artists involved in the creation of war memorials, including those of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
War memorial Dates
Why do some memorials show the dates 1914-1919 or 1921, rather than 1914-1918?
Many communities considered the First World War to have ended at the Armistice (11 November 1918), when the Peace Treaty of Versailles was signed (28 June 1919) or when Parliament declared the war ended (31 August 1921). Troops served on into the 1920s in Germany, Palestine and North Russia, and so some war memorials may use dates that are relevant to the service of the individuals commemorated.
Who decided the people to be commemorated?
War memorials were usually designed by a local organising committee, who would decide what form the memorial would take, where it would be located, and who would be commemorated on it. Criteria might be imposed to limit commemoration to those killed or to include those who served and returned. Strict geographical boundaries or membership records might be applied. Sometimes a financial donation was required. Some committees were flexible and open to individual requests. Whatever their choice, there was no central list of casualties for each area so information had to be collected door-to-door or by post, through church or local press announcements or by word of mouth. Information about the reasons for decisions and the process of name gathering is often now lost. Local newspapers or parish meeting minutes may describe discussions.
For official Memorials to the Missing, the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission received instructions and casualty information from the relevant military and government sources.
Animal War Memorials
Memorials represent diversity of war experience including a wish to commemorate animals, including those that were killed, or gave assistance or companionship, in conflict.
Who owns a war memorial?
Ownership or custodianship of war memorials can be complex. Local memorials were originally overseen by a committee, which was usually wound up once the memorial was dedicated. Some individuals, associations, regiments or companies (or their legal successors) have retained ownership of their memorial. Often there was no provision for the future care of memorials, and many local authorities have assumed responsibility.
Parish Minutes or the online lists of trusts/charities from the Charity Commission in England and Wales, from the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator or the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, may indicate if ownership has been formally transferred at any time. The War Memorials Trust has further information to guide you in identifying ownership and the legal position of war memorials.
UK war memorials
Most memorials were a local initiative, so there was never requirement to ‘register’ a war memorial with any central authority. The aim of IWM’s War Memorials Register is to create a complete, searchable list of all war memorials in the UK, including those now lost. At present (June 2017) there are over 70,000 entries on the database and a public recording programme during the centenary seeks to identify the remaining war memorials.
War Memorials Online is seeking to create a greater understanding of the condition of war memorials in the UK and is developing a condition record for each of the memorials in its database.
Local or family history societies may make their own existing research available online. County Record Offices or Local History Centres may hold Committee minutes and plans. Local newspapers often reported on war memorial projects from inception to unveiling. For memorials on church property, church or parish records, including faculties (licences to carry out work on Church of England churches) may provide detail about the memorial project. Local people may have also retained records.
War memorials outside the UK?
There are no centralised records for memorials elsewhere. The IWM’s War Memorials Register records war memorials in the UK, Channel Islands and Isle of Man.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is responsible for the war graves and official Memorials to the Missing of British and Commonwealth war dead of the First and Second World Wars in some 153 countries.