Shortly after the First World War broke out in August 1914, the Borough Council decided that there should be a memorial to honour those Yeovilians who gave their lives in the service of their country, but no one could have foreseen the terrible four years which would follow. However on 9 November 1918, two days before the Armistice brought the war to an end, the Council resolved to take -- ' The necessary steps to compile a list of all Yeovil officers and men who have fallen in the war, for the purpose of inscribing their names in a roll of honour for the Borough after the conclusion of hostilities.'
A War Memorial Committee was set up, the design finally agreed, and the Council decided that the most appropriate site for the memorial was in the Borough. At 6 o'clock in the evening of Thursday 15 July 1921, the war memorial, with 226 names, was unveiled and dedicated before a large crowd of Yeovilians gathered in the Borough. The 29 feet high spire-shaped cross was designed by a Yeovil man, Mr Wilfred Childs, and made by Messrs Appleby and Childs a firm of Yeovil monumental masons, from the finest Ham Hill stone. The memorial was draped with the Union Flag and a White Ensign made by Miss M Cooper and Miss Edith Childs. Describing the ceremony the Western Gazette reported: ‘The Yeovil Territorial Company under the command of Captain J R Ware, marched in first and took up a position, and they were soon followed by a large contingent of ex-servicemen, headed by the Town Band, who marched in from Middle Street. These veterans, many of who were wearing their medals, kept the ground - a hollow square before the flag covered cross - and with the police, did much towards preserving the quietude and order before the service. Then came a pathetic little procession into the square, a large party of children, many of them tiny tots, carrying posies of flowers, which they were to place later on the base of the Monument on which was engraved the names of their fathers. Just after the town clock struck the hour the final procession moved through the crowd. Headed by the clergy and ministers of all denominations it included the Mayor, and Aldermen and Councillors of Yeovil Corporation. ‘The hymn 'Nearer My God to Thee' was sung and the Mayor, Alderman W. R. E. Mitchelmore, addressed the crowd He said that the memorial was a token of love, respect and gratitude for the sacrifice made by those whose names were inscribed upon it and would be a shrine here in Yeovil for the men whose graves were scattered far and wide. At the call of the Mayor, Lieutenant Colonel F. D. Urwick, DSO, who had seen distinguished service with the Somerset Light Infantry in the Middle East, pulled a cord and the flags fell away. The Vicar of Yeovil then dedicated the memorial, a hymn and the National Anthem concluded the ceremony.’
During the years which followed the names became eroded and bronze panels bearing the names were fixed to the memorial faces and another ten names of the World War I fallen were added. Some years ago, the Yeovil Town Council added to the memorial, the names of those who fell in the Second World War, both service and civilian, and a sericeman who died in the Falklands conflict in 1982. In May 1946, the Borough Council decided that the most suitable form of memorial to remember the fallen of the Second World War, would be a public hall built on the proposed pre-war civic centre site at Hendford Manor. The Yeovil War Memorial Appeal raised £4600 which was not enough to pay for the construction of a hall and in February 1952, the Borough Council agreed to hold the sum in trust towards 'the provision of a memorial hall within the ambit of the new Civic Centre when the public hall section of the Civic Centre is erected'.
Three years later in February 1955, the Borough Council decided to commemorate Yeovilians who had died during the Second World War in the Forces, Civil Defence Services, and those Civilians killed in the town during the bombing, by inscribing their names on a bronze memorial plaque. The Council also decided that when the memorial hall was built, the plaque should be placed in the building. However, pending the construction of the hall, the plaque was affixed to the wall of the council chamber in the Municipal Offices. The war memorial fund formed part of the cost of the Johnson Hall (the Octagon) where the plaque has been displayed since the Hall's completion in 1974.
During the summer of 2005 I conceived the idea of endeavouring to discover something about the person behind each name so that the sacrifice of these men, women and children would not be lost to future generations of Yeovilians. During my research, which involved extensive use of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s records and the files of the Western Gazette, I found that there were discrepancies in the initials and spelling of some surnames and sadly in a small number cases I could not establish the person concerned with certainty; perhaps at some future time this may be achieved. The two volumes - World War I and World War II and the Falklands, are the result, and I trust they will do justice to those men, women and children who did not live to see the peace, but whose names live on, inscribed on the Yeovil War Memorial.
Jack W. Sweet