Earliest Naming Of "Ordinary" Dead on Memorials
The Felling Pit Disaster of 1812
He accepted the invite and made a stirring speech, as is his style, aimed, primarily, at the school children. See for yourself in this snippet from the video of the whole event.
The Crimean War 1854-56 was perhaps the first time that the ordinary soldier was treated with dignity and Florence Nightingdale rose to prominence because of her concern for the sick and wounded. The earliest war memorials, naming the "officer class" dead, were after 1856. See ** below
It is worth saying that, for at least two reasons, it is understandable that the event that triggered this listing and honouring of the "ordinary" dead happened first in industry. (In the military, prior to 1899, only the officer class were usually named.) The “foot soldiers” in industry, unlike their contemporaries in the military, were already “banding together as groups” (Luddism) to argue for better pay and conditions. ( and, for example, The River Tyne Keelmen rioted,100 years earlier, in 1710)
Also all were killed in one confined space and, all but one small boy, could be named.***
It should also be said that the memorial stone is more than that. It is effectively a gravestone for the majority of the bodies which were buried in a mass grave.
In military operations at about this time the whereabouts and names of the dead were often unknown. In the American Civil War (1861-65), for example, record keeping was haphazard and grave locations were often lost. The U.S. Army exhumed from Southern graves the remains of 300,000 Union soldiers and re-interred them in national cemeteries but 54% were classified as “Unknown”. In looking at the American War of Independence, sometime earlier, as another example, not only were the dead not named but the number of those who lost their lives was so incredibly vague and amounted to guesswork.
See here for this about The Battle of The Somme
A total of 19,240 British and Commonwealth troops were killed or died of wounds on the first day of battle alone. It is therefore not surprising that the Thiepval Memorial in France bears the names of 72,090 British and Commonwealth soldiers, all of whom went missing in action during the Battle of the Somme, were never found and who have no known grave.
The Postman's Park Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice is a public monument commemorating ordinary people who died saving the lives of others and who might otherwise have been forgotten. It was first proposed by painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts in 1887, 70 years after The Felling did it and it was another 13 years before Watts' idea was implemented
This is an interesting video of Wessington U3A War Memorials Project in which the point is made that The First World War really did mark the major occasion, in military events, of the naming of everyone, the lads at the pointy end not just the officer class
Here's another featuring Sgt Johnson Beharry, VC recipient because of outstanding bravery in Iraq, making the same point
So there you have it. Next time you're in Heworth churchyard take another look at the Felling Pit memorial, naming the names and reflect that, highly likely, this is the first time in the history of the World that this happened
*Why July and not 4th August, the actual Centenary of the commencement of WW1? Simply to centre the event around school children and the 4th August was after the start of the Summer recess.
*** Marian Ternent of The Felling Heritage Group has said that she has identified the name of the 92nd body. If this is verifiable and happened now for a war event the name would be added to the grave. Is there an appetite for adding the name to the monument?
Follow Up to This Item
This is an extract from the book 'Public Places: Sites of Political Communication' by Carl T. Hyden & Theodore F. Sheckels
Given the nature of memorials today, and given the effort spent over the centuries to ensure the names had been carved into things, it's tempting to think that beyond tombstones, placing the names of the dead on memorials would be a practice with a long history. This isn't the case, though. It's something we've been doing for just slightly longer than two hundred years.
In a speech given to The Felling Heritage Group at Felling in north east England on the one hundredth anniversary of the beginning of World War I, British television presenter John Grundy spoke of the memorial to the ninety-two men and boys who died in the 1812 Felling Pit (coal mine) Disaster. The memorial was erected within five years of the disaster and included the names of all ninety-two victims. An unidentified contributor to the website "Gateshead...Then...Till Now" [actually it is Jon Bratton, the creator of the website, named at the bottom of every page of the website] reported that after an extensive Internet search he.. could find no example of placing the names of the ordinary dead on memorials that was earlier than the Felling Pit Disaster Memorial
This is me, Jon Bratton, and my view is that whilst John Grundy and I deserve some credit, him for identifying it and me for reporting it, surely the most credit should go to Rev John Hodgson who actually