This is one of the carvings on the war memorial at Sledmere in north-east Yorkshire. It’s the only memorial I’ve come across that shows a scene like this – an unpleasant-looking German soldier deliberately setting fire to a church.
The memorial is to the local Waggoners Reserve. Sir Mark Sykes, a local landowner and M.P. who had served in the Boer War, realised that there would be a large demand for horse-drawn transport in wartime, and in 1912 recruited local farmworkers, on a retainer of fifteen shillings a year, to be a reserve transport unit. They seem to have been given no military training, but were chosen as men good with horses. You can see something about their war service here.
After the war, Sir Mark, a skilled amateur cartoonist, designed the memorial, which included scenes of the Waggoners at home and at war, as well as the atrocity scenes. You can see more of the carvings here.
I don’t know what the reaction to the memorial was in 1919 when it was erected, but in 1938 there was controversy, when the German consul at Liverpool expressed disquiet at the display of such scenes. (And yes, when one considers how the Germans were behaving in 1938, one’s irony-meter is already working overtime.) Here’s the Times report:
The thing is, this memorial does seem to be unique. Just about every other one was dignified and neutral in tone, with a sad, or proud or steadfast figure, perhaps, or (most commonly) just a plain abstract obelisk.
Why are there not more memorials that show clearly what people thought they were fighting against? Was it a matter of good taste, and a desire to avoid any kind of triumphalism, or any hint of knocking an enemy when he was down?
Or is this the exception because it was the brainchild of one man (the individualistic Sir Mark) while others are blander because they are the product of committees?
The image at the top of this post is from a postcard given to me by the War Memorials Trust, who had a stand at the Commemoration and Memory conference at the Imperial War Museum North last week. It was a most stimulating conference. Maybe I’ll write more about it later.