The War Memorials of Northampton Town

The War Memorials of Northampton Town

Reflections of the talk by Angela Malin

I think everyone who attended, enjoyed the talk on the War Memorials and Rolls of Honour that can be found around the town.  Some are obvious such as the Cenotaph in All Saints’ churchyard but did you know that the side chapel at All Saints was also built as a memorial to those who served and died?

It was interesting to see in the newspapers that once the idea for a memorial was proposed, various architects came up with some rather grandiose schemes.. One even looked like the Admiralty Arch in the Mall in London, others involved the demolition of the top of Guildhall Road and part of St Giles Square!   I was also amazed at how quickly the funds within each church or parish were raised to pay for these memorials, especially as many of the veterans found it hard to regain employment after the war.

Abington Square War Memorial

Abington Square War Memorial

On a reflective note, it is humbling to see that all the memorials are well cared for and that 100 years on, the men who gave their lives for our freedom have not been forgotten: we have and will continue to remember them


Leading the Way: How Northampton Welcomed the Wounded.

Leading the Way:  How Northampton Welcomed the Wounded.

In 1914, the nation went to war.  In the fervour that followed the despatch of the British Expeditionary Force, young men signed up in their droves.  For many it was a jolly jape.  Most believed it would be over by Christmas.  Few gave thought to what laid ahead of them, whilst back at home, the authorities had to make plans to care for the wounded who would be sent back to Britain away from the theatre of war.  The Great War was the first war of its kind.  No one had any concept of the impact of this type of fighting or how many casualties would result from such a war.

Plans were being put in place, setting aside beds for the wounded heroes.  How many beds would they need?  How long would they be needed for?  Who was going to pay for it?  How much would it cost?  What would happen to the soldiers when their medical needs had been met?  What would be the psychological impact?  What happens next?

At the start of the war, these were among the questions that needed answers.  What wasn’t foreseen was the sheer volume of wounded that would require care.

As part of the Community and Conflict Project, it was decided that some research needed to be done into how the wounded soldiers of the Great War were cared for in the county of Northamptonshire.  The research revealed who was responsible for the care and how this was paid for, and who was responsible for the coordination of funding and care.  The research shows the complexities of such an operation and the logistical difficulties of the task ahead.

Wounded Soldiers

Wounded Soldiers

Come along to our Museum talk on Tuesday 22 September 2015 at 7pm to explore how Northampton and the county rose to the occasion, who was involved, and endeavours to show that Northampton did indeed, lead the way.

All talks £5, ring 01604 837397 to book. Tickets also available on the door.

The Battle of Aubers Ridge – 9th May 1915

Geoff Grainger – Final Blog

The Battle of Aubers Ridge – 9th May 1915.

When I volunteered for this project I had little knowledge about Aubers Ridge or that I would eventually walk this once hallowed ground in northern France.  Despite previous studies of WW1, I had come across Aubers only fleetingly, as one of the Allies’ failed attempts to help break the deadlock on the Western Front in 1915. In the annals of the Great War it was considered a sideshow to a larger and partly successful French offensive fifteen miles to the south and had become largely forgotten.

For the British Army, Aubers was a ghastly failure, which threatened to undermine the authority of the Commander-in-Chief, Sir John French – indeed the subsequent Shell Scandal toppled the Liberal Government. The Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener only just survived, because political attention was perhaps conveniently diverted to another, larger failure, at Gallipoli.

For the Northamptonshire Regiment however, it was massively significant, as indeed it was for the County’ communities. In just a few hours on 9th May, the Steelbacks suffered a tenth of their casualties killed during the whole war. In Northampton very few streets were not visited by a telegram boy bearing the dreaded War Office notification. For hundreds of families news was not forthcoming as loved ones were posted ‘missing’, and the agony of uncertainty went on for many months. By delving into the local press coverage I was able to discover many tragic tales of suffering and broken families. I was brought face to face with the reality behind the hundreds of names of men of the Shire that appear on memorials to the Missing.

Most distressing were the appeals for news from relatives who could get no information from the War Office. As I read I already knew that these brave soldiers were never to be seen again or have a burial place. For the Missing there was no ‘corner of a foreign field’ – only their names on vast memorials.

And so to Saturday 9th May 2015

The Museum’s publicity machine  worked well because my talk at 1pm was sold out, despite the General Election and VE DAY commemorations. Helped perhaps by the Chronicle and Echo feature on Thursday 7th May and my BBC Radio Northampton interview early on Saturday morning, a second talk was scheduled for 3pm and that almost sold out as well.

Thank you to Northampton Museum for not forgetting the 9th May 1915, and for staging the event at Abington Park. Thank you also to all the good folk who took the trouble to attend or to share their stories of that dreadful event.

This was arguably the blackest day in the history of the County and deserved to be acknowledged as such. I feel privileged to have been able to play a small part in perpetuating its commemoration.

As a result of my research into the tragedy of Aubers Ridge I also made an intriguing, if sinister, discovery. I had been vaguely aware that a certain Adolph Hitler had been a regimental runner in Flanders in 1915. During the course of my investigations here and in France I discovered that his unit, the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment, had been opposite the 2nd Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment – in fact only some 350 yards directly across No Man’s Land. Further research into German archive material and eye-witness statements showed that Hitler was present at the battle of Aubers Ridge. He was a runner in the sector in front of the 2nd Northants, carrying despatches to and from his regimental HQ and the front line. Fate must have played a big part in keeping him alive.

So to my final reflection after these months of research?

Might a Steelback’s bullet have changed the course of history?

What might have been the destiny of the modern world if Hitler had not survived that day in May 1915?

Geoff Grainger

25 May 2015



The War Memorial of Northampton Town

The War Memorial of Northampton Town

Update on my research  by Angela Malin


I’m continuing my research into the War Memorials of the town ready for my talk on 18 July at the Museum.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at reports in newspapers. It is interesting to see the difference in how events and stories are depicted in the two local newspapers of the time – the Mercury and the Independent, the former reports more on council and civic goings in whilst the latter is more people orientated.

Whilst there was a need for the town to commemorate its dead, it is clear to see that life goes on. There was much concern in the year or two after the Armistice over the lack of employment opportunities for disabled ex-soldiers and the need for additional housing now with the great influx of returning servicemen.

There is little coverage on how the costs for the various memorials were met.  For some, I have been able to find subscription lists where parishioners paid a few pence a week as and when they could, supplemented by fundraising events.  Occasionally, the cost was met by the family of one of those killed in the war as a way of honouring their memory.

Decisions also needed to be made by the organising committee on the form of memorial – should it be a stone cross outside, a tablet on the church wall inside, perhaps a stained glass window or new reredos.   Many parishes erected plaques listing those who served as well as commemorating those who died in service.

Plaque in St Giles Church

Plaque in St Giles Church

Unbelievably, it took until May 1938, just a year before the outbreak of the Second War World for the Memorial to those men of the Borough of Northampton to be unveiled in Abington Square.

Angela Malin

Against the Tide – Northampton Conscientious Objectors in World War One

Against the Tide – Northampton Conscientious Objectors in World War One

Talk by John Buckell, Wednesday 1st July 2015, 7 pm

Northampton Borough Military Service Tribunal

Northampton Borough Military Service Tribunal

The Northampton Borough Military Service Tribunal

(from W. H. Holloway Northamptonshire and the Great War, Northampton Central Library)

Since retiring from teaching I have given talks, and written articles and books on local history, especially about the First World War. At the museum on 1st July, I shall be speaking about Northampton’s World War One conscientious objectors. I have immense admiration for the courage and commitment of the men and women who served abroad in the armed forces or on the home front. They rose to a challenge which, at that time, was unique to their generation, and I have written about them elsewhere.

However, for a minority of British men and women, the war presented a different challenge. These were people who were convinced that the war was wrong; that the slaughter could not be justified. Some refused to support the war effort, others actively opposed it, while many no doubt kept their opinions to themselves. With the introduction of conscription in 1916, however, men of military age could longer avoid making a decision. Did they go into the armed forces when summoned, or refuse to fight on grounds of conscience? My talk on 1st July is about the Northampton men who made a principled stand against the war, and became conscientious objectors (C.O.s). They were part of a nationwide anti-war movement.

The stories of 60 Northampton C.O.s can be found in the records of the Northamptonshire Appeals Tribunal. Our county is one of a tiny handful which did not destroy these records at the end of the war. There were more objectors from the other towns and villages in Northamptonshire, but I shall focus on the men from the county town. The 60 probably represent the tip of an iceberg, for the Appeals Tribunal was a second stage in the application procedure. Many more did not get beyond the first stage – the Northampton Borough Tribunal. These cases were sometimes reported in the local press, but without divulging their names.

C.O.s came from all parts of the town, and from all walks of life – clerks, schoolteachers, factory workers and so on. Their motives were also various. Some had religious reasons for refusing military service, and represented a wide spectrum of Christian denominations. Others had moral grounds for objection, including atheists and agnostics, while many more were political objectors. Some accepted non-combatant service in the army, while others were prepared to undertake alternative “work of national importance.” A smaller number endured prison rather than compromise with the military machine.

My talk will tell the stories of representative and interesting individual examples, including that of a man who left a diary of his experiences. Many endured censure, hardship and tribulation, loss of friends and careers, but most were not lone individuals. They belonged to organisations or communities from which they could draw support. The network of men and women who gave sympathy and practical help is also part of the story I shall tell. It is a fascinating glimpse of an aspect of the First World War which is often overlooked.




From Wives and Daughters to Citizens

From Wives and Daughters to Citizens By John Buckell


During World War One my maternal grandmother and her sister, my great aunt, worked in a munitions factory at Braintree in Essex. Knowing both of them while I was growing up prompted my initial interest in women’s role in that war, but as is so often the case, they had died before I became sufficiently interested to ask them about it.

As I discovered when researching my books on Little Wratting, Suffolk, (my grandmother’s village), and Weston Favell, women’s experiences are far less well documented than those of men. For men who served in the forces there are medal rolls, and sometimes service records. Entries in the absent voters’ lists give their military units, which can then be researched in battalion war diaries or on numerous websites. For women there is the 1911 census, but electoral records only list women who were at least 30 years old in 1918, while newspaper reports tend to be confined to upper class women, usually identified by their husbands’ names or in relation to their fathers. For the researcher it is therefore very difficult to provide anything like a satisfactory gender balance.

Yet women played a significant part in the First World War; significant enough to modify existing attitudes to their capabilities. In Northampton, as elsewhere, women supported the war effort by replacing men who had gone to the front. They worked in factories and on the land, served on committees and drove vehicles. Even some of those in traditional roles, such as nursing, broke new ground by serving in hospitals in France and other theatres of war. Women were also active in the anti-war movement. Such female peace activists often came from a background in the Women’s Suffrage Movement, even though the main suffrage organisations supported the war. In Northampton, an active branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom held meetings addressed by speakers of national renown, such as Charlotte Despard and Margaret Ashton. A minority of women also continued to play an active part in politics, in all the main parties in the town, as they had before the war. At its end women were given the vote, though not yet on the same terms as men.

The expansion of women’s role was not without difficulties. How were women to be trained, and how should women land workers be housed on farms? The introduction of women into occupations formerly seen as male, “substitute labour” as it was called, inevitably created tensions. As they were generally paid less than men for the same work, there was understandable concern by trade unions about the undermining of wage levels, and the fear that men returning at the end of hostilities might find their jobs taken by women.

Of course, many women remained at home, running households and feeding families at a time of shortages and rising prices. Their story also deserves to be told.

This research into Northampton women’s experiences in World War One is an attempt, as far as is possible, to redress the gender balance in accounts of the war, explore more fully the role of local women, and examine some of the difficulties, strategies and consequences of women’s role in that conflict. If women were largely seen as wives and daughters in 1914, to what extent had they become citizens by 1918?


Women Munitions Workers

Women Munitions Workers

Women munitions workers at Smith, Major and Stevens Ltd., Abbey Works, Northampton. From Memories of the War, a scrapbook compiled by the company in January 1919. Northamptonshire Record Office (uncatalogued).

War Memorials in Northampton

War Memorials in Northampton

As part of the Conflict and Communities Project, I am researching the War Memorials in the centre of Northampton.   It is interesting to note that almost as soon as hostilities ceased in 1918, the civic and church authorities starting to think about how best to remember those who had made the ultimate sacrifice. It is fascinating to uncover the different stories and the different ways in which soldiers are remembered and commemorated. As to be expected with any committee, there was much debate, a lot of bureaucracy and not always a lot of action.

In some of the town churches are various stained glass windows, clocks, chairs and other church furniture given in memory of loved ones lost. The main memorial for the county is that in the garden of All Saints Church, Northampton. This is a central stone of remembrance flanked by two obelisks which was unveiled on 11 November 1926.

County Memorial All Saints Church

County Memorial All Saints Church

My talk on 18 July at Northampton Museum will be looking at the stories behind these memorials and also the location of the various rolls of honour that give information on the soldiers who served as well as those who died.

Angela Malin

Wreaths at All Saints Church County Memorial

Wreaths at All Saints Church County Memorial




Attached: Photos (taken by me)

Wreaths at All Saints

and All Saints Cenotaph memorial