Today in Bloxwich Armistice Day was marked in a particularly poignant manner by the rededication of a school war memorial which commemorates the sacrifice made by former pupils of Elmore Green School in the Great War.
The memorial, listing sixty-seven ‘old boys’ of what was then Elmore Green Central School, later High School, who gave their young lives in “the war to end all wars”, had been moved in 1958 when the secondary functions of Elmore Green High were transferred to the new T.P. Riley Comprehensive, not far away in Lichfield Road.
The memorial quietly became part of the life of the new school until, in 2001, T.P. Riley was demolished and replaced by the present Walsall Academy, which opened in 2003. It was around this time that the finely carved marble sculpture by Bloxwich-born Frederick T. Perry “disappeared” from the public eye. In fact, it had gone into storage, but had been forgotten.
Over the following years, various people including Bloxwich local historians Edna Marshall, Barry Crutchley and ex-T.P. Riley history teacher Ken Wayman, had tried to find and raise the profile of the missing memorial and eventually, following convoluted enquiries via the Academy and within Walsall Council departmens, in late 2010 it was tracked down to the premises of monumental masons A. Walker & Sons of Cannock, who had been storing it safely since the demolition of T.P. Riley years ago.
Following work done by Walsall Council officers Elaine Box and Mike Gaffney, funding was found from the Council to have the memorial returned to its original home in March of this year, when it was mounted on the wall of the school hall by the masons who had preserved it.
Today, the memorial finally came home in a spiritual sense, during a poignant and emotionally-charged Armistice Day service held at what is now Elmore Green Primary School, in the presence of the junior school children and staff, relatives of those listed on the memorial, local people, clergy from both Anglican and Methodist churches and the Mayor and Mayoress of Walsall.
In the bright and airy school hall, decorated with symbols and displays of remembrance made by pupils, who had taken the theme on as a class project, everyone gathered at 2pm to witness the formal rededication of the memorial. Jane Humphreys, Headteacher of Elmore Green School, welcomed one and all and presided over the event which, deliberately echoing the original service of dedication in March 1922, ran liked clockwork thanks to staff and children alike.
Reverend Phil Hoar of St John’s Methodist Church first spoke eloquently of the history of the Great War of 1914-18, and was followed by the junior pupils singing the hymn ‘For all the Saints who from their labours rest,’ accompaniment on the piano being played throughout and later by Derek Willets.
Next, year 5/6 pupil Luke Little recited his own powerful poem about the soldiers’ war and its horrors. He was followed in turn by Camille Sutton, also of year 5/6, with her thoughtful version of a soldier’s war diary. Then Reverend Hoar led a prayer to remember the fallen, which was followed by a reading on Wisdom by Reverend Roger Williams of All Saints Parish Church. Following this, the junior pupils rose and turned, row on row, to recited the Roll of Honour to the assembled audience, after which pupils sang ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’.
There was then a pause as the Mayor of Walsall, Councillor Garry Perry, accompanied by the Mayoress Mrs June Perry, stood to speak on the subject and symbolism of remembrance, of war, the fallen, the importance of learning from the past to shape a better future, and of the promise shown by the youngsters who had done such a fine job this afternoon. He was very proud of them, and proud to be a part of this rededication in Bloxwich, a true highlight of his year as Mayor.
The Mayor then cut a ceremonial ribbon across the war memorial, and Reverend Roger Williams conducted a Prayer of Dedication before the marble sculpture.
Finally, the Last Post was played, followed by a minute’s silence, and all present sang the National Anthem before concluding remarks by the Headteacher. The service was over, and there was time for reflection, to view the memorial, and for refreshments before departing.
A rare privilege; we are unlikely to see such an event again, and what better way to mark Armistice Day in the ancient English village of Bloxwich?