With this year’s Remembrance Sunday celebrations taking a more subdued format on account of the Covid pandemic, we at Shildon Railway Institute gave some thought to how we might play a part in making sure that we remember those Shildonians that made the ultimate sacrifice for their fellow countrymen in conflicts past.
The preparations began back at the end of September with commencement of the cleaning of the Railway Institute’s own war memorial commemorating those members past who served during the first world war and did not return. This memorial, situated on the landing of the Institute’s main stairwell, was installed in the building in November 1921, three years after the war ended. This memorial, consisting of three brass panels on a large wooden board with a domed centre, had been commissioned by the Institute from a company named Jones and Willis, specialists in producing brass plaques and memorials. It lists 250 names of persons who served, reserving the central panel for the 30 that did not return. At the top of the domed centrepiece is a stunning inlaid, engraved and enamelled North Eastern Railway Company logo, reflecting their patronage of the Institute at that time and that all the listed soldiers and medics were their employees as well as being Institute members.
Though the un-lacquered memorial used to be regularly polished, that practice had stopped many years ago and so the brass was heavily tarnished and it took SOS volunteer Dave Reynolds over 11 hours to bring back its shine in readiness for Remembrance Sunday. Dave said, “I’d been wanting to do this for a while now, though I knew it would take time to carefully remove the tarnish. It was an absolute pleasure through, and it should be far easier to keep it in this condition going forward. We really need to look after the things we have and be respectful of what they mean to our members and community. There are a great many names listed here and you can easily recognise family names still present around our town. It's important to remember what these people did for us.”
The main remembrance ceremony for the New Shildon war memorial, sited over the road from the Institute entrance, usually takes place annually on the Saturday before Remembrance Sunday, this on in part account of the shortage of clergy following the closure of New Shildon’s All Saints Church. As a result is is often a subdued affair and sparsely attended.
Members will remember that in 2019 the Institute aimed to boost the new Shildon ceremony by putting on a free tea in the Hackworth Lounge for attendees with cakes and sandwiches provided by volunteers afterwards. Of course the coronavirus pandemic has meant this was not practicable this year, so in considering what we could do to raise awareness of Remembrance in our area of town we decided to create a poppy display for the railings. Between a couple of SOS campaign volunteers and the Railway Institute Women’s Group, fifty wood and felt poppies were made and placed on a section of the railings where they will stay until after the 11th of November. These have created quite a colourful and eye catching effect that strengthens the focus on this part of the New Shildon at this most important time of year.
Finally, on Remembrance Sunday we arranged for something that hasn’t been done for as long as we could remember, which was that arrangements were made for two poppy wreaths to be placed on the wall beneath the Institute memorial, one from the members and committee of the Institute, which was put in place by the current Institute chairperson, Mrs Julia Teasdale, and the other on behalf of the volunteers from the Save Our Stute Campaign and Shildon Heritage Alliance which was placed by Mr Colin White, who is also a former employee at Shildon’s BREL Railway Works.
As the Institute was closed on account of the national restrictions declared just over a week earlier, there were no other members of the public present to watch and no ceremony. After concluding placement of the wreaths inside, Colin and Julia also placed an additional wreath at the New Shildon memorial on behalf of the committee, members, staff and volunteers of the Institute. Though the ceremony there was held the day previous, and at which the last post was played by Institute member Kelly Ambrosini, it felt right to place this particular wreath on Remembrance Sunday itself.
The Institute plans to continue to support and commemorate Remembrance Sunday going forward, and has a project in mind, as part of its wider programme of revitalising and renovating, to do some work on the main stairwell to provide a more suitable environment appropriate for our memorial.
With thanks to Joe White for the photographs.
(9 Nov 2020)