For Remembrance: the First World War street memorials of St Albans

The unveiling of St Albans' war memorial in 1921.

The unveiling of St Albans' war memorial in 1921. - Credit: St Albans Museums

It was one hundred years ago, three years after the end of the war to end all wars. It was then that the people of St Albans gathered in front of St Peter’s Church to watch the unveiling of the new war memorial.

They could read the names of the husbands, sons and brothers who had made the ultimate sacrifice.

St Albans Clock Tower through Waxhouse Gate by Henry Mitton Wilson.

St Albans Clock Tower through Waxhouse Gate by Henry Mitton Wilson, showing the temporary shrine and military plumes. - Credit: St Albans Museums

But in the quiet back streets of St Albans, there was a quieter form of remembrance, just as heartfelt.

Across the country temporary shrines listing the local men away at war had been erected in their streets. And when the worst possible news came, a mark would be put against the name. By 1921, in the Abbey parish of St Albans, 10 permanent street shrines had replaced these. In this small parish alone, 110 had died.

Remembering the war dead of St Albans...

Remembering the war dead of St Albans... - Credit: John Johnson

In the aftermath of the war, it was suggested that the dead should be commemorated in this very personal and local manner.

The idea was taken up by Canon Glossop, a member of the Cathedral clergy. He understood the grief of bereaved families in the Abbey Parish where he worked. He had lost two sons during the conflict. The youngest was just 19.

Glossop spearheaded the campaign, and in 1920 the first street memorial was dedicated by the Dean of the Cathedral in Albert Street. Most are embedded in the walls of private homes – often of one of the men listed. No ranks are shown. All are equal in death.

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By 1914, the Abbey parish was a poor but close-knit community. Families lived side by side in narrow, Victorian terraced houses. Young boys often joined up with their mates. Friends who grew up together went to war to fight and die together. Some of those listed on the memorials were brothers. Not all were soldiers. Some served in the Royal Navy and the newly formed Royal Flying Corps.

One of the street memorials of St Albans.

One of the street memorials of St Albans. - Credit: John Johnson

There are tales of gallantry, heroism and deep grief behind these simple stone plaques, adorned only with a plain cross or crucifix and the words ‘For Remembrance’.

Bereaved families would receive a ‘dead man’s penny’, a medal given to the families of soldiers killed whilst fighting. But these special shrines in their neighbourhood streets allowed the families to look daily at the names of their lost men and boys. Comfort in knowing their men would not be forgotten.

Nor should we forget.

Join the St Albans City Guides on a special Remembrance walk or online talk to hear the stories of gallantry, brotherhood and private grief which lie behind these simple, unique stone plaques in the streets of St Albans. All proceeds will go to the Royal British Legion for the Poppy Appeal: www.stalbanstourguides.co.uk

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