In 1922 the Parish Church Schools of Cradley commemorated the fallen of the first World War by creating at St. Peter's church an avenue of lime trees leading to an oak cross, and planting sixty poplar trees. Terry Evans reports on the origins of the Avenue of Remembrance, and how it has fared eighty years later.
Before the main Cradley Memorial was erected, a private memorial was made by the then Parish Church Schools in Cradley churchyard. This took the form of an "Avenue of Remembrance" leading from the entrance on Homer Hill to an oak cross and memorial stone situated at the junction of the old and new burial grounds.
The following transcript taken from the December 23rd 1922 edition of the County Express describes in detail the memorial and accompanying dedication ceremony.
"AVENUE OF REMEMBRANCE."
Memorial Tree Planting at Cradley.
Oak Cross Dedicated.
A memorable event, unique in the history of the district, took place at Cradley on Saturday afternoon, when a large, plain cross and a memorial stone, erected in a circular bed at a spot where the old and new burial grounds meet, were dedicated by the Vicar (the Rev. R. A. Norris) in memory of the sixty old boys of the Parish Church Schools, who fell in the great war. Following the dedication ceremony (which, was preceded by a short service in church), sixty trees, each supported by a stake bearing the name of one of the old boys, were planted by relatives or friends of the fallen. The whole scheme very effectively forms what is aptly described as an "Avenue of Remembrance" The cross has been given by Mr. Joseph Jaquiss (former headmaster of the schools) and his family, and the memorial stone is a gift of old scholars. Engraved on the stone is the following inscription: "To the Glory of God and the everlasting memory of the sixty old scholars of the Church Schools who fell in the Great War, 1914-18. These trees were planted and this stone erected by their old school fellows. - December 16th 1922."
The Vicar conducted the brief service in church, which was very largely attended, those present including a number of ex-service men, relatives and friends of the fallen, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts and teachers and scholars of the Church Schools. The Rev. G. Lawrence (curate) and members of the choir were also in attendance. The proceedings commenced with prayer, followed by chanting of Psalm 23.
The Vicar, in a short address, said they had met together upon an occasion in which, he hoped, all of them, as Christians, were equally proud to take their share. They wanted to do something to commemorate the lives and service of those men who went out from their Church Schools and paid the most extreme sacrifice men could pay in the service of their country. The form of the service and ceremony that afternoon was simple and unusual. Sixty trees would be planted, each one being commemorative of a particular man who served and died. But before they did that, he wanted to explain one or two things. In the first place it was it was something in the nature of a private memorial, as it was not in any sense a parish memorial, and was not intended to take the place of anything which might be done in remembrance of all the men of Cradley who paid the supreme sacrifice in the war. The Avenue of Remembrance had been organised and paid for by the old scholars, teachers, and friends of the Church Schools. At the present time there was a memorial tablet in the school, but it was possible the trees would last even longer. To most of those in that congregation, the names of the men they were commemorating were very familiar. They had, perhaps, played and worked with them and had shared their joys and sorrows. It was, therefore, somewhat of a sad privilege to be able to participate in that memorable event. The school yard once rang with the laughter of those brave men, and it was in the schools that they learnt those lesson which brought forth the magnificent qualities and characteristics which prompted the response we saw in 1914, when those valiant boys proudly gathered, rank on rank, to war. It was the finest proof that they learnt the lesson of duty well, and willingly and gladly they did what was asked of them when their country called. There were three things to remember when they saw the memorial. First of all, there was at the end of the avenue a strong oak cross - the plain, stern emblem carrying throughout all ages the same message. It would remind them of what those men did. There was no war memorial so fitting and symbolic of the service and lives of those men than a cross. On each side of the avenue there would be planted lime trees, and the sweet summer foliage would remind them of many gracious acts of chivalry the men did overseas. Many in that congregation might not be able to realise what an extraordinary reception those boys had in France. He saw it himself and knew of the many kind acts they did. In billets in France, they were ever ready to extend a helping hand and to display those virtues which were to be found in every English gentleman. Thirdly, there would stand further down the road a number of straight, tall poplars. Those trees would be an example of uprightness and strength and would remind those who saw them that the men they commemorated would some day rise again.
The names of the sixty men were then read aloud by the Vicar, who afterwards offered an appropriate prayer, followed by the singing of the hymn, "O, valiant hearts."
Dedication and Tree Planting
All present then marched in procession to the new burial ground, where the dedication and tree planting ceremonies took place. The long procession was headed by the choir, followed by the clergy, the churchwardens (Messrs. A. Powell and Perry), a contingent of the Cradley branch of the British Legion (in charge of Mr. T. Spencer Oliver, president), Girl Guides (under the supervision of Captain Miss Smith), troops of Boy Scouts, members of Cradley Church Council, teachers and scholars of the schools, relatives of the fallen, old scholars and friends. The Boy Scouts' troops represented were: Cradley Church Schools, (A.S.M. Southall), 1st Old Hill (S.M. R. J. Pearson), 1st Halesowen (A.S.M. A. F. Webb), Belmont Mission, Lye (S.M. G. H. S. Mallen and A.S.M. S. W. Bailey), Christ Church, Lye (S.M. E. Brooks) and Halesowen Wolf Cub Packs (Miss Dorothy Burrows and Miss G. Tromans).
The huge assembly formed a thick circle round the oak cross and the ceremony began with the singing of "O God, our help in ages past," after which a short prayer of dedication was said by the Vicar. "The Last Post" and "The Reveille" were sounded by a bugler and the proceedings closed with the first verse of the National Anthem. The relatives and friends then planted the trees allotted to them, the procedure being watched by a large number of interested people. It is in the hope of the promoters of the scheme that relatives or friends of the fallen will tend the trees, and, if they so desire, place wreaths or flowers at the foot of them from time to time.
How the Cost was Defrayed
The entire cost of the trees was defrayed by the proceeds from the concert "Agatha" given over a year ago by the Primitive Methodist Dramatic Society, nearly all the performers being old scholars of the Church Schools. The memorial stone was erected by about 50 of the old scholars of their day. We are asked to note the fact that the fund is now closed, and that a copy of the balance sheet will be forwarded to each subscriber.
An invitation in the form of a card was sent to the relatives of the men to be remembered on which was the number of the tree allotted to that man and the position of the tree in the graveyard.
The number and tree position was as follows: -
1 to 9 and 42 to 47 - facing front fence.
10 to 25 - right side of avenue.
26 to 41 - left side of avenue.
48 to 60 - along top fence.
The only position and tree number I could trace was that given to Ben Unitt. His was tree number 53 which was positioned along the top fence, and has a good chance of being one of the remaining trees in that area today.
Today (May 2002), the Avenue of Remembrance consists of 24 lime trees along its length (facing towards the cross there are 13 on the left hand side and 11 on the right hand side), and another 6 trees around the circular area of the cross. Along the top fence, there are another 16 trees. All the trees facing the front fence have not survived nature or some possible "tidying operation".
There are 46 lime trees in the area of the memorial; some must be original trees, but how many?
As for the tall poplar trees, mentioned in the newspaper article, that once lined the side of the road up to Homer Hill there are now only 6 trees remaining, five on the left hand side of the entrance and a solitary tree on the right hand side.
The weather of the past eighty years has taken its toll on the memorial stone and unless you know the exact inscription, it is very difficult to decipher.
Although the article in the County Express and the invitation for the relatives of Ben Unitt state that there are sixty men remembered, the present day Plaque in the Cradley Church of England School only carries 53 names.
Of these 53 only 42 are named on the Cradley Memorial, although it is possible that Horace Tate could have been Fred Tate and that Joseph Henry Tyler was John Joseph Tyler. Fred Tate's service papers have not survived and it is only speculation that he may have had a second name, that of Horace.
Today the pupils of the now Cradley Church of England School hold a ceremony close to Remembrance Day, November 11th, at the Cross, where they place small wooden crosses at its foot, each representing a soldier named on the school plaque.
This essay is © Copyright 2002 Terry Evans
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