West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Local History





At last, nearly five years after the cessation of hostilities, Pontefract can boast a memorial to the town’s men and women who fell in the Great War.

Some years ago, during the first year of the mayoralty of Ald. T.J. Sides, C.C., meetings were called with a view to the provision of a town’s memorial, but the popular scheme – the reception of a Y.M.C.A. institute – was abandoned as being too large an undertaking.

For some time nothing more was done until, about two years ago, when, as a result of the initiative of Alderman Sides, another public meeting was called, and the present War Memorial Committee elected. It was then decided that the memorial should take the form of a monument, and later, with the sanction of the Corporation, the present site at Town End was selected.

The next point was the choice of design, and, after several had been considered, that of Mr. H.B. Benson, of Bramham, was approved, and the tender of Messrs E. Raynor & Sons, of Woodlesford, to erect it at a cost of £1,230 was accepted, and though the barrier enclosing the site was fixed up nearly twelve months ago, the work has only just been completed.

It was originally intended to inscribe the names of all the fallen on the memorial, but this idea had to be abandoned on two grounds – lack of space and lack of funds; and the happy resolution was arrived at to place bronze replicas of the badges of the two regiments stationed at the Pontefract depot on the east and west sides of the memorial in place of the names, and the names themselves in a separate roll.

As already described in these columns, the memorial is of massive monumental design and consists of Scotch grey granite, all fine axed with the exception of the four panels which are polished. The panel facing the South (towards Mill Hill) bears the inscription “The names of the dead are inscribed in the Roll of Honour kept among the archives of the Borough,” and on that facing the north (the town) is inscribed “To the memory of our Fallen Comrades, 1914-1918.”

Four steps lead up to the monument, which is surrounded by 12 granite pillars connected by 8 iron chains.

Above the main four panels are two ornamental cornices, over which are four wreath stones, each bearing a bronze laurel wreath, surmounted by a large dome, at the top of which is a four-way cross.

The selection of a suitable person to unveil the memorial presented some difficulty, but eventually the Committee invited Brigadier-General C.B. Ingham Brooke C.M.G., D.S.O., to perform the ceremony – a decision which has met with the approval of the townsfolk, who remembered the gallant officer during the time he was in command at the depot during the early part of the War.

Another universally popular step taken by the committee was the invitation to dedicate the memorial offered to the Rev. canon W. Gell, M.A., now Vicar of Holme-in-Cliviger, near Burnley, who was Vicar of Pontefract for 19 years, and during the latter part of his vicariate himself lost his youngest son, Sec. Lt. C.S. Gell.


Thursday afternoon was chosen as the most suitable occasion for the unveiling ceremony, the details of which had been well though out beforehand, and were carried out entirely according to plan.

At 2.35pm, a guard of honour, consisting of representatives of both regiments from the Barracks, headed by the band of the York and Lancaster Regiment, under Sergeant-Drummer A.T. Cole, formed up in the Market Place to await the arrival of the civic procession, and to meet the Brigadier-General. The officers accompanying the guard of honour were Major A.R. Keppell, Capt. Starling, Capt. Watkins, Lt. Masters and Lt. Butterfield, all of the K.O.Y.L.I. Regt., and Major Walker, Capt. Dickinson, Lt. Symes, Lt. Lowden and Lt. Pittock, all of the York and Lancaster Regt.

At 2-40pm the civic procession left the Town Hall en route for the Market Place, where the Mayor (Ald. R.P. Husband) was met by Major Keppell (Officer in Command of the Depot).

The civic procession, a very long one, was led by a squad of Police under Supt. J. Fairbairn, Inspector Bell, and Sgt. Thompson, who were followed by the Mace Bearer (Mr. F. Baxter), preceding the Mayor. Next came the Rev. Canon Gell, followed by the Town Clerk (Mr. F.M. Farmer, M.B.E.), the Clerk of the Peace (Mr. J. Routlidge), and the Mayor’s Chaplain (the Rev. T.A. Hodgson Thomas). Then came the Chairman and Secretary of the War Memorial Committee, Ald T.J. Sides, C.C., and Col. C. C. Moxon, C.M.G., D.S.O., respectively, who were followed by Capt. H.W. Cole-Hamilton, D.S.O., Capt. H. Barker, M.C., Capt. G. McNally, Capt. H.W. Richardson, Lt. J. Glew and Lt. G. Sylvester, representing the military.

Next in the procession were the Borough Member (Mr. Tom Smith), and the Borough County Councillor (Mr. W. Barber), who were followed by Mr. W.F. Tempest, Mr. W.J. Robson, Ald. F.W. Pease, Mr. J.M. Curtois, Mr. R.B.Walker and Mr. T. Barker, representing the West Riding and Borough Magistrates, with the Clerk of the former (Capt. C. Guy Leatham).

The clergy and ministers came next, the Parish Church being represented by the Vicar of Pontefract (the Rev J. Young), and the Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist Chapels by the Revs. S.W.M. Ingersent and J.T. Taylor respectively; Aldermen T. Butler, O. Holmes, and A. Schofield, and Crs V. Heckingbottom, G.R. Hemingway, W. Wordsworth, J. Hutchinson, C. Johnson, W. Leadbeater, P. Wilson, H. Holmes, T. Brindley, and G. Sainter represented the Corporation, and the Education Committee were represented by Mr. E. Bruce Forrest (Headmaster of King’s School), Mrs A.G. Nicholls having proceeded direct to the site.

The Pontefract Board of Guardians were represented by their Clerk (Mr. T.J. Amies), who was followed by Mr. Miles N. Watson (Borough Accountant), Mr. R.P. Winter (Borough Treasurer), Mr. A.B. Jackson (Nuisance Inspector), and Mr. G. Guy (Markets Superintendent) who represented the Corporation officials. Then came a contingent of about 60 ex-Servicemen, under the command of Capt. P. Bentley, M.C., who was accompanied by Capt. Brown, Capt. (Rev.) H.S. Rogers, Lt. P.A. Jones, and Lt. W. Turton. Behind the ex-Servicemen were twelve members of the Fire Brigade, led by Capt. F. Wharldall and Vice-captain J.W. Gardiner, who in turn were followed by some fifty members of the St. John Ambulance Brigade, under Corps Supt. T.C. Amery, Corps Officer C. Hornby, and Sgt. Maj. Colley, the Brigade Band being under the conductorship of Bandmaster Ward and Asst. Band-master J. Squibb.

Brigadier-General Brooke arrived immediately after the two processions had united in the Market Square, and, having been met by the Mayor and officers, he inspected the guard of honour, and afterwards the joint procession moved off towards the Town End, headed by the military band.

Arriving at Town End, the procession split up, the various bodies taking their respective places in the arena, which was already well-filled with relatives and patients from the Darrington Hospital. Special places had also been reserved for the teachers and children of the various elementary schools.

When the ceremony commenced, punctually at 3-00pm, the whole of the Town End area was filled with people wedged tightly together, and in the opinion of persons able to judge, there must have been well over 5,000 – more probably 6,000 – present.

Canon Gell opened the service with the following words: -

“Dearly beloved, we are met together to remember the loving kindness and mercy of the Lord towards us in delivering us from the hands of our enemies and from the evils that beset us in the time of War, and more particularly to remember, and to thank Him for the devotion of those through whose sacrifice that deliverance was accomplished, and further, to dedicate to their memory a tribute of honour and respect, that so their lives and example may be ever kept in mind in token of all that Thou through them hath wrought. That we may the more worthily do this let us pray that God will cleanse our hearts and inspire our minds by the grace of His Holy Spirit.

Let us pray – Almighty God unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from who no secrets are hid; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee; and worthily magnify Thy Holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen. Our Father, which art in Heaven", etc.

Next, the gathering united in the singing of Rudyard Kipling’s “Lest We Forget”, to the accompaniment of the band, after which General Brooke pulled the cord to release the four Union Jacks which had until then covered the sides of the monument.

With these words Canon Gell dedicated the memorial:

“In the Faith of Jesus Christ we dedicate this memorial to the Glory of God, and in memory of His servants, the noble and brave men of this town, who gave their lives in the cause of justice, liberty and freedom in the Great War, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”.

Amen, and the sounding of the “Last Post” and “Reveille” by a party of buglers with further prayers and followed by the blessing, concluded this most impressive portion of the ceremony, after which came the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers”, again accompanied by the band.

General Brooke, whose remarks were delivered in ringing tones which carried well into the midst of the assembled concourse and must have been audible to a large proportion of the great gathering, said that some months ago, a great soldier, Sir Henry Wilson, on his last appearance before the public, proclaimed that on such occasions as that day’s it was better that they should receive and take over these memorials in perfect silence. He agreed that it was well that they should keep silence, for silence was more appropriate than the most silvery oratory, but there were some things which he felt ought to be said, and which he wished to say.

He asked the people of Pontefract to remember that the Memorial had been raised by public subscription to preserve the memory of the 600 men and three women or thereabouts, of the Borough, who served faithfully unto death; but he reminded them that the memorial did not close their debt to the dead or their dependants – for although on that occasion they offered their sympathy and respectful admiration to the bereaved ones – they must remember also the disabled who remained. There were the maimed, the halt and the blind also entitled to their sympathy and help.  He wanted them to realise that the erection of that memorial was not, as it were, a receipt stamp placed at the end of the very long bill for the War. They still had the dependants and the disabled among them, and it should be their business to give them help and assistance and make their lives as happy as they could. He congratulated the Memorial Committee on the site they had selected – “at the gates of the city”, where the roads leading into the town met. They had on one side the road to Leeds, on the west to Wakefield and the cities of the West Riding, on the south to Doncaster and to the capital of the country, and on the other to York and Hull and overseas. Thus, people coming to or through Pontefract – on pleasure or on business – would be obliged to pass that spot, and would treat it with the respect it deserved. The memorial stood as a sentinel on the road on which so many thousands of their soldiers took their first step on the way to their Great Adventure, and he well remembered how, nine years ago, the serried ranks of men came down from the hill (i.e. the Barracks) and the cheerfulness of that happy throng. He thought that if they looked for a term in which to describe these men they would find it in these two words – from the hymn they had just sung - “happy throng”. He pointed out that this memorial forged a fresh and more binding link between the inhabitants of the Borough of Pontefract and the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and the York and Lancaster Regiment. Pontefract had been the home of these two distinguished regiments for nigh in fifty years, and the idea which had prompted the committee to place on the memorial the badges of the K.O.Y.L.I. and Y. and L. Regiments, was one which would always be looked upon by these two honourable regiments with esteem and affection. He was sure that in future no formed body of troops would ever march past the memorial without according to it the most marked tokens of respect. He asked them, however, were they to consider the memorial only as memorial to those who fell? Had it reference only to those of the K.O.Y.L.I. and Y. and L. Regt., who went forth and were willing to sacrifice their all at the call of duty? To his mind the memorial had a greater significance even than that. It reminded them of a period of peril and unpreparedness – how great a peril he did not think any of them could realise. But the nation gathered itself together in its strength – also greater than they had realised – and they gained a final victory. The memorial should remind them of how in those days, as Macaulay sang of the days of Rome:

“None were for the party,
But all were for the State.
The rich man helped the poor man,
And the poor man loved the great.”

And to his mind the “great” in this great War, were the ordinary soldiers of the British Regiments who, with the traditions of the past behind them and the Cross of Sacrifice before, fought their way to victory and liberty.

Alderman Sides said it was his duty that afternoon to present to the Mayor the book in which would be entered the names of the fallen of the Borough of Pontefract during the Great War. After the remarks which had already been made, he did not think it was necessary for him to say very much, but he offered to all the relatives of the fallen, his deep and heartfelt sympathy. During his term of office as Mayor he had the privilege of welcoming home several of the various regiments, and he always remembered how it was with a very sad heart that he saw the relatives of those who did not come back, endeavouring to smile and welcome the others, although all the time the tears were trickling down their cheeks. He prayed that the blessing of God Almighty might rest upon all the parents, widows and relatives of the fallen. Speaking of the memorial itself, he suggested that although it had been completed rather late in the day, it was a credit to the town. Many, including himself, would have liked to see something which would have been of help to the living, but the minority had to give way to the majority. He announced that it had been arranged that the Mayor and Corporation and Townspeople should meet at that spot on November 11 of each year and offer up a silent prayer for the souls of those who gave their lives for their country, and he trusted that as long as it existed the town would perform this small duty. He concluded by remarking that he felt sure that all present would feel better men and women for their attendance that afternoon.

The Mayor, in accepting the Roll from Ald. Sides, said that all would regard this valuable record as one of the most sacred possessions of the town, and the Corporation would provide not only safe custody for the Roll, but would have it placed in a suitable place where the relatives could have access to it at any time, and see in the list the names of those they had lost – the heroes whom he regarded as having won the War for us. As mayor, he was proud to think that that day they had removed the stigma which was theirs so long as they had no memorial to the bravery and self-sacrifice of their townsmen, and he felt that to those present – especially the young people – the sight and speeches had been most inspiring.

The official wreath was then placed on the memorial by the Mayoress (Mrs Husband) “In affectionate memory of our fallen townsmen. From the Citizens of Pontefract.”

Amongst the many other wreaths placed alongside this, were several from the Barracks; one from “The comrades of the Ex-Servicemen’s Club”; another “In Memory of our fallen comrades of the C.L.B.”; one “In memory of our comrades of the St. John Ambulance Brigade”; and one “In grateful remembrance of fallen members of the Pontefract Conservative and Unionist Club”; whilst immediately after these came the relatives, including fatherless children of 5 or 6 and upwards, with emblems varying from magnificent confections of hot house blooms to a simple bunch of flowers grown for the occasion and tended with loving care in a cottage garden.

After these last and touching tributes, the National Anthem brought the proceedings to a close, but until long after dusk there was a persistent procession of visitors to the column to inspect it and especially, the steadily growing mass of final tokens of remembrance.

After the ceremony the patients from Darrington Hospital were entertained to tea by Cr. Wordsworth in the Valley Café, and during the evening General Brooke “looked in”, chatted with the men, and shook hands with each.

The presence of a large aeroplane, which swooped and circled above the assembled crowd at the commencement, gave quite a war-like touch to the occasion, but this effect was somewhat overpowered when the humming and roaring persisted throughout a large part of the service, almost completely drowning the words of Canon Gell.

Letters of apology for absence were received by the Town Clerk from the Recorder (Mr. H. Vernon Wragge), the Coroner (Major W.B. Arundel), Miss Hall and the Rev A. G. Shipley (members of the Education Committee), Mr. J.W. Bentley, J.P. (Chairman of the Pontefract Board of Guardians(, and Mr. F.W. Rhodes (a magistrate).

The above account, reproduced from the Pontefract Advertiser, Saturday 29th September 1923, was kindly loaned to us by Mr. John O.E. Holmes.


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