With THE end of the First World War in November, 1918, the way in which the conflict should be remembered within the city of Chichester became the object of considerable debate.
Across the country, villages, towns and cities were constructing memorials to those who died in the war and the city council had discussed how the sacrifice of local citizens would be marked.
The city’s first war memorial had been dedicated before the fighting had ceased as Priory Park was donated to Cicestrians for their service by the Duke of Richmond in September, 1918.
However, as soldiers returned and families grieved the loss of loved ones, an official place of commemoration was needed as a testament to the city’s citizens and to provide a place to mourn.
The local churches across Chichester began considering ways in which the deaths of parishioners and their relatives could be marked. The Church of St George in Whyke had begun collecting funds in 1917 and in December, 1918, less than a month after the Armistice had been declared, a commemorative pillar with a Calvary was unveiled.
This focused a debate within the city’s press as to what was needed to remember those who had died. The destructive effects of the conflict were such that many sought memorial schemes which were constructive and beneficial.
One public proposal even argued that the Chichester Cross be removed to enable the free movement of traffic and prevent accidents. Further suggestions in early January, 1919, put forward the idea of a city library. To bring a greater focus on the topic, on February 11, 1919, a large public meeting was held in the Assembly Rooms. The debate was presided over by Mayor Garland, who put forward a proposal that the Guildhall in Priory Park could be renovated and turned into a public reading room.
This meeting established the details of what form the war memorial should take as it was unanimously agreed to ‘perpetuate the memories of those who had fallen in the war’. There was also a strong expression that the memorial should be in keeping with the architectural heritage of the city.
The potential types of memorials discussed were: an endowment of St Mary’s Almshouses; public baths or gymnasium; a memorial public hall; enlargement of the Assembly Rooms; a monument in the city or Priory Park; a memorial bandstand; a nursing home attached to the hospital; memorial homes for soldiers or their dependents.
While no formal decision was made, a committee of the Mayor, Aldermen, religious representatives from the cathedral and retired military men in the city was constituted to look over plans and to make a final judgement. By May, 1919, the war memorial committee had still not decided upon a suitable site or form in which the sacrifice of Cicestrians could be commemorated.
With the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty in July, 1919, the war had come to an end for most people in the city and there was a demand that more should be done for soldiers and their dependants.
The committee had begun to focus upon the refitting of the Guildhall as a reading room or museum with the names of the dead on panels around the building.
Such a suggestion drew strong disapproval within the comment section of the city’s press the proposal was condemned because of the extra costs that would be incurred in maintaining the site.
The debate regarding the memorial rolled on and was even a feature of the last sitting of the city council of Mayor Garland in November, 1919. Unfortunately, no resolution could be agreed and the debate continued. In next week’s article, we will discuss the city’s choice of memorial and the methods employed to fundraise for it.
By Dr Ross Wilson, University of Nottingham