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Lest we forget Devon's First World War memorials
By Jemima Laing
BBC Devon

World War I memorial at Branscombe. Picture courtesy of Todd Gray
The memorial at Branscombe

Dr Todd Gray has been on a mission for the past decade to catalogue the hundreds of First World War memorials which are scattered across Devon.

He has also unearthed a number of fascinating tales of rivalry between councils and towns to ensure they had the best memorial.

One example is the story of Devon County Council and Exeter City Council's memorials.

"They vied for the most prestigious monument in Exeter," explained Dr Gray.

So the county erected a stone cross in the cathedral yard and the city created five bronze figures in Northernhay.

BBC Spotlight's Amy Cole meets Dr Todd Gray

The county's memorial was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who had just erected the Cenotaph, while the city employed John Angel, a local man who went on to become one of America's foremost sculptors.

The Prince of Wales unveiled the county's monument while the city had the First Lord of the Admiralty.

All the information Dr Gray has gathered forms the basis of a new book called Lest Devon Forgets, published in October 2010 by The Mint Press.

So where did his initial inspiration for the book come from?

"It was after a trip to Russia where I saw the extraordinary war memorials there.

Exeter City Council's memorial at Northernhay. Picture courtesy of Todd Gray
Exeter City Council's memorial at Northernhay

"It made me think about how different the monuments were in Devon.

"Over the last decade I have recorded the memorials and estimate there were more than 2,000 put up by the end of the 1920s," said Dr Gray.

"Gradually I learned that each one is unique to itself."

Another rivalry Dr Gray came across was between Devonport and Plymouth - each insisted on erecting their own monument.

And the most expensive Devon monument is the Victory Wing to the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital - which cost more than £50,000 to build.

Plymouth boasts the grandest monument - its tribute to the Royal Navy stands at more than 100ft tall and was one of three identical memorials erected in the country.

The other two are at Chatham and Portsmouth but all have been changed in the intervening years.

Plymouth war memorial. Picture courtesy of Todd Gray
Dr Gray concludes Plymouth has the grandest monument

Torquay employed a national designer, Sir Reginald Blomfeld, for its cenotaph while other towns, such as Newton Abbot and Ilfracombe, erected figures of Victory.

Kingsbridge has Hope while Northam near Bideford has a statue of Liberty.

Some places erected obelisks but this proved to be a controversial choice in Teignmouth - where it was considered pagan.

In contrast, in Paignton an obelisk was seen as the least divisive choice.

"The Great War memorials have evolved into being communal centres of grief and commemoration for all wars," said Dr Gray.

"Even though they remain just as relevant to modern society as they were nearly 100 years ago, it seems that we take them for granted.

"Most people pass them on a daily basis and give them little or no thought.

"I feel it is important to offer a reminder that service and sacrifice, no longer how long ago given, remains worthy of public notice."




SEE ALSO
Look again at Plymouth's buildings
01 Apr 10 |  Arts & Culture
Memorial for WWI train accident
24 Sep 09 |  Devon

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