Back in June I asked the question on this blog whether the Cenotaph outside the modern Bury Unitarian Church which commemorated members of the three congregations of Chesham, Heywood and Bank Street, Bury, was the only Unitarian Cenotaph:
Neville Kenyon sent a number of photographs depicting the Cenotaph which are now published on the Faith and Freedom Great War Project site:
Neville wondered if this was a unique memorial in Unitarian church circles and I did suspect that he might be right. However, we can now be sure that it is not unique. The Rev Jo James has sent me some pictures of the Cenotaph at Mill Hill Chapel, Leeds which stands very prominently in front of his grand gothic church in the city centre. All these pictures will also appear online on the Faith and Freedom Great War Project.
Jo tells me that the list of names on the Cenotaph is that of those members of Mill Hill who were killed in the First World War. Inside the church a second tablet lists all those who served (although it does not include any of the female members who served in different ways in the war. An interesting account of the war service of Mary Cicely Wicksteed, one of three sisters from the Chapel who saw service in the war, by Ruth Allison, can be seen here: https://pelicanroad.wordpress.com/2015/07/02/mary-cicely-wicksteed-and-jogendra-nath-sen-and-leeds-pals-by-ruth-allison/).
The names on the Cenotaph are listed in order of rank and include their regiment as well as three additional names from the Second World War. Of the names listed Jo points out particularly the names of Lupton, who lost four members of one family, and Hirsch who lost two members in the two world wars. Jo also mentions that the name listed as Private Sen J. Nath is believed to be the only non-white combatant from Yorkshire to die in the First World War, J.N. Sen was a member of the Mill Hill Chapel Choir and may also have been a member of the Brahmo Samaj. More on Private Sen can be read on Dave Stowe’s interesting blog:
The inscription at the foot of the Cenotaph comes from the book of Lamentations – Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? It seems an appropriate quotation when one considers the loss of so many young men such as the four members of the Lupton family. The families of all those men listed on the plaque must have reflected on that passage very often, Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow.
I didn’t know there was a Cenotaph outside Mill Hill Chapel but I had seen one of the names listed on the memorial before. Captain D.P. Hirsch of the Yorkshire Regiment is listed as having been awarded the Victoria Cross. He must have belonged to a fairly staunch Unitarian family because he was educated at Willaston School and his name also appears on that school’s war memorial, an object which was rescued from the school when it closed by the Rev H.J. McLachlan and placed in Harris Manchester College where it can still be seen today:
Willaston School only operated from 1900 to 1937 but was a successful small public school that had been set up specifically to educate the children of Unitarian families.
Captain Hirsch’s citation for the VC reads:
For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in attack. Having arrived at the first objective, Captain Hirsch, although twice wounded, returned over fire-swept slopes to satisfy himself that the defensive flank was being established. Machine gun fire was so intense that it was necessary for him to be continuously up and down the line encouraging his men to dig and hold the position.
He continued to encourage his men by standing on the parapet and steadying them in the face of machine gun fire and counter-attack until he was killed. His conduct throughout was a magnificent example of the greatest devotion to duty.
A brief search online shows that David Philip Hirsch’s letters are now preserved in Leeds University. He was only 20 years old when he was killed. He was a star pupil at Willaston School and became the head boy before winning a scholarship to Worcester College, Oxford. After the war his parents paid for a new swimming pool to be built in the school in his memory. It would be interesting to know if the swimming pool (and the memorial chapel) are still preserved on the site of the former school.
This leads on to another question (or questions) – how many Unitarians were awarded the VC in the First World War? Indeed how many Unitarians have been awarded the VC since it was instituted in 1856?