It was on 16th October 1927 that Poole’s civic war memorial was unveiled by Alderman Herbert Carter, Mayor of Poole, nine years after the end of the war and six years after the unveiling of Bournemouth’s fine memorial in the central gardens. Several local churches, schools and workplaces had already produced memorials of their own and the question arises as to why it took the town so long to produce its main memorial. The story of the debate over what form a memorial should take is told on the Poole First World war website at: https://ww1poole.wordpress.com/2018/11/10/a-war-memorial-for-poole/
Herbert Carter sums it up in his autobiography: ‘Previous mayors had done their best to carry out the wishes of the public, but these wishes were so diverse and contradictory and their advocates so uncompromising that meetings invariably broke up without anything being done. There was a feeling that any formal memorial without any practical intent was unwelcome, yet as soon as some practical suggestion was made it was immediately ridiculed and vetoed. Eventually we persuaded a meeting at the Guildhall to erect something beautiful, modest in its cost and in a suitable site, whilst asking those who preferred something “practical” to earmark their contribution for the use of the Hospital. . . I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but I feel strongly that our Memorial meets a great need of which I am reminded every time I go through Poole Park.’
The designer of the memorial was James Allner F.R.I.B.A., a local architect with an office in Boone’s ironmongers in Poole High Street. As Diocesan Architectural Surveyor to the Archdeaconry of Dorset, Allner had the right credentials. The design is of a tall, slender cross with a Purbeck stone and brick shaft, surmounted by dolphins and scallop shells in a reference to the town coat of arms. It was described at the time as being of 15th century character but also has stylistic links with the 1920s. The cross is set within a formal garden beside the salt water lake in Poole Park, surrounded by low walling and paving with bricks made from local clay. The inscription round the base reads ‘They died that we might live. We will remember them.’
A large crowd of perhaps 10,000 people, including servicemen, the British Legion, the fire brigade, the lifeboat service, scouts and guides attended the unveiling of the memorial on a warm and cloudless day. The proceedings began with a hymn (O God, our help in ages past), with music by three massed bands. The Reverend C. Egerton Williams, Rector of Poole, led a short service followed by an address by Major-General W.H.M. Lowe C.B. and then a disabled ex-serviceman invited the Mayor to unveil the memorial. Afterwards, Herbert Carter commented that ‘the monument itself, with the lake as background, seemed to me to possess nobility as well as beauty.’
The unveiling ceremony, however, was overshadowed (at least in the press) by the visit three days later of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales to lay a wreath at the memorial. It was just one of his numerous engagements that day across Bournemouth and Poole. The distinguished visitor was welcomed at County Gates by the Lord Lieutenant of Dorset, the Earl of Shaftesbury and a collection of dignitaries including the Mayor and Poole’s oldest resident, 103-year-old Mr. H. Bening Arnold. A crimson ‘bannerette’ across the entrance to the Borough proclaimed ‘Poole Greets Our Prince’ in golden letters.
The party then drove to Constitution Hill where the Prince admired the view of the harbour. In the park a large crowd had gathered including ex-servicemen, school children and representatives of many local services. The Prince laid the wreath (handed to him by the Mayor’s daughter, Betty) and inspected the monument, saying that he had never seen one like it. The proceedings ended with the schoolchildren singing ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales’ to the accompaniment of the Bournemouth Gasworks Band. The Prince must have attended hundreds of such ceremonies in those post-war years (and heard that particular anthem) but the royal presence continued to work its magic. As Herbert Carter later wrote ‘I have a very happy remembrance of a young man who wore rosy spectacles, was kind and considerate and anxious to please, and who had caught and understood the humour of the man in the street.’
For the past 90 years, the memorial in the Park has been the focus of commemorative events. Now the memorial and its surrounding area have been repaired and improved in time to feature in the special events to mark the centenary of the end of World War I. I wonder whether it will still be around in 2118?
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