The War Memorial stands on the Lower Green, Mitcham, in South London (formerly Surrey). It was formally unveiled on Sunday 21st November 1920, by Lieutenant General Sir Herbert Edward Watts KCB, KCMG in a ceremony attended by local dignitaries and a gathering of the local population.
The memorial is listed in the Imperial War Museum’s Memorial archive under ref 12194 and is described as a structure with:
“Stone cross on plinth and five-stepped octagonal base. Plinth bears inscription and names in relief lettering. Additional plinth bears inscription for WW2. Bronze sword placed on each corner of the plinth”.
The inscription reads:
“THEIR NAME LIVETH FOR EVERMORE”/ TO THE MEN OF MITCHAM/ WHO FALLING CONQUERED/ IN THE GREAT WAR 1914-1919/ (NAMES)/ AND/ TO THE MEMORY OF THE MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN/ WHO LOST THEIR LIVES/ IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR/ 1939-1945.”
The four faces of the memorial bear the names of 587 individuals who served in the Great War. This view shows the memorial as it was in the early 1920’s.
The history of how the memorial came into being has been traced by the diligent research of W. Brice, a volunteer on Merton’s Carved in Stone Project. Newspaper reports reflect a degree of controversy after a nameless memorial was first erected in the churchyard of Mitcham’s Parish Church of St. Peter & St. Paul early in 1919. The erection of a temporary memorial on Lower Green on “Peace Day”, 19th July 1919 quickly became the focus of Mitcham’s collective commemoration. In a letter to the war memorial committee, dated 22 July 1919, Major H. F. Bidder DSO had written:
“I suggest that the fact that so many people have now brought offerings of flowers to this particular spot in memory of those they have lost has already given it a specially sacred character which we would wish to preserve.”
Reflecting a groundswell of opinion in Mitcham, Major Bidder’s proposal for the citing of a permanent memorial on Lower Green found favour with the “War Memorial Committee”.
Efforts to canvass for the names of Mitcham’s fallen had already started in May of 1919 and when the proposals for a permanent memorial were finalised in November they were rapidly followed by a final effort to obtain the details of those who “had laid down their lives for the country in the Great War”.
7th November 1919 War Memorial Committee Decision
A special meeting of the General Committee of the War Memorial was held at the Vestry Hall on Friday last, 31st ult., at which the following recommendations were submitted by the Design Committee and adopted:-
(1) That the dedicatory inscription to be put on the Memorial should be as follows:- “To the men of Mitcham who, falling, conquered in the Great War, 1914-1918. Their name liveth for evermore.”
(2) That the site for the permanent Memorial shall be that site on the Lower Green at present occupied by the temporary memorial; and
(3) That on completion, the Urban Council should be asked to accept the Memorial from the Committee, and to maintain the same.
14th November 1919 War Memorial Committee Letter
To the Editor of “the Mercury.”
In response to the canvas made by the above committee, and to the appeal made through the columns of your papers, the committee have received the names of 552 Mitcham men who have laid down their lives for the country in the Great War. The number is larger than was anticipated, but the committee think that it is still probable that some names have not yet been received. It will be a matter of great regret to all if a single name is omitted, and I am therefore asking you to give publicity to this letter. The committee have received the utmost assistance from the clergy of all denominations in this respect, and from the Press, and it is hoped that those of the public who have any information which will help us will respond as soon as possible, as the complete list will be forwarded to the architect during this month.
The Vestry Hall, Mitcham November 14.
The details of the unveiling ceremony of Sunday 21st November were covered in a lengthy article published in the “Mitcham and Tooting Mercury” on 26th November, 1920, which included the fact that:
“every effort had been made to obtain the names of men who had been killed in action or died of wounds, and, at present, there were 557 names inscribed on the shrine, and since then more had come to hand, and would be inscribed in due course.”
One of the earliest known photographs of the Mitcham War Memorial is part of the Imperial War Museum’s so-called “Farthing Collection” and clearly shows that seven names had yet to be added to the bottom of its South Face.
The date of the photograph 1/1/20 seems inconsistent with the known history of the memorial, it implies the erection of the memorial had been completed during the winter of 1919-20 and ten months before its official unveiling.
The letters in the local press, Major Bidders’ proposal, and the various minutes of the war memorial committee and Mitcham UDC are all reproduced here in full with the kind permission of W. Brice.
In 1949 the public were consulted on proposals to add a plaque listing the dead of World War II. After much debate a second plaque was attached to steps to remember the men, women and children who died in World War II. Finally a second plaque has been added “and those killed in other conflicts”. This is the memorial we see today.
The memorial is known to have been restored once in its life, in 1962, by Neomore Stone Cleaning for the sum of £118 plus 1s 2d per letter for each of the 587 names that needed re-cutting. The number of letters re-cut is not known as detailed records were not kept. This process was not without its problems as described in a contemporary report:
“During the 40 years the memorial has been standing it has taken quite a beating from the weather so that now most names can hardly be read. A spokesman for the borough engineer’s department said that it was the initials causing the most bother. Same of them had worn off completely. A list of the names has been taken off the memorial which will be cleaned and smoothed so that the names can be recut. The council hope to have the work completed before Armistice Day on November 11.”
The lack of official “before and “after” records has led to a degree of uncertainty as to the true identify of some of the individuals commemorated on Mitcham’s Civic Memorial. The names “DEVENISH D.W”, “NOBLE J. N.” and “HIGGINS C. C.” are just three examples and are thought to be “DEVENISH G.W”, “NOBLE I. N.” and “HIGGINS C. D.”. In some instances it possible to cross-check names with those that appear on church memorials within Mitcham, but others remain in doubt.
Additional views of the Mitcham War Memorial can be seen online within the Merton Memories Photographic Archive.