War memorials get increased protection to mark Battle of Passchendaele centenary


More than a dozen war memorials have been listed or had their protection upgraded to mark the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele.

Prime Minister Theresa May, the Prince of Wales and the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall will join the descendants of 4,000 soldiers at events in Belgium next week to mark 100 years since the bloody conflict started.

The British and Commonwealth attacks were fought near the Belgian city of Ypres between July 31 and November 10 1917, in battlefields that turned to liquid mud and summed up in poet Siegfried Sassoon's line "I died in hell, they called it Passchendaele".

To mark the centenary of the start of the battle, 13 war memorials across England have been listed or upgraded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of government heritage body, Historic England.

They include a memorial in Northampton to a celebrated rugby player, a park landscaped as a memorial garden by ex-servicemen in Carlisle and the focal point of a village built for disabled veterans in Lancaster.

Roger Bowdler, director of listing at Historic England, said: "Passchendaele was a truly grim affair, waged over three muddy, bloody months.

"It succeeded in wearing down the Germans and taking pressure off the French, but at a high cost in lives.

"These newly listed and upgraded memorials are just some of the tributes to the losses of so many."

More than half a million troops - 325,000 Allied troops and 260,000 Germans - died in the battle, officially known as the Third Battle of Ypres, in the West Flanders region of northern Belgium in 1917.

Among those to fight in the battle was the "Last Tommy" Harry Patch, who died aged 111 in July 2009.

Among the newly listed memorials is the cross in Hamsterley, County Durham, which marks, in particular, the death of Major Arthur T Watson, whose family ran the nearby colliery. It has been given Grade II status.

Major Watson, who was initially thwarted in his desire to be a soldier by the loss of his right eye in a shooting accident in Britain, was badly wounded on the Somme but recovered and returned to France to fight at the Battle of Messines.

He died during the Battle of Passchendaele after he had been given a transfer back home but he decided to say goodbye to his friends before he left and an enemy shell exploded nearby, mortally wounding him.

An inscription on the memorial in Hamsterley reads: "The workmen of this Village wish to place on record their sorrow at the loss of their friend and Employer whose memory they will hold in affection for all time."

Another new listing is the Grade II* memorial to Edgar Robert Mobbs in Northampton, remembering the celebrated English rugby international who captained the Northampton rugby union side, 1907-1913.

He was refused a commission on account of his age - 32 when war broke out - but used his popularity and charisma to raise his own Sportsman's Battallion, Mobbs' Own, in the Northamptonshire Regiment.

He fought at Loos, Somme, Arras and Messines before being killed on the first day of Passchendaele. His body was never found.

Rickerby Park in Carlisle, Cumbria, which has been listed at Grade II, was transformed in 1920-22 as a memorial to the city's war dead, with unemployed ex-servicemen employed to carry out the work.

And Lancaster's Westfield memorial, a sculpture depicting a soldier helping a fellow soldier in need, which marks the focal point of the village built to provide accommodation and employment for disabled veterans, has been upgraded to Grade II*.