On Thursday 8 November, I heard (again!) the story that the war memorial in Aberdare is the only ‘Cenotaph’ in the UK except for the one in Whitehall. I didn’t bother to argue with the particular pub bore on this occasion. There was one simple reason for this decision. I know better.
You see, after having a similar discussion on Facebook a few months before, I decided to try and get a definitive answer to this particular mystery. I initially emailed the Royal British Legion, and they very kindly put me in touch with the War Memorials Trust in London. Here’s the subsequent correspondence in full:
From: Steve O’Gorman
Sent: 13 September 2012 11:03
Subject: War Memorial, Aberdare, Mid Glamorgan
I wonder if anyone at your office can settle a long-standing argument for me. The Memorial in Victoria Square, Aberdare, is known locally as ‘the Cenotaph’, even though all the documents I’ve found refer to it simply as the ‘war memorial.’ I’ve heard it asserted on many occasions that there are only two ‘Cenotaphs’ in the whole country – the one in Whitehall, and ours. (I’ve even read this ‘fact’ online – which is of course no guarantee that the information’s accurate!) I’ve attached a couple of photographs. As you can see, it does bear a resemblance to the one in Whitehall, but apart from that there seems to be no reason for it to be so called.
There’s also a tradition locally that the monument was originally intended to be erected in Aberdeen, but wires got crossed and it ended up here instead. It seems unlikely, but this tale must have originated somewhere, as I’ve heard it many times over the years. I wondered whether you had any definitive records of its history, so that I can put this one to bed after eighty-odd years!
On a related topic, I’ve been taking photographs of the towns and villages in South Wales recently, and another mystery has occurred to me. I’ve found war memorials in most of the places I’ve visited, but there doesn’t seem to be one in my home village of Trecynon. The nearby villages of Llwydcoed, Cwmaman, and Hirwaun, all have their own, and obviously Aberdare has the ‘Cenotaph’ I’m enquiring about. Do you know of any reason why Trecynon hasn’t got one?
If you can shed any light on either of these questions I’d be extremely grateful.
Dear Mr O’Gorman,
Thank you for your email regarding the war memorial in Aberdare (our ref WM7170).
To answer your first question regarding cenotaphs, the cenotaph is a type of monument as well as being the name of the Cenotaph in London (with a capitalized c, to distinguish between them). The word ‘cenotaph’ derives from the Greek words for ‘empty tomb’ and the design is therefore used to commemorate those whose remains are elsewhere. Sir Edwin Lutyens designed the Cenotaph in Whitehall, and this influenced the design of other war memorials around the country. Other cenotaphs can be found in Manchester, Hull, and Ipswich. There is more information on Wikipedia available here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cenotaph
War Memorials Trust only hold information relating to our grant schemes and casework, so we are unable to help with the origins of the memorial. However, you may wish to contact the UK National Inventory of War Memorials based at the Imperial War Museum in London. They are trying to compile a database of all war memorials in the UK, and they information they collect includes lists of names and historical information. They have a record for the cenotaph in Aberdare under their reference 17689 and from their online record, they hold an article from the Aberdare Leader at the time that the memorial was unveiled which may have more information about the decision and why a cenotaph-style memorial was chosen. As you say it would be very unlikely that the memorial was originally intended for Aberdeen!
Finally, as you have found, not all villages have a war memorial. This may be because they are one of the ‘thankful’ villages who did not lose anyone in the World Wars, or because the village did not feel that a war memorial was appropriate at the time (it is very common, for example, that those who were ‘Missing in Action’ not to be included on a memorial, as their relatives hoped that they may still return). Some villages also have a plaque inside the local Parish Church, rather than a traditional cross, as they preferred more private place of remembrance. They may have considered the idea but, particularly if there are lots of other memorials in the area, may have decided against building another one.
For example, we have recently been contacted about the village of Upton Scudamore in Wiltshire – they do not have a war memorial, and after carrying out research, a member of the village has suggested constructing a new war memorial dedicated to two soldiers who did not return. One of the soldiers is remembered on another nearby memorial and the other was born in the village but moved away before he was killed, so the village decided at the time not to construct a memorial dedicated to them.
I hope that this is helpful, and please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of further assistance.
Ms Claire Lickman
Protecting and conserving war memorial heritage
In Memoriam 2014 offers greater protection for our war memorial heritage. Register your interest or find out more at http://www.inmemoriam2014.org.
War Memorials Trust 42a Buckingham Palace Road London SW1W 0RE
Telephone: direct dial: 020 7834 0200 charity 0300 123 0764 fax: 020 7834 0202/0300 123 0765
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I wonder if this version of events will eventually filter through to the popular consciousness, or whether the ‘Aberdeen’ story will still be current in another 84 years. After all, it’s so much easier to believe the myth than to uncover the facts, isn’t it? Never mind, though – the Truth is out there!