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Frances Moreton: We must all protect memorials to the fallen

THE issue of war memorial theft is now repeatedly in the headlines. From statues being sawn off at the feet to plaques ripped from the heart of a memorial, the gaping hole leaves you wondering how anyone can be so heartless as to steal from these focal points of community remembrance.

Some communities will gather on Sunday at memorials bereft of their metal elements. The names of those remembered may be missing but by standing together, heads bowed in silence, those communities are demonstrating how such acts will not deter us from respecting the dead nor prevent us paying our respects.

Often temporary solutions have been created. In Willaston, Cheshire school children are designing replacement plaques; an opportunity to involve young people, encourage their understanding of our heritage and ensure that they, as tomorrow’s custodians, recognise the importance of preserving our war memorials.

War Memorials Trust and the SmartWater Foundation are offering communities a chance to protect their war memorials and deter those contemplating theft. In Memoriam 2014 will enable custodians to apply for the SmartWater product free of charge, apply it to the metal elements of their war memorial and register their memorial as marked.

Should the worst happen, there is a chance that items taken can be traced and anyone found handling it revealed as a war memorial thief.

More importantly, we hope it will deter people from even considering such acts as they recognise that memorials are being protected. Perhaps they will gain a sense, from the coverage of the last few weeks, of the morale outrage which follows such acts. To find out more about the project visit the website www.inmemoriam2014.org.

The saddest thing when plaques are taken is that there may be no record of the names on them. When people seek to replace the plaques, they struggle to find the names and sometimes one or two of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice slip from history. Alongside its work to prevent the shocking crime of theft, War Memorials Trust works to protect and conserve war memorials by helping local communities understand how to look after them and by providing grants for repair and conservation works.

One of the most important things communities can do is to ensure they have a record of their memorials; ideally held by the custodian but shared with your local council’s War Memorials Officer or Historic Environment Record.

War Memorials Trust has helped communities across Yorkshire in recent years including Brompton on Swale, Drax, Harrogate, Hutton Magna, Meanwood, Settle and Withernsea. The charity may assist re-pointing to protect a memorial from the weather, re-cutting by hand the names of the fallen, adding the name of a soldier who has fallen in Afghanistan, electrifying a war memorial clock to ensure it continues to tick in memory or providing disabled access to a war memorial hall to prevent it being forced to close.

The Trust celebrates the diversity of our war memorial heritage. It reflects the choices made by those directly affected by loss whose dead where often buried in places they could never envisage visiting.

War Memorials Trust’s first director, Sir Donald Thompson was, in the words of our former President, Winston Churchill, “as ‘Yorkshire’ as pudding, with accent to match, and had a charm that none could gainsay”.

Sir Donald, MP for Calder Valley for many years, was instrumental in developing this charity and instilling in us the belief in its work. Therefore on his behalf I remind readers that War Memorials Trust is a charity.

It undertakes its work thanks to he generosity of those who share our beliefs in the importance of protecting and conserving war memorial heritage. If you share this belief please consider making a donation or joining us.

As collective custodians we have a duty to protect our war memorials so future generations understand the sacrifices so many were prepared to make.

Please do not leave our war memorials to someone else. Stop and look; monitoring them is the best way to identify problems early and minimise work and cost to rectify issues.

If there is metal on your memorial. contact the custodian and ensure they have registered for In Memoriam 2014; if you don’t know who the custodian is ask around or register the memorial at In Memoriam 2014 and we can help find out who is responsible.

Yorkshire can be proud of the role of one of its own in developing this charity, prouder yet of its wonderful war memorial heritage and proudest of the men and women from Yorkshire who have made the ultimate sacrifice both today and yesterday.

On Sunday, it is at our war memorials that we pay tribute, and what more fitting tribute could there be than to ensure these are in a fit condition and protected?

• Frances Moreton is director of the War Memorials Trust. Further details are available at www.warmemorials.org

 

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