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Black Country Society Walk around Wolverhampton's War memorials May 8th 2024

Report by Dave Galley


Suddenly it's that time of year when the members of the society look out their walking gear for the BCS summer walks. Once again, we began with an afternoon walk like last year in Wolverhampton looking at the stories of those who fought in the world wars. This was led by Quintin Watt.


Last year it was in Merridale Cemetery, looking at the names on the graves and hearing their stories. This year we saw some of the same names again on the war memorials around the city, where they lived, or worked before signing up or the religious houses they attended.


From St Peters we made our way through the area known as Caribee Island which we had explored on one of our previous walks, stopping to look at an unofficial war memorial on a house/shop wall funded by local subscriptions typical of a 1920s. Caribee island is a street with many of the names being Irish in origin reflecting on the Irish immigrants who had made this area their home. In fact, it was so captivating viewing it that I was oblivious that the left-hand side of the street had been replaced by the busy ring road.


A short walk took us to our next stop on Fryer St outside the building that used to be a Synagogue – with the date of erection in the English and Hebrew calendar here. We also had a  view of the former lock making Chubb factory with a commentary on how it switched to making munitions during WW1 and the former employees who gave their lives in the conflict.


We continued on to Wolverhampton railway station to view the memorial of the employees of the London and North Western Railway who lost their lives when called up into the armed services. This memorial is fastened to the wall on the footbridge between platforms one and two which must be passed by hundreds of commuters daily without a second glance.


The Wolverhampton Station Memorial (from warmemorialsonline.org.uk)


We were then asked the question. Did we want to carry on to St. John's church or was it going to be too far? We agreed to carry on despite being an unusually warm day and I for one are glad we did; Quint described the approach to the church as the best view of Regency Wolverhampton which I would agree with.


View of St. John's


In the church yard we looked at the grave of John Edward Antony Hartill who died aged 23 on the 25th of May 1945, fifteen days after the end of the war. Throughout the war he had had a distinguished and daring flying career. But whilst practicing for the VE day fly past due to take place his wings clipped another aircraft causing his plane to crash with fatal consequences.


We were now on the homeward leg of journey with our final stop back where we started at St Peter's church to learn about the bronze memorial to Able Seaman Douglas Harris, a wireless operator on board HM Trawler Floadi,  part of the naval blockade guarding the entrance to the Adriatic Sea. The top brass in the navy underestimated the importance of this link to the Mediterranean and as a result of this the enemy outnumbered and overpowered this small fleet. Able seaman Harris continued to send messages until the very end when his ship went down. This was considered to be an embracement to navy as they had been warned of the weakness on this front. As a result of this very little was reported of this incident and there was a reluctance to award bravery medals for what was considered failure.  But not so by the people of his home town who raised the money for a bronze bust to be erected in St. Peters gardens and also the sailors of the Italian Navy who paid for a bronze plaque depicting Douglas though badly wounded still sending messages. Thousands turned out to the unveiling ceremony on Sunday 23rd June 1918. It did not take much imagination to imagine how it would have looked on that day.

The Harris memorial


All in all, it was a walk packed with facts and thoughtful contemplation.

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