Almost every town and village in the UK has a First World War memorial. They can even be found in odd corners of the waterway network.
Notable examples are at the National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port and at Fearns Wharf (moved here from the original Aire & Calder Navigation office a few streets away). A smaller marble memorial is mounted on the wall inside the Mariners’ Chapel at Gloucester Docks. A framed list, in handwritten ink, of staff who served with the Colours in the ‘European War’ 1914-1919 is at Ellesmere Yard.
Elsewhere, names of canal company employees appear on war memorials like those at Goole and at Euston Station, where the LNWR memorial includes Shropshire Union Canal staff.
All of these memorials are poignant with familiar English names, often common to their locality. But two stand out, for different reasons. One is the impressive chimney-piece memorial at Ellesmere Port; a sombre Classical design of seven ‘honour boards’ that were originally part of an oak-panelled room in a sports club in Stretford. The boards were moved to the National Waterways Museum in 1985 and commemorate Manchester Ship Canal Company staff who fell in both world wars. For the Second World War there are 46 names; for the First World War a staggering 243 names are recorded.
The other memorial is the stained, faded list in its plain wooden frame at Ellesmere Yard. This gives the names and occupations of 36 canal company men and what regiment they served in. Here are joiners, painters, a boat-builder, a sawyer, a fitter. And they served in regiments as diverse as the Royal Horse Artillery, the Shropshire Yeomanry, the Royal Air Force, the Royal Engineers and the Loyal South Lancs.
It is not entirely clear what became of these men, nor how many were killed. This intriguing, list is the subject of on-going research and it is hoped to be able to have it conserved and placed in the Trust’s permanent collection in a fitting tribute to those canal men who served their country in the depths of the First World War.
As national heritage manager, Nigel’s role is to lead the Canal & River Trust’s team of regional heritage advisers in England and Wales. He has over 25 years’ experience of working in the conservation, archaeology and interpretation of historic buildings and places. He is a member of the editorial board of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation. He has written numerous articles concerning heritage conservation and is the author of several longer published works, including the English Heritage Book of Canals.See more blogs from this author