Mill Hill Chapel Cenotaph, Leeds

Back in June I asked the question on this blog whether the Cenotaph outside the modern Bury Unitarian Church which commemorated members of the three congregations of Chesham, Heywood and Bank Street, Bury, was the only Unitarian Cenotaph:

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2015/06/15/the-only-unitarian-cenotaph/

Neville Kenyon sent a number of photographs depicting the Cenotaph which are now published on the Faith and Freedom Great War Project site:

http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/GWindex.htm

Neville wondered if this was a unique memorial in Unitarian church circles and I did suspect that he might be right. However, we can now be sure that it is not unique. The Rev Jo James has sent me some pictures of the Cenotaph at Mill Hill Chapel, Leeds which stands very prominently in front of his grand gothic church in the city centre. All these pictures will also appear online on the Faith and Freedom Great War Project.

Cenotaph Mill Hill (Photo: Jo James)
Cenotaph Mill Hill (Photo: Jo James)

Jo tells me that the list of names on the Cenotaph is that of those members of Mill Hill who were killed in the First World War. Inside the church a second tablet lists all those who served (although it does not include any of the female members who served in different ways in the war. An interesting account of the war service of Mary Cicely Wicksteed, one of three sisters from the Chapel who saw service in the war, by Ruth Allison, can be seen here: https://pelicanroad.wordpress.com/2015/07/02/mary-cicely-wicksteed-and-jogendra-nath-sen-and-leeds-pals-by-ruth-allison/).

The memorial inside the chapel (Photo: Jo James)
The memorial inside the chapel (Photo: Jo James)

The names on the Cenotaph are listed in order of rank and include their regiment as well as three additional names from the Second World War. Of the names listed Jo points out particularly the names of Lupton, who lost four members of one family, and Hirsch who lost two members in the two world wars. Jo also mentions that the name listed as Private Sen J. Nath is believed to be the only non-white combatant from Yorkshire to die in the First World War, J.N. Sen was a member of the Mill Hill Chapel Choir and may also have been a member of the Brahmo Samaj. More on Private Sen can be read on Dave Stowe’s interesting blog:

https://pelicanroad.wordpress.com/2014/11/28/pte-jogendra-sen-a-leeds-pal-and-son-of-leeds-2/

The Unitarian Cenotaph Leeds (Photo Jo James)
The Unitarian Cenotaph Leeds (Photo Jo James)

The inscription at the foot of the Cenotaph comes from the book of Lamentations – Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? It seems an appropriate quotation when one considers the loss of so many young men such as the four members of the Lupton family. The families of all those men listed on the plaque must have reflected on that passage very often, Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow.

I didn’t know there was a Cenotaph outside Mill Hill Chapel but I had seen one of the names listed on the memorial before. Captain D.P. Hirsch of the Yorkshire Regiment is listed as having been awarded the Victoria Cross. He must have belonged to a fairly staunch Unitarian family because he was educated at Willaston School and his name also appears on that school’s war memorial, an object which was rescued from the school when it closed by the Rev H.J. McLachlan and placed in Harris Manchester College where it can still be seen today:

Willaston School Memorial - now situated in Harris Manchester College, Oxford
Willaston School Memorial – now situated in Harris Manchester College, Oxford

Willaston School only operated from 1900 to 1937 but was a successful small public school that had been set up specifically to educate the children of Unitarian families.

Captain Hirsch’s citation for the VC reads:

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in attack. Having arrived at the first objective, Captain Hirsch, although twice wounded, returned over fire-swept slopes to satisfy himself that the defensive flank was being established. Machine gun fire was so intense that it was necessary for him to be continuously up and down the line encouraging his men to dig and hold the position.

He continued to encourage his men by standing on the parapet and steadying them in the face of machine gun fire and counter-attack until he was killed. His conduct throughout was a magnificent example of the greatest devotion to duty.

 

A brief search online shows that David Philip Hirsch’s letters are now preserved in Leeds University. He was only 20 years old when he was killed. He was a star pupil at Willaston School and became the head boy before winning a scholarship to Worcester College, Oxford. After the war his parents paid for a new swimming pool to be built in the school in his memory. It would be interesting to know if the swimming pool (and the memorial chapel) are still preserved on the site of the former school.

This leads on to another question (or questions) – how many Unitarians were awarded the VC in the First World War? Indeed how many Unitarians have been awarded the VC since it was instituted in 1856?

Captain Philip Hirsch VC
Captain Philip Hirsch VC

The only Unitarian Cenotaph?

The Great War Project begun by Faith and Freedom is attracting a lot of positive interest and more material is being added, almost on a daily basis. Within the memorial section there soon will be added some pictures of the Cenotaph at Bury Unitarian Church which have been sent in by Neville Kenyon, many of which are reproduced here.

Cenotaph, Bury Unitarian Church
Cenotaph, Bury Unitarian Church

Neville suggests that this is the only Unitarian Cenotaph and I suspect that he must be right. Of course, Cenotaph means, literally, ‘empty tomb’ and in amongst the many old and quite extensive graveyards that exist around the country there must be a few tombs that fall into that category for one reason or another. But by Cenotaph we generally mean a freestanding public monument inspired by the Cenotaph in Whitehall, and repeated in many cities, towns and villages.

The Bury Cenotaph
The Bury Cenotaph

The idea for Cenotaphs came from the experience of the First World War when so many soldiers had no known grave. In such a situation there was a need for a focus of remembrance, something that could symbolise the sacrifice and loss that was felt by so many people. To this end the Whitehall Cenotaph and all those that came after it fulfilled a very special role in national consciousness. And how different such monuments are when we compare them with other memorials that were erected following wars such as the Arc de Triomphe or the Brandenburg Gate, to name just two. Unlike them there is no overt military symbolism in the Cenotaph. It is much more restrained, much more dignified.

In 1924 the author H.V. Morton described his feelings as he stood near the Cenotaph on an ordinary morning:

I look up at the Cenotaph. A parcels delivery boy riding a tricycle van takes off his worn cap. An omnibus goes by. The men lift their hats. Men passing with papers and documents under their arms, attache and despatch cases in their hands – all the business of life – bare their heads as they hurry by.
Six years have made no difference here. The Cenotaph – that mass of national emotion frozen in stone – is holy to this generation. Although I have seen it so many times on that day once a year when it comes alive to an accompaniment of pomp as simple and as beautiful as church ritual, I think that I like it best just standing here in a grey morning, with its feet in flowers and ordinary folk going by, remembering.

The Bury Cenotaph is very public and very similar to the memorials that are more often  municipal, regimental or governmental in origin. It commemorates the members of three congregations who served in the First World War, with the names of those who served in the Second World War being added later. These were three long-established local congregations, who amalgamated into one with a bold new meeting house in 1974.

A view from the other side
A view from the other side

The Cenotaph is situated in front of the church in the centre of what was the graveyard but which is now a public space. This space was originally called Library Gardens but has recently been renamed by the council with what seems a much more satisfying designation of Church Gardens. Neville tells me that on Remembrance Sunday the congregation meets at 11.00 am at the Cenotaph for the one minute silence, the Last Post is played, before the congregation goes into the church for a service of remembrance, the names of those inscribed on the memorial being read.

There is a plaque to commemorate each of the three congregations represented by the modern congregation – Chesham, Heywood and Bank Street, Bury. The Bank Street plaque – beneath the title ‘Bank Street Presbyterian Chapel Unitarian’ – has the longest list of names (I counted 40 names from the First World War) but it is by far the most weathered.

Bank Street Presbyterian Chapel Unitarian
Bank Street Presbyterian Chapel Unitarian

There are 23 names from the First World War on the Heywood memorial and five on the Chesham memorial.

Britain Hill Unitarian Church Heywood
Britain Hill Unitarian Church Heywood
Chesham Unitarian Church Bury
Chesham Unitarian Church Bury

In my possession I have a medal struck to commemorate the centenary of the Bank Street Sunday School in 1905. The medal is inscribed ‘In Remembrance from Cuthbert C. Grundy’ and it must have been given to all the Sunday School scholars at the time. It is sad to think that so many of the children who received this medal in 1905 will be amongst the long list of volunteers whose names were inscribed on the Cenotaph just a few years later.

The Bury Sunday School medal
The Bury Sunday School medal

Is it the only Unitarian Cenotaph? If you know of any other please let me know and, best of all, send a picture. The only place that I know that comes near is Ullet Road Church in Liverpool which has a memorial set in its own large and well-kept grounds. But although it is a First World War Memorial that performs the same role as a Cenotaph the design is different to that of Bury, although not dissimilar to ones found in many places around the UK.

War Memorial Ullet Road Church Liverpool
War Memorial Ullet Road Church Liverpool

But it would be nice to hear if anywhere else possesses a memorial in any way similar to that of Bury. Or maybe Bury is unique?

BuryCenotaph04