By Paul H. Vickers, Friends of the Aldershot Military Museum
After the end of the First World War, Aldershot’s resident formations, the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions, returned to the garrison after fighting on the Western Front since the start of the war in 1914. However, the appalling casualties suffered during the long years of combat meant that the formations were very different from those which had first marched out. Surviving veterans and families of the men who had died began to look at ways to remember their fallen comrades and relatives, and commemorate their service.
The 1st Division’s memorial in Aldershot is the remarkable Somme Cross in the south porchway of the Royal Garrison Church, and the story of this most poignant relic was published in the Aldershot Garrison Herald issue 008, June / July 2016 (also available on the Friends of the Aldershot Military Museum’s website at https://www.friendsofthealdershotmilitarymuseum.org.uk/garrison.008.html).
For the 2nd Division, the original intention was to have two memorials in France, one to the Division as it mobilised and a second to the reconstituted Division in the Cambrai salient. However, as it would be difficult for families and veterans to visit memorials abroad, it was decided that it would be better to have a memorial in Aldershot. One of the prime movers behind the memorial project was Major-General Sir Cecil Pereira, who had been commander of 2nd Division from December 1916 until March 1919, and he decided that the monument would be sited at the top of Hospital Hill, on a knoll in the angle between Hospital Hill and Knollys Road.
The monument was designed by Captain James Bethune Scott, who had served with the Royal Army Medical Corps throughout the war. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery in October 1917, and a bar to his MC for action near St Quentin during 16-26 September 1918. Scott’s design was for a gothic cross set on a hexagonal column base, all made from French vaurion stone. On the faces of the column were plaques bearing the names of the brigades and regiments who served in the Division, along with the inscriptions “In memory of the Officers, WOs, NCOs and men of the 2nd Division who fell in the war 1914-1918” and “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
In charge of the architectural setting and landscaping was Clough Williams Ellis, probably best known as the architect and creator of the village of Portmeirion in Wales. Coloured stones were set in the ground around the base of the monument in the shape of three stars, representing the wartime badge of 2nd Division.
The memorial was unveiled on 1 December 1923 by General Lord Horne, who had commanded 2nd Division in 1915. Also present was Major-General Pereira and Major-General Sir Peter Strickland, GOC of 2nd Division in 1923. The service of dedication was conducted by the Reverend Hugh Hornby, who had served as a Chaplain with the Division from 1915 to 1918 and was awarded the Military Cross in 1916. Attending the ceremony were representative detachments of units from the 2nd Division, all bearing wreaths, along with the Mayor and council of Aldershot and veterans of the war.
Over the next few years further improvements were made, such as the planting of an avenue of poplar trees behind the memorial, and in 1925 a marble bench was set at the end of the poplar avenue. The marble bench is now lost but the poplars can still be seen today, although surrounded by later tree growth. The monument itself still stands in its original location, honouring the fallen of Aldershot’s 2nd Division.
Another memorial in a conspicuous location is the ‘lion monument’ on the east side of Queen’s Avenue, just south of Alison’s Road. This is a memorial to the men of the 8th Infantry Division who died in the First World War.
At the start of the war, seven divisions were mobilised from the regular infantry, and the 8th Division was to be created in Aldershot as the first of the ‘New Army’ divisions formed from the thousands of volunteers who answered the appeal for recruits. However, it was realised that another regular division could be formed by bringing back units from many of the smaller garrisons and stations around the world, so this became the 8th Division with its headquarters in Southampton and assembly area between Southampton and Winchester. The New Army division being raised in Aldershot turned into the 14th (Light) Division.
In November 1922 General Sir Francis Davies, the first commander of 8th Division from 1914 to 1915, launched a public appeal for funds to create a memorial to the men of the Division who had died in the war. Although the 8th was not an Aldershot based division, at a meeting of veteran members of the Division it was decided not to erect any battlefield memorials in France but instead “to set up one memorial in some central place in Aldershot, where it could be seen in years to come by the units which, during the Great War, belonged to the 8th Division”.
The monument was designed by Arthur Campbell Martin, an architect well-known for church buildings, including the enlarged Royal Memorial Chapel at Sandhurst. It took the form of a stone cenotaph surmounted by a bronze figure of a lion. On the sides of the cenotaph were bronze plaques inscribed with the names of the regiments and units who served with the 8th Division.
The memorial was unveiled by General Davies on 10 April 1924 during a ceremony attended by representative detachments from units who had served in the Division during the war. The prayers of dedication were said by Bishop John Taylor Smith, the Chaplain-General. In his speech General Davies “hoped that the generations of British soldiers who would serve the Sovereign of this country long after those present had passed away would look at that memorial and show the same heroic courage as the men whom it commemorated”.
With its prominent position near the centre of the garrison, the ‘lion monument’ quickly became a well-known local landmark. The site is now within the Wellesley housing development and the area around the memorial has recently been re-landscaped. The monument is an enduring commemoration of the soldiers who fell on the Western Front.
Article originally published in the The Garrison, Winter 2022
Copyright © Paul H. Vickers. This article, including the accompanying pictures, may not be reproduced or republished, in whole or in part, either in print or electronically, including on any websites or social media sites, without the prior permission of the author.