The memorial placed in the Wenlock Chapel of Luton Parish Church to the memory of the late Second Lieut Alex Pigott Wernher, Welsh Guards, was unveiled on Saturday, January 18, 1919, by Col Murray Thriepland DSO, Commanding Officer, and dedicated in front of a large congregation.
The Luton News (January 23, 1919) recalled that the deceased officer was the youngest son of Lady Wernher, of Luton Hoo, and the late Sir Julius Wernher, and fell in action in the battle of the Somme on September 10, 1916, in a gallant and successful attempt to hold the village of Ginchy. This, after being twice captured from the enemy and lost again, was taken a third time and handed over to the Welsh Guards for consolidation. The village was held securely through five stubborn counter-attacks in a few hours delivered so violently on their flank that of the officers of the company with which Lieut Wernher was serving only one lived through the day, while nearly all the men of the company were casualties.
Present at the unveiling ceremony were Lady Wernher, Lady Zia Wernher, Lieut-Col S. H. Pollen CMG, Sir Charles Russell, Lord Queenborough, Mr W. H. Romaine-Walker, Miss Pryce, Col Murray Thriepland, Capt Hugh Allen, Capt Arthur Gibbs and Lieut Athelstan E. Price (all of the Welsh Guards), Mr and Mrs J. Ramsey Drake (St Albans), the Mayor of Luton (Council Henry Impey), the Town Clerk of Luton (Mr William Smith) and officers and NCOs of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment. The employees of the Luton Hoo Estate were present in very large numbers, and the general congregation included many of the principal residents of Luton.
After removing the Union Jack which had veiled the memorial, Col Murray Thriepland said: “I unveil this tablet which is about to be dedicated to the memory of Lieut Alexander Pigott Wernher, Welsh Guards. I need not enter into the early career of this boy – he was only a boy in years, although a man in his capacity and knowledge.
“His early life is better known to many here than to me. The letters of his friends and tutors speak of his career at Eton, which he left to try and help his country in her dire need. It was here he showed his manhood, and here he gave an example to many.
“Unable to pass medically fit to join his older brother and countrymen in the trenches of France and Belgium, he went to East Africa on the staff. Returning from there, in spite of his disabilities he was able to obtain a commission in the Welsh Guards and to do what his heart was set upon – face the discomforts of the trenches. From that time I can speak with personal knowledge though, sadly enough, it was only for a few weeks.
“He joined the Battalion of the Regiment which I then had the honour to command, and joined us in what we as soldiers all know as The Salient, that salient round the devastated town of Ypres, and shortly afterwards the battalion left for the Somme. It was there, in the trenches in front of Beaumont Hamel, where he impressed me as a gallant and fine soldier. It was there that it was intended the Guards Division should attack, and it was there I realised his worth.
“It was my province to watch all these newcomers. I was impressed with his ability and common sense, and I had occasion, after a very few days in the trenches, to realise that the regiment had an addition to it that was going to count.
“The attack, however, did not come off . We left our billets on the River Ancre, marched south and were told to occupy Ginchy at night. It was still in the hands of the enemy, but the Irish Brigade was to attack that afternoon and, when taken, the village was to be occupied and held by the Welsh Guards. We according got there about ten at night, having marched through our own guns. After the Irish Brigade left, we were very heavily counter-attacked.
“Ginchy had been taken before on two occasions, and on both occasions our troops had failed to hold it. The enemy meant to retake it again on this occasion. It was on the right flank of the Welsh Guards that the brunt of the attack fell, and it was there that Lieut Wernher was killed.
“Within a few hours, he, with his company, repelled no less than five stubborn attacks. They held the position, but at what a cost! Every officer and many men of his company were casualties, and only one of those officers lived through the day.
“He fell doing his duty with the regiment he was proud of, and at the work he had longed to do ever since he had been at Luton, in spite of he many inducements he had to remain at home. Although he had many excuses for keeping away from all dangers, he did not rest until he had joined those other gallant men in the trenches.
“His thoughts for others seemed always to have been in his mind and, though a mere boy, he thought of his comrades who were less well provided with the goods of this world, and he willed a large sum of money for the benefit of those comrades who were less fortunate in this respect.
“I think his character is well shown in the words he wrote to his mother a week before he died: 'I am not going to worry as to whether I have done enough in this war or not. For the present I cannot do more, and who knows what the end will be?'”
The memorial is in the form of a tablet of white marble, into which are inset three inscribed tablets of black marble. That in the centre is surrounded by a wreath, below which is a medallion showing the badge of the Welsh Guards. The banners into which the lower portion of the white marble is carved show, on the left, part of the Royal Standard and, on the right, the Welsh Dragon.
The tablets are inscribed: Alex Pigott Wernher, 2nd Lieut, 1st Welsh Guards, youngest son of Sir Julius Wernher, Bart, of Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire.
“He joined the Royal Bucks Hussars in 1914, served as ADC to the Commander-in-Chief in E. Africa, and subsequently transferred to the 1st Welsh Guards. Fell in action at Ginchy, France, 10 September, 1916, aged 19 years. Buried on the Field of Honour.
“To the glory of God and to the dear and honoured memory of a sorely missed son this tablet was put up by his Mother. He died the noblest death a man can die: Fighting for God and right and liberty. 'And such a death is immortality' – Kipling.”
The clergy taking part in the service were the Rev A. E. Chapman (Vicar of Luton and Rural Dean), the Rev H. Sutcliffe Hay (St Mary's), Canon H. Coate and the Rev W. E. Lewis (St Matthew's), the Rev T. Bulman (St Paul's), the Rev W. C. Whitworth (Christ Church) and the Rev J. E. Westerman (East Hyde).
At the commencement of the service Handel's Largo was played by Mr Fred Gostelow, and during the service the hymns Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand and For All the Saints were sung. The anthem was, 'The souls of the righteous are in the hand og God, and there shall no torment touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seem to die, but they are in peace' (Elvey).
The lesson was read by the Rev J. E. Westerman, and the dedication of the memorial was performed by the Vicar of Luton. At the close of the service there was a roll of drums, followed by the Last Post.