Thursday, 1 November 2012

The War Memorial to the 50th (Northumbrian) Division

Not far from Ypres and near the cemetery on the Oxford Road, stands a memorial dedicated ‘to the enduring memory of all ranks of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division who fell in the Great War’.  An inscription below commemorates ‘their comrades of the same Division who gave their lives in the War of 1939-1945 for the liberation of France, Belgium and Holland’.

This was a first line Division of the Territorial Force, drawn from Northumberland, Durham and the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire.  It was sent to the Western Front in April 1915 and soon saw action in the Second Battle of Ypres.

The memorial is a plain white pillar in a green enclosure, standing beside a farm on a windswept hillside.

How had the design been chosen?  Amongst the papers of the Middlesbrough solicitor Major T.D.H. (“Duncan”) Stubbs are documents that provide some answers.

Duncan Stubbs (1872-1931) had been made 2nd Lieutenant in the North Riding Heavy Battery TF in 1900.  He was promoted to Major in August 1914 and went with the expeditionary force to the Front in 1915 at the age of 43.  Apart from six months’ sick leave, he served at the Front until November 1917, and was then stationed in Aldershot until April 1919.  He was awarded a disability pension, and returned home where he left private practice and took up the post of Secretary to Messrs Dorman, Long & Co Ltd.  He built the Red House, Church Lane, Nunthorpe, where he died of a heart attack aged 59.  He was given a military funeral at the newly-built Nunthorpe church; mourners at the graveside could clearly hear the howling of his dogs across the fields.

Stubbs was a member of the Committee which in 1927 invited architects who had served overseas in any Unit of the Division during the Great War to submit designs for a memorial. 

The closing date for entries was 18 Jan 1928.  The committee making the invitation consisted of the President, Maj. Gen. Sir Percival Wilkinson KCMG, CB; the Hon. Treasurer & Secretary Lt. Col. William Anderson, DSO, MC, (Northumberland); Col. A Henderson, CMG, TD, DL (Durham); Col. A Easton TD (East Riding of Yorks); and Major TDH Stubbs TD (North Riding of Yorks). 

The memorial was to be erected at Wieltje, Belgium on
“slightly elevated ground at the East Corner of the Junction of Oxford Road and the Ypres-Passchindalle Road at Wieltje (Map Reference 1/40.000 C.28, b.2.4)” 
where a site of two acres had been acquired.  The site would continue to be used for farming, and would be kept open around the Memorial.  The committee left the details of the design to the competitors, but suggested that
“the names of the Units of the Division should have place on the Memorial”.  
Cost was to be limited to £2,000 excluding foundation work below ground level and architect fees, but including cost of any fencing, walls, gates and the treatment of the surface within any enclosure.  After judging, the designs were to be displayed at the offices of the Territorial Association concerned (viz Northumberland, Durham, East and North Ridings of Yorkshire) in rotation.

They received eighteen designs, which the assessor and committee member, Col. Arthur Easton FRIBA declared were “mostly of great merit”. 

Some designs incorporated trees and high hedges to form a background to the monument, but these he rejected as excluding the view to visitors coming from Wieltje or up the Oxford Road. 

Some designs provided for “somewhat elaborate gardening effects”, which he felt would cause difficulties in their proper maintenance in the future, “notwithstanding what provision is made for upkeep”. 

Some competitors failed to use the elevation of the site, which would “have the advantage of prominence as seen from the direction of Ypres and the flanks”.

After due consideration, he chose four designs:  number 10 was placed second, number 7 was third, and number 8 was given a special mention “although the Author has not taken full advantage of the sum of money allotted.”  Col. Easton gave first prize to number 20:
“in this selection I am somewhat influenced by its bold and plain simplicity, which harmonizes with the undulating, wind-swept landscape and interprets the rugged aspect of the North Country from which the Division is recruited.  I also take into consideration the absence of a large quantity of elaborate and costly detail, and also the simple and dignified treatment of the lay-out.  In addition the cost of upkeep will be very slight.”
It took Col. Easton only a month to decide on the winner.  William Anderson wrote to Duncan Stubbs from New Market Street, Newcastle on 27 Feb 1928 enclosing a copy of Easton’s report and photographs of the four designs.  “It would not appear to be necessary to call a special Committee meeting to consider these,” he wrote, “and I shall be glad to know if you approve of the Assessor’s report, in which case I will open the envelopes and publish the names of the winners.”

Only three designs remain among the papers.

Number 8 appears to be a hexagonal pillar topped with what seems to be a representation in stone of an eternal flame.

It seems to be surrounded by a fence, and two rather portly figures are inspecting the inscription at the base which includes carvings of the cap badges of the units.


Number 7 includes the statue of a soldier at the base of a tall monument, which is approached by three avenues named for the three counties, Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire.

 Number 10 is simpler, a massive block, with decorative carving and a large carved inscription.

The drawing for the winning entry is not included, but present day photographs show that it is indeed bold, plain and effective.

Unfortunately, nowhere in the papers are the architects’ names mentioned.  Perhaps someone else can remedy this omission. 

Major Stubbs found that his Battery had a memorial of a quite different nature.

Home on leave, he took his young daughter to the cinema to see “The Somme”, and to his surprise saw his own Battery in action on film.  He was later able to obtain a stills photograph from the film, and this remains in his papers.

At the bottom of the photograph he wrote, “One of the guns of the North Riding Heavy Battery (4.7) in action against the Germans near Elverdinge Belgium 1915.  Battery Commander Major TDH Stubbs RGA (T).”

A longer note on the reverse reads,
“This photo was taken for the Government Film shewn in England as “The Somme” Pictures, although the N Riding Battery was actually in action at Elverdinge at the time, in the Ypres Salient.  The gun has just been fired and is running back on the chocks to stop the recoil.  The position was west of the road between Elverdinge and Vlammertinge, where they remained in action for several months during 1915 without serious casualties.”

From the papers of Thomas Duncan Henlock Stubbs
Modern photographs courtesy of Mr D Little

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