November was a month of remembrance and commemoration in Coventry, with a whole host of events and activities commemorating the centenary of the Armistice that ended the First World War. The Coventry Society was involved in a number of these.
This year Remembrance Sunday coincided with Armistice Day on Sunday 11th November and also marked 100 years since the signing and enacting of the Armistice.
The Cenotaph in the War Memorial Park was the focus for remembrance events in the city on 11th November. The park was opened in 1921 to honour the fallen of the Great War, and this year the public again took part in large numbers in the Service of Remembrance which included a parade, hymns, readings and laying wreaths to pay respects, with the service being led by The Right Reverend Dr Christopher Cocksworth, the Lord Bishop of Coventry. The Parade was led by the Coventry Corps of Drum and music was also be played by City of Coventry Brass Band during the service.
The City Council unveiled a public artwork in Greyfriars Green on 8th November. Two silhouettes of First World War soldiers now grace the Green as a reminder of the sacrifice made by so many and a tribute to mark the 100th anniversary of Armistice. The soldiers are part of a Royal British Legion (RBL) project called ‘There But Not There’ and are a symbol of the many who never made it back home.
They were installed on the green near the city centre by Coventry City Council, after a generous donation to help the charity work of the RBL. The initiative seeks to educate today’s generations about the horrors of a war which claimed the lives of 888,246 British and Commonwealth service personnel.
On Saturday 17th November there was a moving event at London Road Cemetery to re-dedicate the Triumph and Gloria War Memorial. The memorial commemorates the 68 employees of the Triumph and Gloria companies who died during the First World War. It has been restored to its former glory by the Friends of London Road Cemetery with financial assistance from the War Memorials Trust and the TR Register.
The service was conducted by Rev Arthur Woo, Vicar of the Parish of Christ Church, Cheylesmore. A Triumph Bicycle decorated the memorial and there were Triumph motorcycles and cars lining the roads in the cemetery. A bugler played the Last Post and a parade of ex-servicemen and women marched with Regimental Colours. Crosses were laid for each of the people named on the memorial with family members laying those for their relatives. Ian Wooley, chairman of the Friends, welcomed a large number of people to the event and after the ceremony refreshments were served in the rarely opened Anglican Chapel.
National Service of Commemoration
The Coventry Society was represented by our Secretary, John Payne, at the National Service to mark the Centenary of the Armistice at Westminster Abbey on 11th November. John tells us that the service was very moving but he didn’t get a very good view of the Queen: all he could see was a purple hat moving down the aisle of the Abbey.
John led the Society’s project to record the condition of all of the First World War memorials in the city. In total 324 memorials in the city were located and surveyed. John will be giving a talk about the project at the History Café at the Priory Visitor Centre on Friday 30th November.
Our Chairman, Paul Maddocks, gave a talk to the pupils of Whitley Abbey School, about the interesting role of Whitley Abbey during the First World War. The school children created some really good commemorative artwork from recycled bottles.
Several members of the Society attended a performance of The Window at the Herbert Gallery. The story is based on the true life story a Spon End family who lived through that terrible period of history. This poignant play describes both the horrors of the battlefield and the struggles on the home front through the voices of James O’Neil and his sister.
The Railway Station
A stunningly poignant tribute to Coventry’s fallen war heroes was unveiled at Coventry Railway Station. As part of The Royal British Legion’s national Thank You movement, partners Coventry Building Society have paid tribute to the 1,223 Coventry soldiers who lost their lives during the First World War. The stunning tribute lists the names of each of those soldiers across the railway station.
Mark Parsons, Chief Executive at Coventry Building Society said: “Railway stations are places of departure and homecoming, but sadly many of our local soldiers never made it home. We’re very proud of our Coventry heritage and our partnership with the Legion, and we wanted to remember and say ‘Thank You’ to those who left to fight in the First World War and never returned.”
Britten’s War Requiem
Some of us were fortunate to attend a performance of Benjamin Britten’s celebrated War Requiem at Coventry Cathedral on 14th November. This magnificent work had its World Premiere during the consecration of the New Cathedral in May 1962. This event was part of the Plumbline Festival, which marks the centenary of the designation of St. Michael’s as a Cathedral and the creation of Coventry Diocese.
During the month there have been lots of things going on in Churches around the city. At St John the Baptist Church in Fleet Street there was a whole programme of activity in support of the Coventry Peace Festival. These included a flower Peace Trail, a Deadman’s penny in flowers, exhibitions and a poppy sculpture suspended from the pulpit, which an eight foot structure full of poppies dedicated to the men dedicated in our War Memorial Window. There were dramatic readings, Services and a recital on the recently restored Bechstein piano.
As the month ends, the city can be proud that the contribution of the people who fought on our behalf and gave their lives for us has been properly respected and commemorated by our city.