The first of the big guns, signalling the start of thoughts about the 100th anniversary of the First World War were fired in recent months. There was an announcement by the government that £50 million will be spent on commemorating the losses caused by the conflict. A second headline was the discovery, in Northern France, by a farmer ploughing his fields, of the remains of four British soldiers who had been killed in 1917 and the positive identification of two of them. All were buried this April with full military honours in the presence of latter-day comrades of the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) and Prince Michael of Kent, the Honorary Colonel of the regiment. There was also a representative from Alleyn’s School who was there because one of the two men identified, Private Douglas Elphick went to the school.
Readers will recall that in December 2012 we reported that the Society had received the news that three bronze memorial plaques to WW1 fallen had been found in a workshop at Wellingborough Prison and the names of those commemorated had been traced by local history enthusiasts in Northamptonshire to young men from Dulwich who were connected through being Congregationalists.
In Dulwich, we established that the church from which the plaques were removed was Emmanuel Congregational Church, Barry Road and that the church had been sold in the late 1980’s to become a nursing home and its fittings removed. The congregation then amalgamated with Barry Road Methodist Church and now occupies the former church hall of the old Emmanuel and is named Christchurch.
It appears that around 1990 the church pews, together with the plaques, were sent as scrap to Wellingborough Prison for the use of prisoners in the prison hobby shop. The hobby shop was later discontinued and the buildings re-opened as cycle and motor-cycle workshops where machines were repaired by the prisoners. In 1994 the plaques were rescued from a skip by a concerned member of the staff. They remained in the workshop, forgotten, until Wellingborough Prison was announced for closure in December 2012 when they were rediscovered and were passed to Sywell Aviation Museum who then contacted The Dulwich Society.
What would Guardsman Robert Peters of Desenfans Road have thought about this when he gave his life near Cambrai in 1917, or the Powis brothers of Croxted Road who enlisted together into the 5th London Regiment, (London Rifle Brigade) and were both killed in 1915? Or indeed what would their mother Mildred, who no doubt contributed to the plaques, have thought? Or any of the other 47 Dulwich men who are named?
Meanwhile at the newly created Christchurch, a member of the congregation of Barry Road Methodist Church who had a relative named on the memorial inscribed on the altar of that church which was then demolished, paid for all of the names on that memorial together with all those on the plaques from Emmanuel Church to be copied into a Christchurch Book of Remembrance, a book, we understand, which the church still has.
The Dulwich Society has twice written to Christchurch, offering to pay for the re-installation of the plaques close to their original site as recommended by the War Memorials Trust. We have never received a reply. Nor indeed has the Imperial War Museum who has also written twice. The BBC have now picked up the story and the whole matter has the possibility of becoming a national scandal, which is a great pity because Christchurch does considerable good work in the Dulwich Library area by running a Fair Trade shop and a café which are both open daily.
It is hoped that a resolution will be found as we approach the hundredth anniversary of the First World War and that we can still honestly say “We will remember them”.