A link forged in stone

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Etchingham War Memorial in the church yard of The Assumption of Blessed Mary & St Nicholas, December 2018.

My local war memorial in Etchingham is in a terrible state at the moment. I have watched it deteriorate slowly over the course of the year, and it saddens me. The names are now barely legible, with some completely faded. It’s been reported via War Memorials Online, which is a quick and easy way to record the condition of local memorials and report those in poor condition or a state of disrepair. Hopefully, we will see some work carried out on it shortly!

The memorial was unveiled on the 8th of April 1920 by Rudyard Kipling and I simply love this photo of the occasion. There are many such photos recording the unveiling of local memorials up and down the country, and they are I find, extremely powerful images.

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Kipling unveiling the Etchingham memorial in 1920

Here, I wonder what Rudyard was thinking – his son John is named on the Burwash memorial and his thoughts must have turned to him as he took part in this ceremony in his neighbouring village. By this time, five years had passed since John was reported missing, presumed dead at the Battle of Loos.  Was Kipling thinking of the months and years spent searching for his son, wondering if he could have done more and where in France he lay? I look too at the faces in the crowd gathered around – so many people for such a small village. Veterans among them perhaps, trying to comprehend why the cards life dealt them differed so greatly from their friends or recounting the horrors that they bore witness to, still fresh in the minds eye. Mothers and Wives were there almost certainly, lamenting the death of their loved ones left alone in some foreign land, remembering the final kiss goodbye and last words spoken. To have no grave to kneel beside and whisper those things you wish you had said in life, or visit on a birthday or anniversary – to be denied that outlet for grief must have been truly horrific for the families of those killed. It is, one of the cruellest aspects of the way in which the Great War’s scythe swept across the thousands of men who fought. It is in photos like these, that we are given an insight into the devastation wrought by the war at home in the households of every village of our country.

Whenever I stand beside a war memorial, wherever it may be, I think of those who stood in that spot at its unveiling and on every birthday and anniversary as the years went by. The memorials gave people a link to their loved one, buried all those miles away, sometimes with no known grave at all, and they link us to Them still. It is our duty to preserve these monuments, and ensure that link is never broken.

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