planning the memorial
The first public meeting - one of many like it taking place up and down the country - to discuss the setting up of a memorial, was convened on March 26 1919, four months before the formal treaties ending the First World War were signed.
At this meeting it was agreed that the memorial should be 'monumental and not utilitarian'. A committee (of course) was set up, with Mr D A Bevan in the chair. A team of collectors set abut raising funds (in the end the public appeal raised nearly £1160, a huge sum then). And there was a sub-committee, to deal with the architect, Morley Horder of London, whose name Mr Bevan supplied.
On November 28 the sub-committee reported that the architect had chosen a site from those that had been shown to him: the Priory grounds site, which had been donated by Lord Knutsford and Mr Bevan. Morley Horder had also drawn up a design.
A further public meeting was held in the Town Hall in December. Mr Bevan apologised for the delay: the architect 'was a busy man and had several other war memorials in hand'. Mr Bevan also said he'd talked to a lot of people abut memorials; they'd told him 'they had had awful rows over it and could get nothing done... Never let it be said that Royston people had a row over their memorial.' Sadly, he spoke too soon.
First somebody complained about the design: for a start, were the walls really necessary? Someone else wanted to know why there should be seats in the walls: it would mean 'the usual thing: a playground for children and a resting place for tramps!' Yet another claimed that the wrong site had been chosen. A women's spokesperson joined in: yes, the women she had talked to thought the site wasn't nearly prominent enough, and why couldn't they have something 'simpler and more suitable', like the Whitehall cenotaph?
Then Mr Dredge spoke for the Royston Branch of the Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers. Now, they loved both the site and the design. They intended to have that one or none at all. 'We are determined to have it, and if you don't raise the money we will!' (Laughter and applause.)
In the end, not a single person voted against it. The meeting ended, with a final vote of thanks to Royston's Mr Wilkerson, who had made the 'very fine' model from the architect's design which had been on display in a shop window. 'They had another done by the architect's man, but it was nothing like Mr Wilkerson's.'
But this was not the end of Royston's war over its memorial. Strong exchanges in the Herts. and Cambs. Reporter followed, kicked off by an irascible writer with strong objections to the site. 'Whoever heard of digging a big hole in a bank to hide a war memorial facing north and shaded by trees, where the sun can never shine upon it, and in a very short time will be covered in green slime and moss as a lasting memorial of a bad site?' He added, 'What the memorial is like I cannot say, but I do hear that it is considered by many to be hideous.'
Another writer had a go at Mr Bevan in particular: the chairman, he claimed, had become a dictator, and had 'proceeded to appoint an architect of his own choice'. There should indeed be a better, more conspicuous site than the one offered (the one part-owned by Mr Bevan); prizes should be offered in a competition for the design. A fund-raiser added to the quarrel: he reported 'considerable resentment from donors' - he had 'suspended, on my own initiative, collecting in the district'.
Stung, Mr Bevan was at last driven to reply. 'I would respectfully ask the dissenters why they did not attend the public meeting and express their views. How could the committee - publicly appointed - possibly know what their feelings were?' Well, he said, in view of these feelings, they had just had a meeting to discuss them; at which it had been universally agreed that to go back to the beginning would be disastrous. It was already February 1920, funds had been raised which would have to be returned if the present course was abandoned. No, he had not appointed the architect: he had only suggested his name, as the man was already at work on a memorial in nearby Melbourn.
The grousing rumbled on. ('That there has been an alternation of dilatoriness and rash haste on the part of the Chairman and Committee, nobody can deny....' 'Owing to the way the whole thing was worked, no interest was evoked...' 'We should not take the first - and only! - thing that comes our way merely to save ourselves trouble...'
At last another committee member exclaimed: 'It appears to me to be a poor service to the memory of the fallen to raise an acrimonious controversy now. There was ample opportunity for discussion, but our present critics did not take it, and now I would appeal for a return to the spirit in which we began the project of the Memorial. Whatever monument or site had been chosen, we could not have expected complete unanimity; but let us now, for the sake of the men we have lost, dedicate our Memorial with hearts in unison.'
Which seemed to do the trick; and gained a printed apology.
Perhaps Mr Bevan remembered the squabbling as he made his own speech at the unveiling ceremony. In it he asked that the day should not be seen as one of mourning. 'Today is a day of proud remembrance, and each of you may say "my husband, my son, my brother fought the good fight, and I come in gratitude for his sacrifice to lay a wreath at this monument, with the sure and certain hope that we shall meet again".... We ought to approach this day in the right spirit.'
There are few areas that egotism, political interests, jealousy, resentment and misunderstandings don't reach. But that doesn't mean that people should not try to overcome them.