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Woodchester, Stroud: Remembering the Fallen

One of the first memorials for the fallen

For many people who drive past it’s just another war memorial to those local men who lost their lives in World War One. But take a closer look and you’ll notice a difference because unlike so many well cared for stone memorials in our towns and villages this one has a wooden cross. That’s because it’s one of the first memorials erected in England to mark the ultimate price paid by those who died in the Great War. It’s not a civic memorial but a religious one.

Father Hugh Pope, the Prior of the Abbey, launched an appeal for the Wayside Cross on 14 June 1916 some two weeks before the start of the Battle of the Somme. Perhaps the reasons for it being built were best described at the time, in the words of his appeal in the Stroud Journal:

‘We shall keep their memory green. Statutes and memorials of a people’s agony and a lad’s self-surrender will deck many a public square in years to come. But these statutes will not serve to perpetuate the real lesson of these awful years…These men have taught us a lesson for which England can never be too grateful…They have shown us that despite our easy lives and our unquestioned love of luxury, there lay deep down in the hearts of the English men a capacity for sacrifice undreamt of. With a view, then, to perpetuating ideas such as these, ideas which it is only too much to be feared may be overlaid in the stress of after war problems, the Dominican Fathers at Woodchester are erecting a large Wayside Crucifix at the foot of the Monastery Hill. But while the fathers are thus inaugurating this memorial and are giving up a portion of their ground for the purpose, they are anxious that the work should be undertaken in the name of the entire district and not solely in the name of the parish attached to the Priory Church. They wish to make this Wayside Figure something both private and public…’

The consecration of the cross on 3 June 1917 saw thousands of people turning up in motor cars, waggons and bicycles on the high road. On the stroke of the hour the procession emerged from the church of St Dominic, the Monastery of the Order and wound its way down the field to the site of the cross. The Reverend Father Pope was standing on one of the pedestals, and his powerful voice was heard by everyone gathered on the hillsides round about. He first gave an address of the movement of the memorial and said he had met with some opposition and much encouragement, and £200 had been raised in very small and also large amounts, from people all over the world – all ranks and denominations had contributed. Belgians had given in gratitude for what England had done for their nation. But, even so, the amount was not sufficient, although the materials had mostly been given, they yet required another £150 to complete the site and fence around it. The Bishop then proceeded with the consecration. The congregation then sang “Soul of my Saviour”

Location: Woodchester, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL5 5HP
Image: The official consecration of the Wayside Cross on 3 June 1917. Picture courtesy of Chas Townley.

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