Research for the ‘Valiant Hearts’ exhibition began after our Archives team were tasked with finding the 707 names displayed on the war memorial in Ampthill. The original plaques had been stolen in the 1970s and, as mentioned in a previous blog entry, this memorial is unusual as it is dedicated to the soldiers who were trained in the depot and subsequently lost their lives, rather than to those from a particular town or village.
The memorial stands on the site of what initially was the Bedfordshire Training Depot, and later become the Bedfordshire Command Depot. After the end of World War I, the Duke of Bedford commissioned Cecil Greenwood Hare to design a memorial cross to be located on the site of the depot’s adjutant office. The design had to be in keeping with the other cross located in the park, Katherine’s Cross, and includes a sword based on the Crusaders sword of Lord Pembroke, Protector of England. The memorial was opened by the 11th Duke of Bedford and was visited later by Princess Beatrice.
Sadly, the plaques bearing the 707 names were stolen in the 1970s and it was thought there was no record of the names that had been on the memorial. Decades later, thanks to the work of Ian Church in the Woburn Abbey Archives, a list was found and cross-checked with the roll of honour from the county papers published in 1919. The plaques were reproduced and the memorial was rededicated in a service of remembrance on Saturday 21st September 2013. This service was attended by the Dowager Duchess of Bedford and the Duke’s youngest brother, Lord James Russell. Photographs of the plaques being produced and the rededication service can be seen on Ampthill.Info Facebook Page.
We were inspired by the many stories we discovered during our research for the memorial. In light of this and to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, the research continued and we started to learn the stories behind these names. ‘Valiant Hearts: World War I – Woburn and its Stories’ will allow visitors to understand how and why the training depot was created and understand the experiences of a number of young men who passed through its programme. These include Harry Gibbons, Under keeper for Game and Fish at Woburn Abbey before the war, and brothers William and Charles Freeman, previously labourers at nearby Checkley Farm.
We will be telling their stories in future blog entries.
Woburn Abbey Marketing Executive