Thousands of local people turned out in 1921 when Westbury unveiled two war memorials to pay tribute to the men who had given their lives in what was then known as the Great War.
The town’s first memorial was erected in June 1921 in the churchyard of All Saints church – and it still stands there today – a tall stone shaft marked with a cross. The inscription on the monument records the Great War as 1914 to1919 reflecting the fact that the actual date of the formal ending of war was on 28th June 1919, with The Treaty of Versailles.
Plans for the dedication of the new monument appear in church records on 13 June 1921 when the vicar had announced that the church memorial would soon be completed and a discussion followed about the best time to hold the dedication service – an early evening service was agreed and the event attracted a large crowd as well as choristers from the church.
The following month – on Sunday 17 July – the war memorial in the Market Place was unveiled. Initial plans had put the new obelisk 36 feet from the front of the town hall but it was felt that would be too much of an obstruction so it was reduced to 23 feet instead.
The unveiling was carried out by Field Marshall Lord Methuen before a crowd of more than 2000 people. Relatives who had lost family members in the conflict were given seats at the front of the memorial; the band of the Wiltshire Regiment depot from Devizes led a parade from Leigh Road
Local mill owner and businessman W.H. Laverton, then the chairman of the Urban District Council accepted the care of the memorial in behalf of the council.
The new memorial, which listed names of those killed in the war, was a handsome obelisk made of Bath stone and surrounded by cast iron railings.
This memorial continued to be used as the town’s gathering place for remembrance parades and services. Following the Second World War, more names of casualties were added.
By the 1970s, discussions were taking place about removing the memorial to make way for more car parking spaces. A new war memorial was commissioned and dedicated on November 11 1974 in the grounds of Westbury House – the local library. The old memorial was removed the following year, despite some suggestions by some local people that it should be retained and could be turned into a civic feature like a water fountain. Reports from the town council at that time say the idea was not feasible because of costs.
The new memorial, commissioned with James Long stonemasons of Trowbridge consisted of York stone, Westmorland slate with names picked out in gold leaf.The memorial was later moved to its current place in Edward Street where it has been the regular venue for increasingly large crowds marking the annual Remembrance Day.
The concept of commemorating war dead did not really develop until the 20th century. Prior to that, individuals may have been commemorated by plaques in churches such as the one in Westbury’s All Saints, dedicated to
The First World War was the first huge conflict in which rather than warfare being confined to the professional soldiers, it involved ordinary men from local communities that had been recruited, or had volunteered and had fought and died for their country. The loss – around three quarters of a million – was immense and was felt in virtually every community across the country.