First of all I have to admit that I don’t normally take much notice of war memorials – if I see one and it looks nice or enhances the view then I’ll take a photo but I don’t stand there reading the inscriptions as the names mean nothing to me. However the one I saw recently in Ashton Gardens at St. Annes is so impressive and so movingly detailed it literally stopped me in my tracks and I just had to take some time to study it properly and photograph the many different aspects of it.
In the aftermath of the First World War, which had claimed many thousands of British lives, a huge wave of public commemoration resulted in tens of thousands of war memorials being erected across England, and one of these stands in Ashton Gardens as a permanent testament to the sacrifice made by those members of the local community who had lost their lives during the war. Financed by a gift of £10,000 from Lord Ashton and unveiled in October 1924 the cenotaph itself was designed by prominent Scottish architect Thomas Smith Tait and constructed in white granite, with the bronze sculptural work carried out by notable Lancashire-born sculptor Walter Marsden who had himself served during the war and had been awarded a Military Cross.
The very top of the memorial pylon features a globe on which stands a female figure dressed in a long gown, with arms raised and looking to the sky, but it’s the pedestal which carries the most detail. A series of bronze plaques in relief show a succession of scenes depicting various aspects of the war, from a soldier saying an emotional goodbye to his wife while their small child tugs at her shawl, to a tired and weary group returning from the battlefield. The front face of the pedestal has a rectangular bronze panel inscribed ‘1914 : NAMES OF THE FALLEN : 1918’ with 170 names listed, and this is flanked on the left by the relief figures of an airman and a seaman and on the right by the figures of two infantrymen. The panels wrap round the sides of the pedestal and depict various other figures, while the rear face has a panel showing returning soldiers including stretcher-bearers and men carrying their wounded comrades ; in every panel the dress, weapons and other equipment are all shown in great detail. The front and rear faces of the pylon also each have a plaque inscribed ‘IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO FELL 1939 – 1945’ with 64 names on each, and a further plaque commemorates those who lost their lives in later conflicts.
On top of the pedestal, above the plaques and at either side of the pylon, are two of the most detailed, poignant and emotionally haunting sculptures I’ve ever seen. On the left, a shell-shocked soldier with his face showing the nervous strain and tension brought about by the ever-present feeling of danger, and on the right a young woman sitting gazing ahead in shock and sorrow at her husband’s death, not realising that her baby is looking to her for a mother’s love. I’d approached the war memorial from the sunken garden on the left so the sculpture of the soldier was the first thing I saw, and it was that which made me stop as it’s so detailed and life-like.
The sculptures and the panels express many of the emotions associated with wars and conflicts and as a centrepiece of Ashton Gardens the memorial is certainly very impressive. In February 1993 it was given a Grade ll listing, then in June 2017 the listing was upgraded from Grade ll to Grade ll* for its architectural and sculptural interest, design and historic interest, and rarity. To my mind that’s a very well-deserved listing, and at the next opportunity I’ll certainly go back to Ashton Gardens and pay the memorial another visit.