The Witley War Memorials

Great War memorial, All Saints' Church, Witley

Title: Great War memorial, All Saints' Church, Witley
Description: Copyright Stephen Mills. By courtesy of All Saints' Church, Witley. by-nc

The Witley War Memorials

The Great War had only just ended when the Reverend Newill, vicar of All Saints’, Witley, proposed that a list of all the Witley men who had died be published in the January 1919 All Saints’ magazine and called for a public meeting to be held in Witley School to discuss a memorial inside the church and one outside.

At a meeting on 23 May 1919 several designs for a tablet of remembrance to be placed inside All Saints’ were shown and it was proposed that a fundraising effort be started.  In August 1919 the All Saints’ magazine reported that a design for a memorial tablet in the church submitted by Mary Newill (the vicar’s sister) had been accepted.  The design was inspired by a doorway in the 10th century cathedral of Saint Tryphon in Cattaro, Dalmatia.  Mary had spent some time studying in Florence at the turn of the 20th Century and it is likely that whilst in Italy she travelled to Dalmatia.  Saint Tryphon was consecrated on 19 June 1116 and is one of the oldest examples of Romanesque architecture along the Adriatic coast.  The idea of a large cross or other memorial in the churchyard was not approved, and it was later decided there would be an outside war memorial but this would be a separate project.

The memorial tablet, in Ancaster stone, was cut and engraved by Mr A Mitchell of Witley, who had recently returned from active service. The central piece is a statue by Stanley Nicholson Babb, also known as Norman Babb, of a winged angel over a wounded soldier with the names of the dead listed on either side in date of death order.  Babb had also studied in Italy and maybe he and Mary knew each other before the memorial was designed.  Babb sculpted several notable memorials including to Robert Falcon Scott in St Paul’s Cathedral, a Boer War memorial in Grahamstown, South Africa, Great War memorials at Tunbridge Wells, Bridlington and Coutts Bank, London as well as the figures of Thomas Gainsborough and George Romney on the facade of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The memorial tablet in All Saints Church, Witley, was dedicated by the Bishop of Guildford at a service at 7:30 pm on 30 June 1920.  The main part of the church was reserved for near relatives of the dead and those who returned.

In August 1921, a public meeting was held in Witley School to present ideas for the village war memorial, including the funding, to be sited on Petworth Road, near the White Hart, where it is today.

In February 1923, the war memorial committee headed by Robert Holmes (owner of the White Hart, a churchwarden and father of Percy Holmes who was killed in September, 1918) reported work was well in hand and would be completed by Easter. The memorial was designed and executed by Mr A Mitchell and is very similar to the cross of sacrifice found in many cemeteries in France.  The cost was estimated at £260/0/0 of which £100/0/0 had been raised and further donations were called for.

Witley War Memorial, Petworth Road, Witley

Title: Witley War Memorial, Petworth Road, Witley
Description: Image courtesy of Stephen Mills by-nc

On Whit Sunday afternoon, 1923, the memorial was unveiled by Field Marshal Sir William Robertson. The service and prayers were led by Reverend Newill who dedicated the memorial; four boys from King Edward’s School played the last post and reveille.

In July 1923, it was reported by Robert Holmes that the final total cost of the memorial was £301/9/0, all funded by public subscription.

The names of the Second World War dead were added around 1948 but not without controversy as some parishioners felt the money would be better spent on helping the needy. Once again, Mr A Mitchell did the carving.

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