The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) 2021 is Be the light in the darkness. It encourages everyone to reflect on the depths humanity can sink to, but also the ways individuals and communities resisted that darkness to ‘be the light’ before, during and after genocide.
We have reproduced below a short piece by Carola Klein, a member of the Friends committee since inception.
‘One day in the Cemetery I came upon a figure crouched intently at one of the World War I memorial screens. Mike Witham was engraving the letters of a newly identified name onto a remaining space on the wall. We chatted, and I arranged to return over the next few days to take photographs. I took these as he worked, but do not think I distracted him as he was so focussed on the inscription.
Mike has been with the Commonwealth Memorial War Graves Commission for 37 years, his official role is Chargehand Stonemason and his work takes him from Penzance to the Orkneys, and sometimes Scandinavia, or even further.
Mike’s skill Is in carving Italic letters, using a tungsten tipped chisel and a mallet called a ‘steel lettering dummy’. He told me that the type of stone used for memorials varies according to the geology of the location, limestone, sandstone or granite. The Brandwood End screens and Cross of Sacrifice are made from a type of sandstone’.
Early in December a member of our committee was lucky enough to be in the cemetery when a new name was added to the screen wall, adjacent to the Cross of Sacrifice on the main drive.
The work was undertaken by Chargehand Stonemason – Commonwealth War Graves Commission – Mike Witham.
Mike has undertaken work for the CWWGC all over the world in various cemeteries and on December 1st he found himself in Brandwood End.
The names of those who lost their lives during the Wars, and are buried in the communal grassed areas either side of the main drive, are remembered on the screen walls. They were either without family or family were unable to afford to finance a grave at that time, but they are individually named on the two screen walls that lie either side of the main drive adjacent to the Cross of Sacrifice.
Our understanding is that family recently followed up his records and approached the CWWGC to have his name added. The Friends would love to talk to the family, so if one of them is reading this or if you know who they are, could you put us in touch? Please e mail us on firstname.lastname@example.org
The work undertaken by Mike and other CWWGC Stonemasons must be admired as its longevity enables families to see a lasting record of their relatives and a recognition of their sacrifice.
Can we thank one of our contacts, Ian Binnie, as he also visited the cemetery on the 8th to lay a wreath on the grave to one of the soldiers, Private Horace George Turner , who lost his life during the Gallipoli campaign. Ian is Education Co-ordinator for the Gallipoli Association and was laying the wreath on behalf of the Gallipoli Association and the Warwickshire Yeomanry.
Today at 11am on Armistice Day a few of us gravitated to the Cross of Sacrifice in the cemetery and observed the 2 minute silence. We were joined a little later by this gentleman who stood, at salute, for a full 2 minutes. Afterwards he exchanged a few words with several of us at the cross and explained that he had done his National Service in the 50’s and that he was also wearing his fathers medals. It made the moment very meaningful.
November 2020 is the 100th Anniversary of the repatriation and burial of The Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.
“Where did you lay to rest the body of my son?” For many thousands, there was no answer to give.
This poignant question, often the first posed by grieving families upon publication of First World War casualty lists, left a strong impression on the Reverend David Railton, MC, a chaplain to the 2nd Battalion of the Hon. Artillery Company on the Western Front during the 1914-1918 war.
In 1916, in a back garden at Erkingham near Armentières in France, he had noticed a grave with a rough cross on which were pencilled the words ‘An Unknown British Soldier’.
In August 1920, now vicar of Margate in Kent, he wrote to Herbert Ryle, Dean of Westminster, suggesting just one of these unknown soldiers should be entombed among the kings in Westminster Abbey, a symbol of the country’s gratitude and a permanent memorial to the fallen of the Great War who had no known grave.
King George V and the government, rather reluctantly at first, supported the idea and on 11th November 1920, the second anniversary of the Armistice, David Railton saw his dream become reality. After a service with hymns in the Abbey The Unknown Warrior was buried at the west end of the nave and the grave filled with soil brought from the battlefields of France.
The Union flag which covered the coffin had been used by Reverend Railton during the war to drape over his makeshift altars and over the bodies of soldiers killed in action. Since 1921 ‘the Padre’s Flag’, as it is known, has hung in St George’s Chapel close to the Warrior’s grave.
We were so sad to have to cancel our normal Remembrance Day Service but were heartened to see so many people throughout the day stopping to pay their respects at the Cross of Sacrifice.
Members of our committee laid wreaths at the Cross and also at the WW1 Memorial. Their wreaths were joined by those of the West Midlands Police Force, The Catholic Womens League and a tribute from the local community. There are still other wreaths to be laid later today but we think that , between us all, we have shown that the community as a whole pulled together to make Remembrance Sunday an ‘event’ despite these strange times. Thank you all.
We also welcomed Ian Binnie to the cemetery today who was visiting to lay a wreath on behalf of the Gallipoli Association and the Yeomanry Museum based in Warwick. It was destined for the grave of Private Horace George Turner – Service No. 2244 who lost his life in Souvla Bay.
IT IS WITH REGRET THAT THE FRIENDS OF BRANDWOOD END HAVE DECIDED TO CANCEL THE USUAL SERVICE OF REMEMBRANCE IN BRANDWOOD END. WE HAD HOPED TO HOLD A SMALLER EVENT BEHIND LOCKED GATES BUT FOLLOWING ADVICE FROM THE DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC HEALTH FOR BIRMINGHAM, DR JUSTIN VARNEY, WE HAVE DECIDED NOT TO ENCOURAGE A GATHERING OF ANY DESCRIPTION.
OVER THE NEXT WEEK, EACH OF OUR WREATH LAYERS AND ORGANISATIONS HAVE BEEN ASKED TO VISIT INDEPENDENTLY AND PLACE THEIR WREATHS AT THE CROSS OF SACRIFICE SO BY 8th NOVEMBER THEY WILL ALL BE IN PLACE. PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT ON THAT DAY TO OBSERVE THE 2 MINUTES SILENCE WHERE EVER YOU ARE.
WE WILL BE POSTING PHOTOGRAPHS OF EACH WREATH BEING LAID ON OUR WEB SITE www.fbec.org.uk
IT WAS WITH HEAVY HEARTS THAT WE MADE THIS DECISION, BUT WE ALL FEEL IT IS IMPORTANT TO TRY AND ADHERE TO LOCKDOWN RESTRICTIONS AND THE ADVICE WE HAVE RECEIVED. WE HOPE WE CAN WELCOME YOU ALL BACK IN 2021.
Our thanks to Bereavement Service staff who have produced a lovely plaque to mark the first grave following the opening of Brandwood End in 1899. The Friends had marked this spot with a temporary interpretation notice but it now has a lovely official plaque.