The Oulton and Woodlesford War Memorial on the corner of Fleet Lane and Aberford Road was formally unveiled at a ceremony and religious service on 19 September 1926. Built to commemorate 64 local men killed in the First World War, the names of those who died during the Second World War were added in 1946. Separate memorials were created in Oulton and Woodlesford churches and at Woodlesford School where 28 of the dead had all been taught by headmaster Harry Parkin.
The Fleet Lane memorial was designed by architect’s assistant Walter Pelham Peters who lived at Osborne Villas in Woodlesford. It was made from local stone by monumental masons, Edward Rayner & Son. They had a workshop and yard on Aberford Road bordering Armitage’s quarry from where stone for the memorial was quarried.
The land was donated by the head of the Oulton Hall estate, Major Horace Walter Calverley. One of the names on the memorial is that of his nephew, Osbert Leveson Calverley, a pilot in the Royal Air Force who was killed in a flying accident in July 1918. With his brothers and father he had volunteered to return to England to fight after the family had emigrated to Canada.
Fund raising for the memorial had been in the hands of a committee chaired by printer’s bookkeeper Tom Myton, a resident of Alma Street. The secretary was Alfred Sharpe, a grocer from St. John’s Street, who was also the rate collector for the Hunslet Rural District Council. The treasurer was John Edward Robinson, a foreman in the machine room of a wholesale clothing factory, who lived on Church Street.
The memorial itself cost £300 with a further £73 16s. 9d. spent on the lettering, kerbing, and other expenses. Some of the money came from the War Honours Fund but most came from a bazaar and donations from local companies including £50 from Henry Briggs, Son & Co., £15 from Bentley’s, and £10 from Armitage’s. Responsibility for the ongoing upkeep of the memorial was handed over to the parish council who had to erect a fence round it after a horse ate one of the wreaths.
A large crowd gathered for the unveiling which started with a parade from the Midland Hotel led by the Oulton band. Second Lieutentants Ernest Coope and Basil Hurdus were in charge of a contingent of ex-servicemen and members of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes.
The ceremony started with the hymn “O God, Our Help In Ages Past” followed by prayers led by the the new Vicar of Woodleford, Dan Ivor James. Next came a reading from the bible by Rev F. Wright of the United Methodist Church, Leeds East Circuit.
Then came the formal unveiling by Lieutenant General Sir Charles Harington who unfurled the Union Jack with the words: “In glorious remembrance of the sons of Oulton and Woodlesford, I unveil this memorial.”
A career soldier Harington was by that time in charge of the Army’s Northern Command based at York. In 1915 he had fought at Ypres with men from the district when he was a staff officer in the 49th (West Riding) Division which was largely made up of Territorial Force volunteers. After the war Sir Charles had been the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Imperial General Staff and later became the Governor of Gibraltar.
In what appears to have been an emotional speech he said he was honoured to be invited to carry out the ceremony and to add his tribute to “those gallant fellows, some of whom I had the honour of serving with in the early days of the West Riding Division in France.”
He said that during the last three years he had been privileged to unveil several memorials in Yorkshire. “Each one has added to my admiration of this great county. Whether in work or play, in joy or sorrow, there is the same determination to do whatever you have to do, and to do it well. You are paying tribute in memory of those glorious fellows from this place who did right well, because they were men who gave everything, gave their all and gave it cheerfully,” he said.
He appealed to all men, women and children never to forget “what this great nation of ours did during those dreadful years when it had its back to the wall and carried out its task in such a way that history could never forget. It was the greatest example of unselfishness of the nation in all its history.”
“I am shortly leaving York for India,” he continued, “and would like to say that in the last three years I have watched very carefully the moulding of the great Yorkshire character, and have learned to love and admire those with whom I had the honour of serving in the war.”
He said he had learned what had made Yorkshire a great county. “When a Yorkshireman makes up his mind on what is right, he is determined on one thing, the giving of his best. These men gave of their best, and it is up to each and all to do the same. Never break faith with those men. They died for us with the message to give and take, not to take only. Their example was one of unselfishness.”
“All of them are famous men. England is proud of them. Let each one of us try and never forget what this country owes to those glorious heroes,” he said.
Harington must have been keenly aware that many in his audience were miners who had been on strike for five months battling to maintain their wages in a conflict with the mine owners who had locked them out. It was a dispute that had sparked the General Strike in May 1926 and which had its origins in government mishandling of the coal industry after the war. Locally a fund had been organised to feed hundreds of children whose fathers were out of work, and there was an undercurrent of animosity between those still striking and men who had begun drifting back to work at Water Haigh colliery and other pits.
Referring to the strike Harrington said he hoped that “present counsels might get over the industrial dispute. I can ask nothing finer than a lead from the great county of Yorkshire. There is no dispute in the world that cannot be settled by give and take,” he said.
Next came the Bishop of Knaresborough, Lucius Smith, who dedicated the memorial and read out the words inscribed on it: “In grateful memory of the men of Oulton-with-Woodlesford who gave their lives for their country.”
Buglers of the Leeds Rifles (8th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment) sounded the “Last Post” and following a minute’s silence they sounded the “Reveille.”
During the hymn, “O Valiant Hearts, Who To Your Glory Came,” floral tributes were placed at the foot of the monument. Then the Bishop, spoke of the desire that the dead and their heroism should never be forgotten.
“It is for some a sad day. The ceremony brings home a sense of your loss, but it ought also to be a proud day, for it reminds you that you have been associated with valiant individuals, men who set the highest example in devotion and self sacrifice. When we think of these men as we pass this memorial, of all they endured, and the great fight they made, we realise the call is to put duty into our lives. We ought to think of the men who did their duty in the Great War, and we ought to be faithful to that duty at whatever cost, even it leads to the greatest sacrifice.”
“There is distress in the land today, but conditions would have been infinitely worse had we been defeated. These men died for our liberation, to save us from a peril. We must see to it that they did not die in vain, and make this England of ours a happier place.” Rise above individual selfishness, like those men did, and realise that you belong to a great nation, and serve the nation as faithfully in peace as they died for it in time of war. Nought shall make us rue, if England to itself do rest but true,” said the Bishop.
The Lord’s Prayer was led by the Vicar of Oulton and chaplain to the Leeds Rifles, William Ewart Worsley. He had moved to St. John’s in 1925 after four years in Holbeck. A Cornishman, he had served as a Second Lieutenant with the West Yorkshire Regiment during the war. In 1917 he was awarded the Military Cross, the citation for which reads: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He handled his platoon with marked ability and succeeded in inflicting many casualties on an enemy raiding party. He has on many previous occasions done fine work.”
After the hymn “Fight the good fight with all thy might” the Benediction was pronounced and the service ended with the National Anthem.
Also there were ex-servicemen from Rothwell who had seen their own memorial unveiled in 1923. They were led by the Rothwell Old Prize Band and Captain Harry Sedgwick (Manchester Regiment). There were also contingents from the Rothwell British Legion (Women’s Section), Morley and Castleford. W. Martin was in charge of the local scout troops. T. Blackburn led the mixed choirs from local churches and chapels.
Captain Ramsden and Lieutenant Simpson formed the guard of honour to General Harrington. There were also present Lieutenant Colonel Stockwell T.D. and Lieutenant Colonel Braithwaite M.C. of the Leeds Rifles.
Amongst the civic representatives was the Chairman of Oulton-with-Woodlesford Parish Council, Councillor William Hoult. The Hunslet Rural District Council sent its Chairman, Dennis Walter Hargreaves, and its Clerk Walter Bawden Pindar. Phillip Saltmarshe Marsden represented Major Calverley who was sick and had donated £10 for the lettering on the memorial.
After the formalities Sir Charles Harrington walked round talking to ex-servicemen individually, the widows, the British Legion women, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Guides and officials.
One of the men he took a keen interest in and shook hands with was 84 year old army pensioner Andrew Palmer who lived on Alma Street. He had been Company Sergeant Major in the 22nd Cheshires. “It was a thrill to see the old gentleman spring to attention and salute,” reported the Wakefield Express.