What do David Bowie’s grandad, a peace garden and the Battle of the Somme have to do with Bramley? A year on from the unveiling of Bramley War Memorial – and exactly 101 years to the day since the start of the Great War – West Leeds Dispatch caught up with the volunteers who made the monument possible and discovers their plans for the future.
There’s a poignant inscription on Bramley War Memorial that reads:
“In everlasting memory of brave Bramley people who gave their lives in pursuit of peace – we shall not forget”
It’s impossible not to be touched by the stories of the 500 or so fallen servicemen named on the striking monument – or by the fact that the £100,000 obelisk was paid for through a two-year local fundraising campaign by committed volunteers, local businesses and council grants.
The 12-tonne structure in Bramley Park, which was unveiled last year, names fallen servicemen from Bramley, Stanningley and Rodley.
One of the volunteers behind the war memorial project is Rodley resident John Barker, who’s spent the past 12 months carrying out research into the fallen and who’s been researching any soldiers from the area who died after 1946 to be added to the names on the memorial.
He points out some of the names on the memorial – Clarence Wrigglesworth, for example, was the first person from Rodley to be killed in World War One. His son Cyril was the first Rodley man to die in action in World War Two.
The Watmough brothers – Edmund, John and Victor – all died within three years of each other. The impact the war caused both those local family must have been devastating. He says Frank Boyes, who died on August 9, 1915 in Gallipoli, was the youngest casualty at the age of just 16.
At least 15 Bramley men died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916.
And most recently, there’s Bramley lad Sheldon Steel, 20, who lost his life serving in Afghanistan in 2011. Sheldon was, explains John, one of the inspirations for the volunteers and his mother Wendy Fulthorpe also backed the appeal.
John, who also joins volunteers clearing overgrown war graves and memorials in Bramley Baptist Church graveyard, said:
“It’s impossible not to be moved when you see how young some of the soldiers were when they died and when you think about the impact it must have had on local families at the time. It brings the sacrifice home to you, and that was one of the main reasons we wanted a memorial or Bramley.
“Up until now their names were listed in long-lost documents or hidden from view on graves miles away in foreign cemeteries. Their sacrifices were only really remembered by their descendants.
“So many people from one area played such a significant contribution to our armed forces over the years – especially in the First and Second World Wars.”
John points out another name on the memorial – that of a certain Robert H Jones, who died in France aged 34 on 18 November 1916. Apparently that’s the grandfather of singing legend David Bowie. John said the Bramley War Memorial Group had recently made contact with the singer:
“We’ve contacted his representative to let him know we’ve found his grandad’s name. Apparently he’s really interested …”
Maybe the great man will actually come to Bramley one day to pay tribute?
As for the future, John’s been continuing his research, the group is producing DVDs which will feature all the information collected so far, and there are plans for volunteers to start working with local schools to help young people understand the sacrifices of past generations.
There are also plans for a new website which will mark the anniversary of each soldier’s passing by automatically pushing out a Tweet or Facebook update. “By doing that we’re making sure they’re never forgotten and always in people’s memories,” added John.
And the group aren’t resting on their laurels, there are already some ideas for building a new peace garden near the memorial where people can go and reflect.
The monument has a dual purpose – it remembers and commemorates local war heroes and stands as a testament to the community spirit and dedication that helped build it.
That spirit continues – and this week the group, which regularly posts on the Memories of Bramley Facebook page – uncovered another memorial from the old United Methodist Church in Rodley, which had been in the cellar of the closed down Chapel/Ross Photographic Studios for decades.
John said Hitech Group Ltd, which now owns the Rodley building, had been a big help. He added: “It will be restored and then we expect placed in a suitable church or chapel in the area. It was in the cellar for a lot of years.”