Centenary fields legacy campaign and the Thank You movement

In the months and years immediately following the end of World War I, memorials to the fallen in many different designs were created in towns and cities across the UK.

In the absence of a personal grave, a place of reflection was important and public subscription funded many war memorials in civic spaces where names of local combatants who did not return could be listed. Many of these war memorials were installed in parks and green spaces – and often an entire park was dedicated as a memorial.

To recognise the links between these parks and the Great War, Fields in Trust is working in partnership with The Royal British Legion to create the Centenary Fields Programme –protecting, in perpetuity, any green space which has a WW1 connection to honour the memory of the World War I servicemen and also those, military and civilian, who played their part on the home-front to build a better life for the benefit of generations to come.

Now, as we reach the conclusion of the anniversary period, these sites are being showcased on the Centenary Fields Legacy story map, featuring one site each day until Armistice day on 11 November.

The story map recognises the many ways communities across the UK are showing their gratitude to the First World War Generation. In Old Coulsdon, south London, a war memorial was added to the edge of Grange Park on land acquired partly by public subscription in 1929. Taking the form of a simple wayside cross, panels at the base of the memorial list the names of 16 men from the area who fell in conflict.

To mark the centenary of the end of WW1 and their inclusion in the Centenary Fields Legacy campaign a “Walk of Thanks” took place around the park. Chris Wright, the chairman of the Friends of Grange Park and the Old Coulsdon WW1 commemoration group, said, “We took up the challenge from Fields In Trust to organise an event to commemorate the ‘Allies One Hundred Days Offensive in 1918’ and over a hundred local residents completed the walk around Grange Park, scattering poppies, showing the great local community spirit in Old Coulsdon and marking the event by saying ‘thank you’ to the generation of local young men gave their lives in this campaign and helped change our world for the better.”

A more individual Thank You event took place in Flintshire, north Wales; Coronation Gardens is an attractive open space with grassed areas, seating and shrubberies. The gardens are fronted by rose beds and contain mature trees. On 20 September, in a service of thanks a Victoria Cross paving stone was laid in the gardens to recognise the bravery of Frederick Birks VC MM.

Birks was born close to the garden, but after his father died in a coal mining accident Frederick and his six siblings had to move to find work. Eventually emigrating to Australia, he soon he returned to Europe as a soldier with the 2nd Field Ambulance, Australian Imperial Force. His unit saw action at Gallipoli in Turkey where he was awarded the Military Medal for bravely carrying wounded soldiers to safety, whilst under enemy fire. He was promoted to Lance Corporal before moving on to the Somme.

Birks was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Glencorse Wood in Ypres on 20th September 1917 when, alongside a corporal, he forced a garrison to surrender and later captured 16 men in another attack. He was killed by a shell the following day attempting to save some of his men who had been buried by enemy shelling. Birks attempted to dig out these men, "standing exposed", but another shell killed him and four others before he could save them. This sacrifice was recognised exactly 101 days after its occurrence in the gardens which are now dedicated as a Centenary Field.

The Royal British Legion branch in Didcot, Oxfordshire approached their local council about creating a Centenary Field in the town. In a public ceremony of thanks on 25 September Smallbone Recreation Ground, which contains the local war memorial, was dedicated in perpetuity for future generations to enjoy. Secretary of the Royal British Legion in Didcot Julia Underwood said “The Legion is committed to helping young people understand about remembrance, conflict and the importance of peace. During the dedication service pupils from twelve of the schools in Didcot proudly laid remembrance crosses in honour of each of the WW1 names on the war memorial and others connected with Didcot who lost their lives.”

In cities, towns and villages across the UK communities are marking the anniversary of WW1 by reflecting on the local significance of the conflict and recognising the example and experience of those who lived through it shaped the world we live in today.

Visit the Centenary Fields Legacy online story map – and explore you own location for WW1: www.fieldsintrust.org/centenary-fields-legacy