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Changing Times | First World War memorial in Eastgate Square

The FIRST anniversary of the Armistice in 1919 brought ideas about remembrance to the fore as the wider nation came together to mark the event with a two minute silence as instructed by the proclamation issued by King George V.


The focus on commemoration in the city that the two minutes of silence had brought was also fuelled by the tremendous national response to the Cenotaph in Whitehall. This temporary structure, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944), drew huge crowds in London in November 1919 and proved so popular that it was decided to build it as a permanent memorial. By January 1920, Cicestrians were demanding a similar construction for the city and over six hundred signatures were obtained as a formal protest against the Guildhall scheme.


As a solution, a cenotaph in Eastgate Square was forwarded. The design of a cenotaph was favoured during a meeting in February 1920 as it was thought that it enabled ‘all creeds’ to be remembered rather than it being a purely Christian sacrifice. Similarly, the site in Eastgate was suggested as it was thought that a memorial in the Cathedral grounds would appear to favour one denomination over others in a city which had a variety of Christian practices.


To begin planning for this structure, the Town Clerk advertised that all relatives of men who had died during the war send the details of the deceased so they could be included on the memorial.


Only those who had resided in the city before their enlistment were to be included, this ensured that the site would be the focus for local people by enabling residents to mourn their dead whether those who had fallen were living in the city or had once lived within Chichester.


A house-to-house collection for the city’s war memorial was launched in March 1920 to raise funds with over £370 collected within two months. By September 1920, the design for the city’s war memorial had been chosen after a competition initiated by the War Memorial Committee. The winning design was from H. Inigo Triggs of the architectural firm Unsworth and Triggs. With a strong traditional element in its motifs, redolent of a medieval cross, the memorial met the demand from the Committee of a sympathetic design that suited the ancient city.


Funds for the war memorial were donated by Cicestrians at an increasing rate in a variety of ways. Indeed, a charity football match was held in Priory Park in September 1920 which saw over £40 being raised for the scheme. A whist drive, which was organised in the Assembly Rooms in October, also proved to be a very profitable for the war memorial fund with over 200 tickets sold.


On July 27, 1921, the memorial with the names of 351 individuals was dedicated in Eastgate Square by Field Marshal Sir William Robert Robertson (1860-1933) one of Field Marshal Douglas Haig’s Senior Staff.


The unveiling of the memorial was a highly impressive event in the city. A Roll of Honour booklet was produced and issued by the Chichester War Memorial Committee for the dedication of the War Memorial. It too records the names of the men of Chichester who gave their lives in the Great War.


The Mayor and City Councillors paraded from the Council House to Eastgate Square whilst veterans who had marched from the Drill Hall on East Walls lined the route along East Street to pay their respects.


Large crowds had gathered to watch the event on the streets whilst others stood around the windows of the buildings surrounding the memorial to gain a glimpse. Field Marshal Robertson spoke of the sacrifice of both the dead and the living during the ceremony as he asked Cicestrians to always keep the memorial as part of civic life.


Although money for the war memorial was still needed, fund-raising schemes continued into the next few months and the final deficit was not paid until the following year, the memorial had become part of the city. It provided a place of mourning that was used by citizens. This is indicated in the reports of September 1922, which highlighted how jam jars had been placed around the site to enable mourners to keep flowers next to the memorial.


As the fourth anniversary of the end of the war was marked, Cicestrians had begun to get on with everyday life, but the memorial ensured that the war would not be forgotten.


A decision was made to move the memorial to its current position in Litten Gardens in 1940 due to alterations to the road layout in Eastgate Square.


After the Second World War, four more horizontal stone tablets were added at the base of the monument recording the fallen of this subsequent conflict.


In 2015 the memorial was given Grade II listed status and was described as “an eloquent witness to the tragic impact of world events on the local community, and the ultimate sacrifice made by so many from the Chichester area in the conflicts of the 20th Century”.


Every year on Remembrance Sunday the City of Chichester remembers the fallen. The Mayor and City Councillors, along with the Chairmen of Chichester District and West Sussex County Councils process to the War Memorial to attend a short service and a observe the two minutes’ silence.


By Dr Ross Wilson, University of Nottingham


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