War Memorial (1924) & Armisticetide observance      

The parish magazine for December 1923 explained why progress on erecting a memorial had been delayed. Congregational finances and numbers were at a low ebb, and all their energy had gone into essential repairs to the church building, including the installation of electric lighting. This had cost £750, and was made possible in part by the sale of some historic silver - see here for details. This meant that raising funds for a memorial had been put on hold. Furthermore, Mr Joseph Clayton, architect and war veteran who had been a member of the congregation and had given a lead on this project, had moved to the Midlands, and the churchwardens were still hoping that he would return!

But a committee was set up, and a Shilling Fund created. Those who contributed were asked to indicate whether thay would give more at a later stage, and those who could not afford a shilling were asked to give what they could. There were also repeated appeals for the names of the fallen, of those who had lived in the parish (whose boundaries were detailed in the publicity) or who had other parish connections, so that their names could be inscribed on the memorial. The Committee are fully conscious of the very bad times we are passing through, but unfortunately it is impossible to say when any great improvement is to be expected, and they know that in bad times or good times, you want to
make certain that the names of your heroic dead are not only not forgotten but suitably honoured.

Armistice Day 1923 fell on a Sunday, and the congregation kept two minutes' silence, as desired by the King.

In March 1924 the magazine reported that there had been discussion with the Tower Hamlets (South) Ex-Service Men's Club and the Highway Clubs, and the Mayor of Stepney had promised support, and had informed council committees of the plans. The fund stood at £75 10s 8d. 

Three possible sites were under discussion:

» in front of the church steps
» on the lawn laid out as a bowling green
» near the fountain behind the Town Hall. 

In June 1924 the fund stood at £210. The Member of Parliament and the other parliamentary candidates [see notes below] were involved; local schools and firms had subscribed, as had the Mercers and Drapers [wealthy City livery companies], the Mayor, Lord Winterton and Sir Edward Mann (1854-1953, first Mayor of Stepney 1900-02 and first Baron Mann of Thelveton Hall 1905, chairman of Whitechapel brewers Mann, Crossman and Paulin Ltd. (whose Albion Brewery at 172 Whitechapel Road depicted their logo of St George slaying the dragon) - painting right, by George Boucas, at the Bancroft Library).

In July 1924 is was reported that Joseph Clayton's design had been accepted, but that they hoped to enlarge the scale of the memorial; it was also resolved that the design should incorporate a cross-hilted crusader's sword. The aim was to have the memorial ready for dedication on Armistice Day 1924, and to get a Royal Prince to unveil it. The plea was to increase funds to £250.

In December 1924 the following report appeared in the magazine (see below for explanatory notes):

Saturday, November 15th, 1924, at 3.30 p.m.

After a week of rain, in which it seemed well night impossible that the monument could be erected in time, Saturday turned out perfectly dry: all the anxious arrangements which had been made in case of rain proved unnecessary, greatly to the relief of those who made them. The church bells were rung half muffled from 2.0 to 3.0 p.m.

Earl Winterton [1] was practically the first to arrive at the Town Hall, well before three o'clock. To our great disappointment he had to break it to us that Lady Winterton [1] was confined to bed with a very bad cold, and had not been able to come up from the country. Bandmaster W. Hussey, of the 53rd Brigade (Territorial) Royal Artillery came next and relieved us of any fear that the Band might be late. The Marshall, Mr. Stanley Degerlund, and his assistant, Mr Jack Warncken, were soon busy marshalling their procession. This was led by Mr Dunkley (late R.F.A.) and consisted of a fine muster of ex-Service men, nurses, St. John's Ambulance men, Girl Guides, Rangers and Brownies, Boy Scouts, Rovers and Cubs [2], and the Church Choir, Messrs. Judd, Degerlund Senior, Sidesmen, Clergy from St Paul's, Shadwell; St. John, at Wapping; St. Peter's, London Docks; St. John's, Grove Street; The Ebenezer Chapel; The Seamen's Friends' Mission [now the Strangers' Rest Mission, 131 The Highway]; and the Parish Church [3]. Then followed those who were to perform the ceremony, Earl Winterton accompanied by Mr. Harry Gosling, M.P.[4], and His Worship the Mayor, supported by his Mace-bearer, the Town Clerk and a number of Aldermen, Councillors and their ladies.

The attendance of relatives and friends of the fallen, subscribers to the Memorial, and residents was very large and far in excess of what was expected. It was in consequence quite difficult for the procession to move round the Memorial and take up their allotted positions on three sides of it, leaving the fourth to the relatives of the fallen, who thus had an unimpeded view of the front of the monument and of the unveiling.

Among the large crowd could be observed Mr. William Martineau, lately Conservative candidate [5], and Major Nathan, lately Liberal candidate [5], the Head Master of Cable Street Central School, and the Heads of three departments at Highway School.

As soon as the Mayor had reached this place the Rector read a well-known prayer for the fallen and another for their bereaved relatives: Earl Winterton, in a kind and sympathetic speech, expressed his satisfaction that the names of the men from this area which fills so large a place in his heart should be suitably immortalised and that as men of all creeds had united to defend the country, their names should appear together on one monument. He then pulled what certainly seemed to be the right cord to release the Union Jack with which the monument was veiled. Through a curious mistake of the man who did the veiling, the releasing cord was invisible to Lord Winterton and the one he pulled only tightened the knot. The Marshall, Mr. Stanley Degerlund, noticed the trouble, and succeeded in releasing the flag which fell as intended, and which he removed to make room for the expected wreaths. The hymn O God our help in ages past was then sung.

The Bishop of Stepney then dedicated the Memorial. The Rev. J.F. Stern, minister of the Stepney Green Synagogue, then read the first nine verses of the third chapter of the Book of Wisdom, commencing But the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God.... It will be remembered that Mr. Stern lost his only son Leonard, a brilliant student, at the Front [6].

Captain B.L.Q. Henriques, J.P., warden of The Oxford & St. George's Jewish Settlement situated in this parish [6], then invited the Mayor and Corporation to accept the care and preservation and guardianship of the Memorial. He spoke with great feeling and eloquence of the significance of the monument. His voice was heard all over the ground, and all present are unanimous in saying that his speech was as apt as it was beautiful. Readers are no doubt familiar with Captain Henriques's war record, the stimulus he gave to 'join up' among his wide acquaintance of young men, his fine leadership in France, his taking the first tank into action on the Somme and his being wounded. He also lost a brother killed in action.

His Worship the Mayor then expressed on behalf of the Borough their cordial acceptance of the trust to care for and preserve the Memorial. Then were sung three verses of Mr. Arkwright's wonderful hymn, now used everywhere on Armistice Day and on these occasions, beginning O Valiant hearts [7]. During the singing all who desired to do so laid flowers on the memorial, and those present soon learned whether people of St. George's have forgotten their beloved heroes! The procession began with Chris Giles representing the War Orphans and Miss Lavinia Botterill [8] representing the generation which is passing away, and it went on and on and on! The hymn had to be sung all over again and still they came! At last the whole base of the monument was deep in lovely flowers, mostly white, and in the grey November dusk the tall yellow monoleth [sic], a very fine piece of Portland stone, rose out of its flowery bed almost like a symbol and vision of those in whose memory it had been raised.

The Bishop gave the Benediction, the trumpeters sounded the Last Post and the Reveille: the band played God Save the King and the procession moved back to the Town Hall. The Mayor provided tea for the Councillors and their ladies and others in the Town Hall and the Committee entertained the relatives of the fallen in the Mission Hall. It was hoped the constables on duty would come in for a cup of tea, but they had gone before the invitation could be conveyed to them.

We desire to tender our very heartiest thanks to all the many kind people who helped to get a War Memorial for St. George's and to get it unveiled in a suitable manner. The list is too long for enumeration, so we will content ourselves with mentioning Miss C.J. Skelton, the Honorary Secretary of the Committee, who, simply as a labour of love to the men who fell in the war, has toiled unremittingly for practically a year to make the enterprise a success. Without her it would have remained merely an idea and would never have been converted into a beautiful and enduring thing.


[1] Absent the hoped-for 'royal prince', Lord and Lady Winterton, local landowners and actively involved in the parish, fulfilled this role!

[2] See here for more details about the activities of the Baden-Powell groups in the parish in these years.

[3] The memorial therefore served the wider district - including other local parishes, churches of other denominations, and the Jewish community.

[4] Harry Gosling (1861-1930) had been elected as Labour MP for Stepney, Whitechapel & St George's on 5 December 1923, and in what became a hung parliament served as Labour's first Minister of Transport from January to November 1924, and also as Paymaster General from May to November 1924, in Ramsey MacDonald's government. As President of the National Transport Workers Federation he had played a leading part in the 1910 Dock strike. He was re-elected on 29 October 1924, and served until his death in 1930; he was made a Companion of Honour, and Harry Gosling School, in the parish, perpetuates his name, as does Gosling House (Sutton Street) and Gosling Gardens (Bigland Street). [Left - memorial plaque in Transport House, Westminster.] He wrote his memoirs as Up and Down Stream (Methuen 1927).

[5] Because the dedication fell shortly after an October general election, all three parliamentary candidates were invited. William Martineau's family had owned a sugar refinery in the parish, and he had been one of the 'openers' at the parish fête earlier in the year. In the 1924 election, there was some anti-semitc press against Major Harry L. Nathan; he was subsequently elected as Liberal MP for Bethnal Green North-East in 1929 and 1931 (and his wife Eleanor to the London County Council) - the only Liberal win from Labour, by way of protest against the workings of Stepney Borough Council.

[6] It is noteworthy that the Rector invited representatives, not only of other Christian denominations (as was usual for such an event), but of other faiths (much less common, though given the significant number of Jewish servicemen listed on the memorial, this was, of course, entirely appropriate: see here and here for details about the Jewish Legion formally raised in 1917, but active for two years previously - cap badge left, veterans' ribbon right).

The two Jewish leaders involved were committed to an 'anglicisationist' approach for British Jewry:

(a) see here for more on the key local figure of Basil Henriques

(b) Joseph Frederick Stern, later CBE (1865-1934) [left - note his clerical collar] was appointed Preacher, Reader and Secretary of the East London United Synagogue, Rectory Square, Stepney Green [right] in 1887, and took full charge after the removal of his predecessor Victor Rosenstein after a series of scandals, serving until 1928. Sometimes dubbed the 'Jewish Bishop of Stepney' for his social work, he modernised the liturgy, introduced children's services, a mixed voluntary choir (under Bernard Cousins) and an 8' mahogany pulpit, and offered cheap marriage ceremonies. He is said to have chanted the prayers, in Hebrew and English, in a manner akin to Anglican clergy, and with a marked English accent! (The shammas (sexton) was the formidable Mr Kloot who, it is said, only had to raise a finger to silence those talking during service - his son Len ran the 7th Stepney Scout troop). From 1902 he was a member of the founding committee of the Jewish Religious Union, forerunner of the Liberal Jewish movement. As mentioned above, his son Leonard was killed in the First World War; he was club manager of Henriques' boys club (the ner tamid  - perpetual light - hanging before the Ark in the Settlement Synagogue was dedicated in his memory.) 
Although his innovations did not prevent the Chief Rabbis of the period (Dr Hertz and Sir Israel Brodie) from visiting, traditionalist immigrants rejected the United Synagogue approach, and established Stepney Orthodox Synagogue, afiliated to the Federation of Synagogues.

Charles Booth had interviewed Stern, and commented
Mr Stern would defy the foreign prejudice and carry and umbrella (on the Sabbath) if he needed one, but not a walking stick ... Mr Stern preached on the preceding Sabbath on Gladstone's death. The congregation accepted it. In a chevra they would have said 'who is this William Ewart Gladstone?' Mr Stern would like to go further than he is free to do so. He breaks the din [Jewish law] every day (according to the Interviewer) but has to be wary of offending the foreigner. He would abandon the annual cycle (of Sabbath readings from the Pentateuch, presumably in favour of the triennial cycle); use more English in the Service. He objects to Zionism and praying for the restoration of sacrifices ... although thought a little too much of an innovator by one, he is much respected and his energy and devotion are very great. On the whole, he is a good specimen of the Jew, full of his religion and filled with loyal English sympathies.

His obituary in the Times said but for the wisdom, sympathy and unflagging courage of men like Canon Barnett, H.S. Lewis and J.F. Stern, the process of absorbing and d
igesting that great influx of foreign Jews would have caused a far more serious social upheaval than it in fact did. Marc Michaels in The East London Synagogue: Outpost of Another World (Kulmus 2008) comments that, although unpopular with most first generation immigrants, it paved a way for their descendants, but that anglicisation proved to be the victim of its own success, encouraging greater social mobility and the suburbanisation of the Jewish community.

[7] It would be interesting to know which three verses of O valiant hearts were sung. Although it has indeed long been a popular Remembrancetide text - and reputedly Margaret Thatcher's favourite hymn - in more recent times it has been banned, or rewritten, by some clergy because of the dubious theology of the fifth verse which desribes the death of the fallen as 'lesser Calvaries', arguably compromising the uniqueness of Christ's sacrifice. Is it only clergy who take seriously the theology of what we sing in church?

[8] Miss Lavinia Botterill led activities in the parish for over 40 years; she died in 1932, aged 79.

The names inscribed on the memorial

Weathering, particularly on the south side, has rendered some of the names illegible. During the restoration of the memorial in 2008, every effort was made to find a list elsewhere of the 96 whose names were included, but without success. Because of the uncertainty in deciphering some of the names (particularly those in red below), it was decided after careful consideration not to add a modern plaque listing them. Here is our best attempt at a list of those whose names are inscribed
(a dash indicates that the initial cannot be read). Please contact us if you can help us make it more accurate, and would like us to include a few brief details below of a relative whose name is listed - we're grateful to those who have done this! In the centenary years 2014-18 our memorial, and the stories of those who gave their lives, will be a significant focal point.

Give thanks to God O England for thy Sons
To the Glorious Memory of the Brave Men from St George-in-the-East who laid down their lives in the Great War 1914 - 1918
[later addition - no names were added] and those who died in World War II 1939-1945
MADLIN  -  Sgt

A name that is not recorded is (51169) Bombardier Arthur Albert Edwards, C Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, who was born in the parish of St George-in-the-East, enlisted in London, and died of wounds on 13 October 1918. He is buried at Rocquigny-Equancourt Road British Cemetery, Manancourt, France.

Keeping Armisticetide

In the years that followed, observance was kept both on the nearest Sunday and on 11 November (a pattern that has re-emerged in recent years). For a few years, there were three observances: one before the Sunday morning service, with servicemen's organisations in attendance; one after, for the congregation; and one on Armistice Day itself - when the two minutes' silence was observed. In the 1925 magazine the Rector reported

At the request of some of the local lodges of the R.A.O.B. [Royal Antedeluvian Order of Buffaloes - a kind of working-class Freemasonry]  a special Service of Remembrance was held at the War Memorial on Armistice Sunday. It was the third of such annual services arranged by the Order, but the first to be held at St. George's, and whereas two years ago only a little group of fifteen members from one lodge attended, this year seven lodges took part and were represented by ninety members. The Brethren assembled in their regalia at the foot of the Church steps at 10.45 and then, headed by the Choir, Churchwardens, Sidesmen and the Rector, and followed by members of the St. John's Ambulance Association, and the St. George's Scouts and Guides, proceeded to the War Memorial singing the hymn O God, our help in ages past. At the Memorial a short service was held and another hymn sung, and the various lodges placed memorial wreaths at the foot of the pedestal. On their return, the Rector gave the blessing from the Church steps. The Lodges represented were the Peabody Lodge, Mercantile Lodge, Commercial Lodge, Sir A.E. Hodgson Lodge, Stepney Lodge, Chas. A. Hill Lodge, and the William Faulkner Lodge. All the arrangements for the service were made by Bro. H.C. Kleyweg, C.P.

Our own Church services throughout the Sunday were better attended than they often are ... A special Service of Remembrance was held after the Church service in the morning, and though the day was one of high winds and driving rain a large number of the congregation went out to the War Memorial and there joined in hymns and prayer. 

Yet another visit was made to the Memorial on Armistice Day itself. No service had been announced for the middle of the morning, as it was thought unlikely that people could get off from work to attend it, but the Church was open and a good number came in, so we had a short service after all, and then went out to spend the time of silence round the Memorial ...

There seems to have been a new spirit in the observance of Armisticetide this year which justifies the hope that the appeal [by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, together with the President of the Council of the Free Churches] will not fall on deaf ears. The most striking evidence of the new spirit was probably to be found in the Albert Hall on Armistice Day. A great Charity Ball was to have been held that night, and the Hall was all decorated for it. But it had become clear that a good many felt the Ball would be unfitting on such a night, and it was postponed; and in its place a service was held which drew such crowds that thousands had to be turned away...

In the following year (1926), the Rector reported that Armistice Day remained popular - there were big events at the Cenotaph, and crowds in Trafalgar Square and Oxford Circus; the local service included lodges, nurses from St George's Hospital, the British Legion (from Tait St Hall, formerly a parish mission room), buglers from Jewish Lads' Brigade, and our own scouts, guides and brownies. And there were even more taking part in 1927, when he wrote It is unfortunate that down here it seems impossible to get complete silence, no doubt because it is difficult for people to get their clocks absolutely right. So our silence was broken this time by the passing of a train, the sounding of a syren [sic] on the river, and the ringing of a bell in a neighbouring school.

By 1928, a pattern was emerging, with Sunday services as usual, but all with a special character (including reading the names of the fallen in church), and collections for the St Dunstans' charity working with blinded soldiers (now Blind Veterans UK); parish groups laid wreaths of Flanders poppies at the memorial. On Armistice Day, a brief service at 10.30am preceded the two minutes' silence at the memorial. 

In 1933 the name 'Remembrance Sunday' was introduced nationally, and in this parish as elsewhere the collection was taken for the Earl Haig Fund [now generally known as the 'Poppy Appeal']. When 11 November fell on a Sunday (as in 1934), the morning service began early so that the silence could be kept at the memorial at 11am.

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