Two war memorials in Sledmere have been upgraded to receive Grade 1 status. The upgrade is a rare honour for war memorials and was bestowed on both the Wagoners’ Memorial and the Eleanor Cross, which were designed by Sir Mark Sykes.
For one village to have two with Grade 1 status is without parallel and the memo-rials are among hundreds to be listed over the year through Historic England’s pledge to protect 2,500 memorials by 2018, which marks the centenary of the First World War.
The Wagoners’ Memorial tells the story of the 1,127 men in the Wagoners Reserve Corps recruited from farms across the Yorkshire Wolds. The Wagoners were sent to France with no military training and those on the front line had the essential but un-glamorous job of hauling food, ammunition and equipment to the trenches in all kinds of weather.
The memorial depicts the Wagoners’ work through a string of intriguing carvings which wrap around a stone pillar, giving it a similar appearance to Trajan’s Column in Rome. It also includes some unmatched scenes of alleged atrocities.
It was designed by local officer, MP and owner of the Sledmere Estate, Sir Mark Sykes who recruited the Wagoners and was immensely proud of the unique role they played in the war effort.
The Eleanor Cross stands just a few metres away. Originally built as a village cross in the 1890s, this striking Gothic spire is a copy of the Eleanor Cross in Hardingstone, Northamptonshire, built in 1291 after the death of Queen Eleanor.
Following the First World War it was converted into a war memorial by Sir Mark Sykes to commemorate men from his estate, his fellow officers and friends from various battalions. Sykes honoured them with beautifully detailed uniformed figures based on medieval brasses, creating both a fitting addition to the gothic monument and a moving memorial to the men who lost their lives. Sykes, who died in the Spanish flu epidemic, is depicted as an armoured Crusader.
Their patron is remarkable too as one of the architects of the geography of the modern Middle East. Sir Mark Sykes, Bart. MP (1879-1919) was one of the co-authors of the Sykes-Picot agreement (1916) which determined the borders of Syria and Iraq – an area today the subject of bitter fighting.
Built by communities in the years following the conflict, these memorials are a poignant, physical reminder of the losses of the First World War. One hundred years on, it is time to come together again to ensure our memorials across the country are in good condition, and properly recognised by listing where appropriate.
John Whittingdale, Culture Secretary, who leads for the Government on First World War commemorations, said: “Over a million Britons lost their lives in the First World War. It’s important that their sacrifice is not forgotten – and that the lessons learnt during that time are as resonant now as they were then.
The centenary programme aims to bring us together more closely as a nation to honour the lives and bravery of all those who served. War memorials are a valued part of our heritage and it is absolutely fitting that we cherish and preserve them for future generations.”
He added: “Whether we have relatives whose names are on local memorials, or who fought alongside those who died, we all have a connection with remembrance. I would urge everyone to make sure their local memorial is in good condition. If it isn’t, then Historic England, War Memorials Trust and the Heritage Lottery Fund all have grants and advice available.”
Roger Bowdler, Director of Listing at Historic England, said: “These extraordinary memorials, so unique, and so contrasting, speak to us about an exceptional patron whose influence is still being felt in the world today. They are among hundreds of war memorials which have been newly protected as part of our aim to research, record and recommend up to 2,500 war memorials for listing over the next five years. This is a major task but one that Historic England is proud to undertake.”
Historic England has pledged to list a total of 2,500 war memorials over the centenary of the First World War. To do this we need members of the public to put their war memorials forward for listing.
This is all part of a wider partnership we have forged with War Memorials Trust, Civic Voice and the Imperial War Museum to help communities care for and conserve their local war memorials. Working with enthusiastic volunteers across the country, the programme is providing up to £2million in grants for war memorial repair and conservation and hundreds of workshops to teach people how to record their memorials and put them forward for listing.
Our goal is to ensure that as many war memorials as possible are in a fitting condition for the centenary, and that they remain cherished local landmarks for generations to come