A History of the Memorial
There was no fanfare or public excitement to greet the final group of the 6th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment when they returned to Bristol during the evening of Thursday 25 March 1920 after five years absence on war service. The welcome – or lack of it – was in stark contrast to the scenes that greeted the battalion when they returned from Minehead camp on 3 August 1914 and when they left Bristol for war training a week later.
The group of three officers and eight other ranks sailed from Alexandria in Egypt to Liverpool and thence by train to Temple Meads before arriving at St Michael’s Hill HQ for a hearty meal. They stayed overnight at Horfield Barracks and were demobilised there on Friday 26 March 1920.
The 6th Gloucesters were the last battalion of the old 48th (South Midland) Division to return from active service. At the end of March 1915, they went to France and Belgium with the rest of the division before leaving for Italy just after the Third Battle of Ypres. After Italy the battalion left for Scutari in Albania before ending up in Alexandria.
With all men now accounted for, an Old Comrades Association (OCR) was formed and attention shifted to how the loss of hundreds of men from the 6th Gloucesters was going to be remembered. Two and a half years later, a set of six wooden memorial panels and a memorial brass tablet were unveiled at the 6th Gloucesters HQ in October 1922 when a new skittle alley and billiard table were also opened.
The memorial panels containing the names of 842 officers and men of the battalion killed during the First World War were fixed to the walls in the Drill Hall and stayed in place until 27 February 1941 when the battalion’s headquarters took a direct hit from a German bomb during a raid in the Second World War. The memorial panels survived as did the brass tablet, although the latter was pitted with bomb splinters. These items along with other artefacts were removed from the destroyed building and put into safe storage.
A few weeks later, on 16 March 1941, the church closely associated with the battalion – the nearby St Michael’s on the Mount Without – suffered a similar fate when incendiary bombs caused a fire that destroyed the centre roof. Many church services took place under the open sky until a temporary roof was installed enabling the church to resume full services by 13 July 1941. All of the church windows were blown out during the bombing raids.
In October 1945, at a meeting of the OCR, the subject of the First World War memorial panels was discussed and Colonel Gardiner, Colonel Lennard and Colonel Ware were asked to suggest a permanent resting place for the memorial.
A year passed, and at the next annual dinner of the OCR on 3 April 1948, the renovated memorial panels were put on display and a collection was held to raise money for the cost of renovating the boards.
Colonel Ware asked the Rector of St Michael’s if he would obtain the permission from the Bishop for the memorial boards to be placed in the church. He said he’d be honoured to do so and he also said he would like to see a 6th Gloucesters stained-glass window installed near the memorial panels.
The tasks of finding a home for the memorial boards in the church and the installation of a stained-glass window ran in tandem and on 17 November 1948, the Western Daily Press published a letter from Colonel Ware in which he asked for support to help raise the money for the window. The letter also discussed the proposed design that was supposed to include the regimental badge, St George and the Dragon and the battalion’s battle honours.
At the OCR annual dinner on 2 April 1949, Colonel Ware mentioned that the memorial boards had in fact been installed in St Michael’s Church and that they would be rearranged ‘so that the whole of the names on them can be seen to better advantage’. Ware also updated the OCR on progress with the design of the window and the cost which was put at ‘something over £400’ (around £14,000 in today’s money). In order to qualify for a payment from the War Damage Commission, the OCR needed to raise around half the cost.
A coloured illustration of the proposed window design was passed around the OCR and a sub-committee was set up to agree the final design. Colonel Ware had already voiced his view that the proposed design was not representative enough of the battalion and it was likely, for example that the Bristol coat of arms at the top of the window would be replaced by the Regiment’s famous sphinx badge.
The stained-glass window was designed by Edward Croney. In the 1920s and 1930s he was part of Messrs Croney and Christmas, based in Portland Square, Bristol. By the end of the 1930s he was trading on his own. The company specialised in stained and embossed glass, leaded windows and glazing. Croney’s work could be seen throughout Bristol; from cinemas to chapels and from houses to halls, he was prolific. He even received Royal praise for his work when Princess Mary visited Bristol in April 1927 and viewed his stained-glass window in the chapel at the Central Hall and again in July 1928 when Princess Elizabeth unveiled the window during her visit to the hall.
Croney’s suggested design for the stained-glass window at St Michael’s was changed following feedback from the OCR and the finally approved version was designed, manufactured and installed by Edward Croney himself in 1951.