Woodchester Wayside Cross

A First World War memorial that is believed to be the oldest in Britain.

The First War Memorial in the Country

The wooden wayside cross and stone memorial situated in the field below the Church on land given by the Dominican fathers and brothers in a prominent position.  It was started in July 1916, making it the first War Memorial in the country to serve a whole town or district. It was dedicated on June 3rd, 1917, when the A46 was widened to accommodate the 3000 people who came to the ceremony. It was later the scene of the first Remembrance Sunday held here on August 4th, 1918, the fourth anniversary of the outbreak of war, Trinity Sunday and St. Dominic’s Day. Cardinal Bourne gave the sermon to a remarkable10000 people (as estimated by the army).

Fundraising Effort in 2014 to Restore the Monument

A major fundraising effort in 2014 raised enough money for the almost complete restoration of this important monument, with generous donations in particular from Renishaws plc.; Mr James Chamberlain; and Mr Peter Brown of Dennis Brown Wood yard. It bears the names of more than 140 of the fallen from the local area and from far away. It was built for all classes and creeds, and the bereaved only had to ask for a name to be included. These names are being re-etched on the 12 stone plaque.

Some of the Soldiers Remembered

Playwright Terrence Rattigan took inspiration from the case of George Archer-Shee, one of the names inscribed in the memorial, for his play ‘The Winslow Boy’.  It is the story of a boy who was expelled from Naval College for stealing a five shilling postal order.  His father fought to clear his son’s name, and a legal precedent was set when Archer-Shee was found innocent and paid compensation.  He re-joined the forces as a second lieutenant and was killed at Ypres in October 1914 at the age of 19.

Maurice Dease, the first posthumously awarded Victoria Cross recipient of the Great War, is also remembered at the Cross, as is Major Richard (Dick) Raymond-Barker M.C., the 79th victim of Baron Manfred von Richthofen, “The Red Baron”. Lieutenant R W Jennings, who was rescued by Thomas Turrell V.C. from the battlefield at La Boiselle, is also remembered.

It is an imposing and important monument, being the first in the history of Remembrance. A book has been written by Philip Goodwin and Jane Bethell, giving the story of its building and details of the names. It is available from the church, all funds going towards the restoration and preservation, so that it may stand for ever to honour the Fallen Heroes of the Great War.

Rededication of the WaySide Cross after 100 Years on the 10th June 2017

Mid afternoon the crowds began to gather around the Wayside Cross rather like they had 100 years ago. The Nailsworth Silver Band played songs of the era and a choir drawn from several local choirs led the singing. As four o'clock approached, the main players in the service started to gather. The clergy formed a group below the cross - Father Bill, Deacon Bogdan, Rev Peter Francis from St Mary's Woodchester, Father Leo Edgar O.P. who had come from London, and Bishop Declan. There were representatives from the various regiments of the army whose soldiers are remembered on the cross. A group of about forty relatives of the men were also gathered. There were also scouts, cubs, guides, brownies and rainbows around the fence above the cross.

At 4pm the Princess Royal arrived and was greeted by the Lord Lieutenant and by George Bastin of the organising committee and Bishop Declan. She walked up to the cross past a guard of honour from the Royal British Legion. Father Bill began the service with an introduction, which was followed by prayers led by each of the clergy in turn. After the last hymn, the Princess Royal and Admiral Sir Tim Laurence each laid a wreath of laurel and rosemary. Father Leo then laid the first of the 140 roses – one for each of the dead named on the cross. The relatives and representatives of some of the local churches and villages then added their roses, followed by the children who had gathered around the fence above the cross. The regimental representatives also laid wreaths.

The Last Post was sounded followed by a minute's silence and Reveille.  The Kohima Epitaph and final prayers followed and Bishop Declan blessed the congregation. We all sang God Save the Queen. Ten-year-old Katie Crooks, who had travelled from Cheshire, a relative of Victor Frederick Newport, presented the Princess Royal with a small posy.

Princess Anne was then presented to the clergy, representatives of the relatives of the dead and of the scouts and guides. After the Princess had left we were invited to the school hall where lovely home-made cakes and teas were provided. Visitors could also purchase the book about the Wayside Cross and look at an exhibition about Woodchester in the First World War and a display of photographs of the first ceremony.

For many people who drive past it’s just another war memorial to those local men who lost their lives in World War One. But take a closer look and you’ll notice a difference because unlike so many well cared for stone memorials in our towns and villages this one has a wooden cross. That’s because it’s one of the first memorials erected in England to mark the ultimate price paid by those who died in the Great War. It’s not a civic memorial but a religious one.

Father Hugh Pope, the Prior of the Abbey, launched an appeal for the Wayside Cross on 14 June 1916 some two weeks before the start of the Battle of the Somme. Perhaps the reasons for it being built were best described at the time, in the words of his appeal in the Stroud Journal. Source http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p029yr2n

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