I am suppose to be writing a draft of chapter one for my dissertation. The deadline is the 1st May. Unlike subsequent chapter drafts that will be discussed with my mentor, this one is a chapter that has to be submitted and marked as part of my proposal final grade. I can alter it afterwards based on the feedback from the marking and re-submit it when I submit my completed dissertation in October. However the grade from the draft still counts towards my final overall grade for the whole Masters degree. This means I still have to do a good job and attempt to get the best mark I can. The problem is I am still doing my primary research and theoretical reading, which is making writing the chapter a little bit difficult. The fact that I have only one week left before it must be submitted, is also adding to the stress levels and anxiety!
As you know my dissertation is focussed on the Bexhill War Memorial. Chapter One looks at the creation of the war memorial and how the various stages relate to the national picture as well as war commemoration and memorial theories. It is primarily a historical chapter with memory and commemoration theory thrown in. Well, that's the plan anyway!In order to talk about the creation of the memorial I have been looking at the Bexhill Observer for 1919 and 1920 (the memorial was unveiled in December 1920). This has provided me with some fantastic primary evidence, but also takes a lot of time.
In March 1919 the Bexhilll Mayor called a public meeting to discuss what form the town's memorial of the First World War would take. Many varying ideas were put forward and a War Memorial Committee was appointed. In later months sub-committees were formed to look at various aspects of the war memorial including location, raising funds, organisation and rather importantly what form the memorial should take. Initially there were many suggestions for a memorial. One overwhelming feeling was Bexhill did not want some stone monument with names inscribed on it. The town already had enough memorials such as the Coronation Clock Tower, and the Maharajah's Fountain that were not being maintained and ended up looking shabby. They didn't want any more (even if this one would be significantly different as it would be the first time in history that the ordinary soldier would be commemorated in a civic memorial and have his name inscribed).
Instead Bexhill was more in favour of a utilitarian memorial. Something that would be of use to the town and more importantly the living while also remembering the dead. Suggestions included, a recreation hall for the returned soldiers, a Guildhall with a museum, art gallery and reading room, a recreation and sports ground (Cricket seemed to be the favourite), a cottage hospital, a Bexhill Ward at the new East Sussex Hospital in Hastings, new cottages built to house the widows and children of the men who had fallen in the War and an Education fund for the children of the fallen soldiers to support them in education, scholarships and apprenticeships (if the funds allowed it, children of the soldiers who had returned would also benefit but only if there was a surplus of funds). Despite these utilitarian suggestions they also felt obliged to erect some sort of memorial, most likely a stone cross in Town Hall Square, with the names of all the men who had gone to War inscribed on the interior walls of the Council Chambers.
Interestingly the town ended up with a traditional obelisk with the names of the fallen inscribed on it at the bottom of Sea Road on the Sea Front facing out to see and the Western Front where so many Bexhill men were slain. They also established the Bexhill Children's Memorial Fund which eventually merged with the Bexhill Trust which still exists today. Many of the funding aims of the Bexhill Trust still centre around providing education financial support for children and teenagers who live in the Bexhill area.
Reading the various debates and discussions around the creation of the War Memorial are fascinating and at times humorous. It is also worrying that in almost 100 years the Bexhill Observer has not changed that much and neither have the people! When discussing the need to improve the area at the bottom of Sea Road where the memorial will go because it is in a terrible state the Bexhill Observer points out the obvious pitfalls:
"We know how leisurely these matters proceed in Bexhill, and anyone with a knowledge of the haphazard development of the Bexhill Front will be aware of the folly of counting upon anything being done within a definite period of time!" (19th April 1919). For current Bexhilians who have had to endure the many arguments over the recent redevelopment (and delays!) of West Parade or the current issues with the Colonnade will no doubt find this to still be true and rather amusing!
Anyway better get back to the Bexhill Observer from 1919!