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West Bridgford
Wednesday, August 21, 2019

In Pictures: HRH Duke of Kent unveils new Nottinghamshire war memorial

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The Duke of Kent formally opened a memorial in West Bridgford today which names 13,501 people from Nottinghamshire who died in the First World War.

The memorial, on Victoria Embankment, is the first of its kind in the UK, after seven years’ of research went into finding the names of every person from the county who lost their lives during the conflict.

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Among the names engraved on the new memorial are winners of Victoria Crosses, those who died in the Chilwell Shell Filling Disaster, people killed in the Nottingham Zeppelin raid and those who were shot at dawn by their own army.

Vanda Day and her husband Gordon Day

The new memorial, next to the Victoria Embankment memorial, was paid for by dozens of contributions from Nottinghamshire residents and businesses, as well as the local councils.

 

Among those commemorated on the memorial is Thomas Baxter, who was killed when the national shell-filling factory in Chilwell exploded in 1918.

Around eight tonnes of TNT exploded at the factory in 1918, killing 134 people, only 32 of whom could be identified. Their remains are still buried in a mass grave.

Mr Baxter’s wife also worked at the factory, and was meant to be working on the shift of the explosion, but had swapped shifts with her husband.

He died, leaving behind their 13 children, and his wife also died four years later.

His great great grandaughter, Nicola Wood, 47, a professional historian from Nottingham, was there to witness the Duke cutting the ribbon at the ceremony.

Ms Wood said: “I think it’s a very tasteful and fitting memorial, and I do think it’s lovely that they have brought everyone together, not just the ones killed abroad, but also on the home front.

“Especially those shot at dawn. We understand now why that happened, and the extraordinary pressures they were under, so I think it’s very fitting they should be remembered.”

Among those present to see the unveiling was the grand cousin of Sapper William Hackett, a Nottinghamshire miner who won the VC for his extraordinary bravery saving the lives of his fellow miners at the Somme in 1916.

They had been tunneling into enemy territory to lay mines when the Germans discovered their plan and started shelling where their tunnel was, bringing the mine down around them.

After digging themselves out for 20 hours and eventually reaching the surface, the sapper helped three men out and could have followed them, but refused to leave a man who had been seriously injured, saying: “I am a tunneller, I look after the others first.”

The escape tunnel collapsed, and despite others trying to reach him, Sapper William Hackett is still buried there to this day.

Former Labour councillor Brian Grocock worked for several years to bring the memorial together. His son, Jamie Grocock, has served two tours of Afghanistan in the Mercian Regiment, and his grandfather, Clement Grocock, who served in the Leicestershire Regiment, is named on the memorial.

When he was a Nottingham City Councillor, he was its Armed Forces Champion.

He said: “I am so pleased to see it come to fruition.

“It was always a bit of a vision, and I think we all thought ‘will it ever actually happen?’

“We weren’t sure about the financial aspect as well, that was quite difficult, but in the end there were so many contributions, a lot of people got involved.

“I’m very pleased with how it turned out. I think it’s very fitting.”

Another person watching the memorial opening was Vanda Day, whose great uncle was legendary fighter pilot Albert Ball VC.

At the time of his death, at Annoeullin, near Lille in 1917, he was the UK’s leading flying ace, with 44 victories against the enemy.

His pioneering – and extremely dangerous – tactic, was to fly low, straight underneath the German planes, and to fire his machine gun directly vertical, so he could shoot the other plane down.

His grand niece carried his photograph to the memorial today.

She said: “It’s very fitting that everybody who was killed in the Great War is here together, and all their stories with them.

“Nobody has been left out, whatever they did, because everybody played a role, so I think it’s really important that everybody is on here.”

Kay Cutts, leader of Nottinghamshire County Council who represents Radcliffe-on-Trent for the Conservatives, was delighted with how it looked.

The council was heavily involved in the planning and research for the memorial, and she said: “I think it’s beautiful. It’s exactly right.

“It has an air of quietness and reflection, and I think there’s no better way to honour the dead than to record every single name.

“I think every family in Nottinghamshire was touched by the Great War, even as civilians. I don’t think there was any family who didn’t know someone who was killed.

“This is going to be here permanently so I would say anyone who has the opportunity should come down, they will be most welcome.”

Nottingham City Council leader David Mellen was also present at the official ceremony.

Councillor Mellen, who represents the Dales ward for Labour, said: “I think it’s splendid. It’s got a modern feel, but clearly remembering what finished 101 years ago.

“The Victoria Embankment Memorial is fantastic, but it hasn’t got everyone’s names on, so I think this is very personal.

“I think the design is really interesting, I think the fact we’ve got wild flowers around the outside is also a really lovely touch.

“We have freedoms in this country that we often take for granted, but those freedoms are only here for us because young men and women gave their lives in two world wars.

“That’s something we cannot afford to forget.

“Equally, we cannot ever allow fascism and hatred to succeed, in order to preserve the harmony and community cohesion we enjoy today, we always need to remember that it wasn’t always so.”

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