Wickford War Memorial (Part 1)

The founding of the 'Great War' War Memorial, 1922

Despite today’s acceptance that every village has a war memorial, it is a recent addition to the landscape caused by the pure scale of World War I and the sad truth that so many people were never recovered and remain to this day lost in a foreign field.
Like most towns and villages at the end of World War I, Wickford lost little time in planning for a war memorial to commemorate those who never returned, and the first meeting to discuss it took place on February 13, 1919 at the Public Hall.  At this first meeting a committee was formed that then started discussing what form the memorial should take; the ideas suggested ranged from a water fountain, meeting centre for young men, a plaque at the church or an institute of some kind.  The one thing that was however agreed was that whatever was done ‘must be done with the best of feeling.’
The final decision was deferred whilst funds were raised, and the committee immediately set about raising money through public donations, collections, whist drives, flag days, exhibitions, as well as instigating the annual Wickford Carnival which, in its very first year, raised £386, that was added to the £576 already raised.
By the summer of 1919 it had been decided to acquire some land and build a Nurse’s Home, to provide local medical care to the population, in the days long before the NHS, where a local district nurse could live for free.  Initially it was planned to be built in Jersey Gardens, on land donated by Mr James Gigney, whose son Reginald Gigney had died in the war, whilst serving with the Royal Garrison Artillery.  However, with economic gloom and a decreasing population, the plan to build a home from scratch faltered and eventually a cottage named Emscott, on Church Hills, Southend Road, was purchased from Mr Gigney at a discounted price; he also consented to the land he had donated to be sold to raise money to acquire the building.  Some people were however not happy with the scheme and passionately argued that the memorial take a more traditional form.
Something that was agreed by all though was that the names of those lost should be inscribed on the building and as such they sought the names of those to be added to two marble tablets that would be mounted in the porch way.  There is no exact science though as to recording the names and many lads who probably would have considered themselves ‘Wickford Boys’ were missed.  This was for multiple reasons; some families had moved away and were no longer in touch, other lads had grown up in Wickford but left before enlisting and locally no one knew of their demise, some families were illiterate and had no idea they needed to subscribe the name of their loved ones, others refused to accept their missing were actually dead and didn’t want their names inscribed, lastly were those who simply had no family to subscribe them and were thus forgotten.
The grand opening took place on Thursday, July 19, 1922 and the unveiling of the tablets was done by Lord Lambourne, the Lord Lieutenant of Essex, in an emotional service attended by many of those who had served and many of the families who had lost someone.  And so it was following its opening that the home was now ready for its intended purpose, it was time for the ‘living memorial’ to come alive.
The home was affiliated to Essex County Nursing Association and it was decided by them that it would be used to house the District Nurse/Midwife and her family.  One of the earliest residents was Nurse Buck, who moved out in 1939 and was replaced by Marion Metcalfe in September 1939 just as World War II broke out.  The building was a compact one, the kitchen and bathroom were one and the same, with only a small step down to the toilet.  At the front of the building you would enter past the tablets, enter a small hall with a bedroom to one side and a living room to the other.  There was also a second bedroom and a medical room where emergency kit was kept, outside was a flag pole as well as large letters stating ‘Wickford War Memorial Nurses Home.’  The layout of the Nurses Home has been incorporated by using coloured bricks forming an outline of the rooms at the new memorial that was unveiled in 2011.
The Nurses Home became the central location for Wickford Remembrance Day Parades, where the parade would lay wreaths in the porch under the tablets with the names of those lost.
In the 1970s, with traffic building and Wickford needing a bypass, plans were approved that would see the need to demolish the Nurses Home.  With great speed the home was demolished in 1976 with only the tablets being saved.  These were relocated to Second World War, War Memorial Park off Runwell Road, where they were unsympathetically mounted in two concrete tablets and tucked out of the way near the War Memorial park gates.  Thus a unique memorial to Wickford was lost and the resulting outcome a poor reflection of what had been envisaged with so much pride following World War I.
Part 2 covers the War Memorial Park itself.

The opening of Wickford Nurse's Home. The policeman in the foreground is PC Bolden.

Comments about this page

Add your own comment

  • Does anyone recognise any Gigneys in this photograph?

    By john wells (09/10/2021)
  • I remember seeing the tablets as a young child, and being told it was the Midwife’s House. Opposite was a church which does not seem to be mentioned on these pages. Every Christmas there was a nativity scene on the grass slope outside the church.

    [This might be the Methodist Church you are referring to. Ed]

    By Kevin Mears (05/05/2019)
  • The Reg GIGNEY mentioned was R. A. GIGNEY , a year or so later REG FREDERIC GIGNEY was born. How do I know? I was his son-in-law. I married his youngest daughter Jill and we celebrate 40 years in June.
    We live in Burgess Hill, near Brighton, Reg died in 1997, leaving 3 daughters, all still alive.
    Reg’s family moved to Greenford , where despite having to use calipers while at Harrow Sec School he took an active part in Rugby, Football and Cricket, umpiring in Cricket, and winning a school prize for sportsmanship in Rugby. He trained as a Gents barber, but sometime during his time in the area is said to have coxed a rowing crew on the Thames, on the Boat Race course, though possibly in reverse. In the early 1960’s he bought a shop in Haywards Heath, a barber /sweet shop. Glaucoma forced him to sell the shop in the very early 70’s, he became President of Haywards Heath Lions Club in 1973-74, he still maintained an interest in Cricket, apparently umpiring Wednesday afternoons. He and Audrey moved to Middleton on Sea, but Audrey died with a few years. He coped on his own, with some assistance for several years before spending time living with us, then after a spell in a care home in the Hill he returned to Felpham to be near his daughter.
    It is hoped that Jill and I may make a second visit to the area of both the GIGNEYS and MOTTS, but I have Parkinsons which can be awkward to manage.
    It is great to see the Wickford Market was a Gigney card, I have an original of a house, but wonder if anymore can be identified.
    I would love to be able to put an index number to the van, was it new when Gigneys bought it? was it converted? It must have been serviced or sold , do any such records exist.


    By JOHN WELLS (27/04/2018)

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *