Memorial service for Leagrave and Limbury men

Leagrave War Memorial unveiling 1921

  • Unveiling of the permanent Leagrave, Limbury and Biscot War Memorial in Marsh Road in July 1921.

[The Luton News: Thursday, September 25th, 1919]

That the people of Leagrave and Limbury fully entered into the spirit which prompted the organisers of the Sunday programme was proved by the large crowd which gathered at the memorial service. “People seemed to roll in from everywhere,” said one member of the committee, and certainly there were more places represented than the two parishes.

Mr H. A. Watkin, a former vice-chairman of Leagrave Parish Council, came from Birmingham to the service, and numerous serving soldiers obtained special leave to attend. Among those present was Dr H. Sworder, of Luton, and several other townspeople. It was estimated there were about 3,000 people at the service.

A cenotaph designed by Mr Shuff had been erected near the entrance to the field. It was of plain design and, standing there impressive in its simplicity, it appealed strongly to the sympathies of all. The monument comprised a plain tapering column, and surmounted by a wreathed cross. It was guarded at each corner by a Boy Scout and close by the Union Jack floated at half-mast. The foot of the cenotaph was covered by a large number of beautiful floral wreaths.

One wreath, made by Mr Dickman of Leagrave and sent by the committee, bore the following inscription: “The members of the committee present this wreath on behalf of the parishioners of Leagrave and Limbury, as a token of respect and gratitude to the memory of the men who have made the supreme sacrifice for their country.”

There was also a beautiful emblem of laurel, carnations and lilies “from the ex-servicemen in memory of their comrades who had given their lives for their country.” Others were from the local Baptist and Methodist Churches and from a large number of residents in the neighbourhood.

Suitable inscriptions were placed on each side of the monument, conspicuous on the front being the text: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” and the following lines by John Oxenham: “He died as few men get the chance to die, Fighting to save a world,s morality. Fighting for God, and right and liberty, And such a death is immortality”.

Towards three o'clock the congregation assembled in Marsh Road, and when the gates were opened and the Comrades Band began the 'Dead March' they walked, the men bare-headed, slowly by the cenotaph and across to the further side of the field, where a platform had been erected from which to conduct the service.

The long black column took some time to wind across the field and to range itself before the sombrely draped stage. The ex-servicemen occupied the front ranks and numbers of bereaved ones were accommodated upon the platform.

On one side stood the united choir, representing all religious denominations except the Parish Church – though many prominent members of that place of worship took a leading part in arranging the event.

The service was conducted by Major the Rev A. Stanley-Bishop, A.P.C., R.A.F., a gentleman who had seen much war service with the troops and who has won not only numerous decorations and hon ours, but the love and esteem of of many hundreds of the fighting men. He was supported by several local church and nonconformist ministers.

The service commenced with the singing of the hymn 'O God our Help,' followed by prayers of thanksgiving pronounced by the Rev F. B. Clogg, and memorial prayers. The hymn ' Nearer My God to Thee' was then sung, after which Pastor John H. Tomlin read the lesson. The Rev W. Dead Turner then read the intercessory prayers.

After another hymn, Major Stanley-Bishop gave his address, a fine, manly discourse to which all attended closely. They were met, he said, for the definite purpose of lifting their hearts to God in thankfulness for those who had given all they had in the service not only of this country and Empire, but of civilisation and of God.

There were few who did not remember five years ago, how this country was brought into the greatest war the world had ever seen, and they did not forget the high motives and great ideals which they then had. They then believed they were on the side of right, and now, although other and smaller considerations had entered in, they still believed that. It was that great straight line which God had pointed out to this country that had drawn us into the conflict, and which had called for so much sacrifice.

And now they were thankful that they had been able to count amongst their number those who had been faithful – faithful unto death, who through great privation and suffering, through struggle and doubt and fear had brought them not only peace, but victory, who had given them not only a cessation of hostilities, not only kept the enemy from their shores and their land from devastation, but who had helped the world, who had done something great for humanity, and had, as hey believed, served God with all they had to give Him.

They knew that those who had fought had not been all they ought to be – they had made no pretences to that. The language, the attitude, the thought – these things had not been on that supreme level which they in their hearts had desired.

“But,” declared the speaker, “this has been real war. This has been ruin all over Europe, a time of upheaval, when primeval man has come to the front, and we could not expect these things. But our men have been men. Our men have stood firm in trial and difficulty such as no man can understand who has not been with them there and seen it. They have stood it month after month and year after year.”

They remembered also, he continued, those who stood it right out, and who had given their all. They remembered those who had suffered at home, who had borne the sorrow and anguish of war. Thoughts on these things provoked within them a call to a life of real service. Those who had not been counted worthy yet to enter in had their tasks to accomplish. It was not for them to see that the struggle had not been vain, that those men who died were not betrayed by those they left behind

They fought and struggled and died that this might be a purer, cleaner and better place, that humanity might be lifted out of the mire in which it was grovelling, that God's world might be more as God intended it to be. Were they to be betrayed, or were they who were left to be faithful to them, those who, all over the world, had left their bones that some small spot should be for ever England? We who were proud of the blood that runs in our veins, of the great heritage that has come down from our ancestors, were to stand by these men.

Let all narrowness, all sectarian bitterness that had been splitting them up into sections, parties, castes and creeds be done away with, all man-made barriers broken down, that they might have a world where man could meet with man, and man with God, a world no longer full of evil, hate and malice, but that love and charity and brotherliness and strength might spread over God's great universe and all bear a part in these things.

Five years ago they were faced with a great physical conflict; today there was a greater fight still for God and for the world. They were closing that service with a hymn which many ex-servicemen would have heard under very different conditions. He had heard it meany times by the graveside of a comrade, when they had to sing in whispers because they were too near the enemy to sing loudly.

The enemy was still as near as he had ever been, and they should sing to God the song that was in their hearts that they might have strength to do their part. The congregation then sang the hymn referred to, 'Abide With Me'.

After prayer and the benediction pronounced by the Rev Stanley-Bishop, the Comrades Band played the 'Dead March,' all standing, and the service terminated with the sounding, by Bugler J. Bennett from Biscot Camp, of the ' Last Post'.

During the afternoon a collection was taken for the widows and orphans of Leagrave and Limbury, this amounting to the excellent sum of over £23.

The ex-servicemen, Scouts and band were entertained to tea at the Adult School by Mrs Lye, and sacred music was afterwards enjoyed.