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The stories behind Newmarket and Exning's war memorials erected after the First World War a century ago which forever bear witness to our lost generations

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They are testaments to the Fallen but, unlike the memories of those who did not return from those foreign fields, they barely fade, standing sentinel through the decades bearing witness to the sacrifices made by lost generations.

In the aftermath of the First World War, tens of thousands of war memorials were erected in villages and towns across the country and, for many, this year marks their centenary.

In Newmarket, a committee of the town’s most prominent citizens was set up to organise a referendum to decide what form a memorial to the town’s war dead should take.

Newmarket war memorial unveiling
Newmarket war memorial unveiling

Suffolk News' sister paper the Newmarket Journal reported that from an electorate of over 4,000, 1,577 votes were cast and 625 were in favour of a scheme to provide cottages for disabled servicemen or war widows.

That idea was quickly dropped as it would have been far too expensive in view of the number of homes needed.

The second most popular option was to set up a recreation ground on The Severals with a memorial as the centrepiece.

Remembrance Sunday Newmarket war memorial - wreath-laying followed by High Street parade to Tattersalls. Picture by Mark Westley
Remembrance Sunday Newmarket war memorial - wreath-laying followed by High Street parade to Tattersalls. Picture by Mark Westley

In April 1921 it was reported the stewards of the Jockey Club had agreed to give land on condition that enough money was raised by public subscription to lay out the recreation area, and maintain it, so the cost would not fall on the town’s ratepayers.

The plan was a controversial one and the town was not convinced of its merits.

As a result, by August the recreation ground scheme had all but been abandoned with only 160 residents having given money to support it.

Some trainers had also signed a petition, sent to the Jockey Club, protesting against any portion of The Severals being used as a recreation ground.

Exning war memorial unveiling
Exning war memorial unveiling

According to Mr Troughton, the secretary of the war memorial committee, the idea had fallen flat.

The plan was dropped and the exasperated committee members pressed ahead with the memorial of Cornish granite which was unveiled by Sir William Lambton, and dedicated by the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, on October 16, watched by more than 2,000 people.

It bore the names of 218 Newmarket men who had made the ultimate sacrifice.

Remembrance Sunday - Exning wreath laying at war memorial. Picture by Mark Westley
Remembrance Sunday - Exning wreath laying at war memorial. Picture by Mark Westley

It was suggested that money left over from the memorial fund could be used to build a nurses’ home in the town with a children’s ward and a club for ex-servicemen.

Four months earlier, Exning had unveiled its memorial which cost £600, paid for out of the one fifth designated from the Newmarket urban district collection.

“There is scarcely a village in the whole of the United Kingdom which has as proud a war record as Exning boasts,” said MP Col Walter Guineas as he performed the ceremony.

“The gallant lads of Exning did not wait to be conscripted, from the moment the call to arms was sounded they flocked to the local recruiting office.”

But he added: “The village has paid a heavy price for its patriotism.

"No fewer than 78 of its bravest gave their lives for King and Country but, although Exning mourns them, it mourns them with an undying pride and that pride has found eloquent expression in the beautiful memorial cross.”

Not all the memorials were grand monoliths. In February 1921, a framed tablet bearing the names of 60 former pupils who perished was unveiled at Newmarket’s All Saints’ school by Dr Gilbert Gray, a veteran of Gallipoli.

He reminded the children those men had once come into that school room, used the same desks and seats that the present scholars occupied and were taught by some of the same teachers.

Some of those who faced death so bravely were but a little older than the boys he saw before him he told the pupils.

And as they passed the memorial Dr Gray said he hoped they would pause occasionally, and think of what it meant, and let their hearts be filled, as was his own with sorrow, pride, and gratitude.

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