In St. Mildred’s Road, Lee, on Saturday afternoon, May 7th, 1921, a memorial to the fallen men of the St. Mildred’s parish was unveiled. Despite the threatening weather and the showers which occasionally fell, the crowd which gathered to do honour to the memory of the local men filled a good space in the roadway, and was representative of all classes and creeds.
The 20th Battalion, the London Regiment, tinder the command of Lieut.-Colonel Eric Ball, attended, headed by the band. The detachment formed up in the rear of the memorial, near the wall of the parish church, with a guard under Captain Clout and Captain Moore, the colour-bearer. Captain Rochfort was also on parade.
The choir of St. Mildred’s, consisting of surplice men and women, took up a position to the west of the memorial, and the Churchwardens, with their wands of office, stood before them. To the left of the memorial stood Alderman W. H. Le May, Chairman of the War Memorial Committee, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton Pownall, M.P. for East Lewisham, Sir Edward Coates, M.P. for West Lewisham, Major-General Sir Neville Smyth, V.C., K.C.B., the Bishop of Woolwich, the Rev. A. Ogilvy (Vicar of St. Mildred’s), and the Rev. C. B. Pike, of Newbury, who was present on behalf of the Rev. J. W. Davies, Pastor of the South Lee Tabernacle.
When the troops faced their front, they presented arms, and the general salute was given. General Smyth then inspected them, and the unveiling ceremony began.
76 of 700.
They were met, said Alderman Le May, to do honour to the gallant men from that parish who gave their lives in the cause of their country. Many of the male inhabitants enlisted, and 76 of the 700 were numbered among the fallen. There was no difficulty in the time of danger in getting men from that parish to join the Territorials or the regular forces. They came forward in large numbers.
General Smyth drew aside the large St. George’s Cross and Union Jack which concealed the memorial, paying a soldierly tribute to the fallen men as he did so.
The Bishop of Woolwich, Dr. Hough, read the sentences “I am the Resurrection and the Life” and “Greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Following the general prayer, the Bishop dedicated the memorial in the familiar phrases he had been called upon to use so many times.
Mr. Pike explained that he attended in place of their friend and neighbour, and his own intimate friend, the Rev. J. W. Davies. It was a solemn and historical moment, and Mr. Davies would have been glad to be there. He had been for 35 years in the ministry at Lee, and many of the men whose names appeared on the memorial were known to him from infancy to full maturity. He knew them, loved them, and honoured them, and was sorry that he could not be present to pay his tribute to them. Those men were noble, gallant, and true, loving their country well. So long as life should last, their memory would not fade or fail in Lee. The memorial would stand for coming generations also.
In a reference to the centenary of Napoleon’s death, celebrated the preceding week, Mr. Pike recalled that his proclamations were notable by the absence of the word “duty.” They spoke much about glory. The English spoke very little about glory, but duty was to us a very sacred thing, and those men who “went out” would say little of what they had done except that it was their duty.
They were men of all Churches, and men of no Church, but their creed might be summarised in the words, “The old country must not go down.” That spirit should be emulated to-day, and in all crises of the national life the people should stand shoulder to shoulder and do their best for their country. - Another point that the memorial emphasised was, that sacrifice was an essential law in human life. The liberties we enjoyed to-day had been gained by men who fought and died for them. The time would come when we should be called upon to make sacrifices. “Let us remember then,” said Mr. Pike, “that life cannot be ennobled except by sacrifice. Let us pass on to others our inheritance more rich and beautiful than we received it.”
In conclusion, Mr. Pike spoke words of consolation and cheer to mothers of the fallen whose names ought, he said, to be enshrined. They rejoiced to be able to make some sacrifice, to be able to give something for their country, even though it meant bitter sorrow. “God bless the mothers,” he concluded, “God bless the homeland and give unto us His guidance and blessing.”
General Smith and the 20th London.
Colonel Pownall moved a vote of thanks to the Bishop of Woolwich and to General Smyth. He recalled that he served in the 20th London with many of those whom they commemorated that day. The Bishop of Woolwich had been known to Lewisham people for many, many years. They remembered him when he was Vicar of Lewisham, and were glad to see that now, despite his big diocese, he still took an active interest in the affairs of the borough.
General Smyth commanded the 47th Division, and one of his units was the 20th London. They appreciated very much the kindness of so distinguished a soldier in coming to help them to pay a last tribute to those men from that parish who gave their all in the great war.
Sir Edward Coates seconded. The General, he said, had a great record and did a great deal for the men of Lee who served in the war. When our men were called up, when the labourer flung down his spade, the mechanic left his machine, and the clerk his desk, and joined up, be would not have been a soldier had we General Smyth to train example of discipline.
They were grateful to him for his attendance on that occasion and for entering into that solemn ceremony. No doubt he had been to many unveilings, each of which had its own joys and sorrows, and he knew that whatever shape the memorial took, those sorrows still remained, and so did the joys of victory.
“With regard to our Bishop,” Sir Edward went on, “who has for the second time to-day dedicated one of these memorials to the bravery of our boys and men, we have much to thank him for. Men like the Bishop and the many ministers of religion in this great Borough of Lewisham, have set a great example to the boys of the borough, and by ‘that example and teaching led them in the right path. They taught them to follow their duty. We are grateful to the Bishop. We know that whenever we want him, whether for our joys or sorrows, he is there and ministers to the one as to the other with a truly Christian heart.” The motion was carried.
After the Bishop had pronounced the Benediction, the drums of the 20th Battalion, The London Regiment, were solemnly relied, and the Last Post and Reveille were sounded. The troops presented arms during the former “call.”
Afterwards the Bishop dedicated a shrine in the parish church, containing the names of the parishioners who fell in the war. A feature of the service was the singing of the “Supreme Sacrifice,” the congregation kneeling.
Reference: Gregory, R.R.C & Nunn, F.W. The Story of Lee, London, 1923, pp 357-359.
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