The Lewisham War Memorial Garden stands in a narrow strip of land alongside Lewisham High Street. Three tall blocks of flats separate the Garden from neighbouring Lewisham Park. I have driven past this little garden for years and not really paid any attention to it, which was a big mistake!
The location of the garden
On a map dating from the 1850s the garden looks like a small wood between three villas and the main road. By 1894-96 there were five villas and the wood looks like a more formal garden area, similar in shape to the site today.
The founding of the Memorial Garden
‘…The site for the War Memorial was donated by the Earl of Dartmouth and the Lewisham Park Trustees. The foundation stone was laid in November 1920 by the Mayor of Lewisham and the memorial was unveiled on 7 May 1921, a stone obelisk designed by E A Stone. It commemorated some 1500 of the 1/4th London Brigade RFA and 20th Battalion London Regiment whose headquarters were situated in the Borough. Two stone piers on either side of the monument have the inscription that they ‘were erected in memory of officers and men of the 11th Lewisham Battalion of the Royal West Kent Regiment who fell in the Great War’. A plaque was added for WWII and unveiled on 11 November 1949 by Councillor G R D Bradfield…’.London Gardens Online, April 2012
Major General Sir William Thwaites unveiled the Memorial on 7 May 1921. He was a high-ranking officer, the Director of Military Intelligence at the time.
The Memorial Garden today
The garden surrounding the war memorial was laid out in 1950.
‘…The memorial is hedged by yew and the symmetrically laid-out garden has concrete crazy paved paths and yew hedges surrounding formal beds with seat niches, some now empty of seats. There are bedding displays and raised planted areas, ornamental evergreens and shrubs. At the south end, near a raised planted shield, is an Indian cedar tree planted on 28 March 1985 by the Mayor of Lewisham to celebrate the 40th anniversary of end of WWII and the formation of United Nations. Along Lewisham High Street are London plane trees behind a low wall…’.London Gardens Online, April 2012
Today the yew is in blocks, rather than a hedge around the park. Many of the blocks form alcoves and some enclose a bench. The crazy paving paths run the length of the park, in front of the alcoves. Along the length of the park there are formal bedding displays. But while there may have been ornamental evergreens and shrubs in 2012 these are in short supply today. A few roses are planted along the railings near the tower blocks, but this is not a rose garden.
Since LGO registered information there is a new memorial in the Memorial Garden. In 2015 a Memorial to recipients of the Victoria Cross was created in the Park. The stories of these men are sobering reading. The Victoria Cross was instituted by Queen Victoria in 1856 and it is the highest and most prestigious award for members of the British Armed Services. It is awarded for ‘…valour in the presence of the enemy…’. Only 1,358 awards have been awarded.
In 1918 Brigadier General Clifford Coffin was the first general officer awarded the VC. After the war he had a distinguished military career. Francis Harvey RM died on HMS Lion in 1916; Lt Alan Jerrard was in the RFC and awarded the VC for actions in 1918; Lt Richard Jones died on Vimy Ridge in 1916, aged 19 years; Private John Lynn died of gas poisoning at Ypres in 1915, aged 27 years; Captain Walter Stone was only 26 when he died at Cambrai.
Further information: Lewisham Archives