Fields in Trust

PROTECT: Centenary Fields Legacy and the Commonwealth

Posted on 9th November 2018
Six of the spaces featured as part of Centenary Fields Legacy have links to those from Commonwealth countries who fought for and with the British Army in World War I.

All of the parks and green spaces protected as part of the Centenary Fields programme have local relevance to World War I. Many are home to war memorials to those from the area who fell in conflict; others directly served the war effort; and some have links to individuals who grew up or lived locally and went off to fight.

In some cases, however, these spaces also have links further afield - to Commonwealth countries whose citizens answered the call to serve alongside the British Army. A 1915 recruitment poster headed "The Empire Needs Men!" urged "young lions" of Australia, Canada, India and New Zealand to help the "old lion" of Britain and in total over three million soldiers from Empire and Commonwealth countries took part in World War I. Empire troops served across Africa, the Middle East and in Italy as well as on the Western Front.

Our Centenary Fields Legacy campaign has been telling the story of a new space each day since 8th August, the first day of the Hundred Days Offensive campaign which ended the war. The campaign is supporting The Royal British Legion's 'Thank You' initiative which is saying just that to those who served and sacrificed, including the Commonwealth troops from Australia, Canada, India, Newfoundland, New Zealand and South Africa who all fought in and alongside the British Army throughout the offensive. Several battles were fought solely by Commonwealth troops including the Battle of the Scarpe (Canada), the Battle of Mont Saint-Quentin (Australia) and the Battle of the Canal du Nord (Canada and New Zealand). Countless others were fought by Commonwealth soldiers alongside British troops and other allies.

Canadian troops served almost exclusively on the Western Front with the Canadian Expeditionary Force losing over 60,600 men of the 620,000 who signed-up. The Princess Patricia's Light Infantry was formed within days of the outbreak of the war by Brigadier Andrew Hamilton Gault, who went on to command it. Gault offered $100,000 to fund the initial battalion, making the regiment the last privately raised one in the British Empire. The regiment itself is remembered at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa with a memorial at the location of its founding.

Gault himself moved to Taunton in Somerset after retiring from service in 1920 and was elected as MP for Taunton in 1924. He was awarded the freedom of the Borough in 1932 and retired from the House of Commons in 1935. In 1931 he gifted the land which forms Hamilton Gault Park to the people of Taunton and the space was featured as part of Centenary Fields Legacy on 18th August, the date of Gault's birth in 1882.

Around 410,000 people signed up to serve in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) with around 200,000 casualties sustained throughout the course of the war. Some of those injured on the Western Front were treated in Harefield, west London. In 1914 Australian ex-pat Charles Billyard-Leake offered Harefield House and grounds to the Australian Minister of Defence for use as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers from the AIF. The offer was accepted and in December 1914 the property became the No. 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital. It is estimated that 50,000 injured Australians had been treated in the hospital by the end of the war. A globe on a pole on Harefield Village Green, featured as part of Centenary Fields Legacy on 1st November, indicates the village's long-held association with Australia and a memorial service is held each year on Anzac Day, attended by the Mayor and other local dignitaries. Local schools have recently maintained relationships with Australia by Skyping fellow students on that day.

£3 would have covered the cost of a month's worth of tea for an army battalion at 1918 prices. If you would like to help us continue our work to protect valuable parks and green spaces, please text CFLF18 £3 to 70070 to donate to Fields in Trust and make a difference today.


Also travelling from Australia to fight on the Western Front was Frederick Birks VC MM. Born in Buckley in north Wales in 1894, Birks emigrated to Australia in 1913. He joined the Australian Imperial Force within weeks of the start of the war and saw service in Gallipoli and at the Battle of the Somme. Birks was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Glencorse Wood in Ypres in on 20th September 1917 when, alongside a corporal, he forced a garrison to surrender and later captured 16 men in another attack. Birks was killed by a shell the following day attempting to save some of his men and is remembered with a Victoria Cross Commemorative Paving Stone at Coronation Gardens in Buckley, which featured as part of Centenary Fields Legacy on 21st September.

Indian troops played the biggest role by numbers of all Empire and Commonwealth armies in World War I and even before the outbreak of war the Government of India had pledged two divisions plus a cavalry brigade. The first Indian soldiers arrived on the Western Front at the end of 1914 and 140,00 saw service there of the 1.27 million Indians who volunteered for the war effort globally.

Many of the Indian soldiers who were injured on the Western Front during the early part of the war were hospitalised at The Royal Pavilion in Brighton, the first Indian hospital to open in the town. Hindu and Sikh soldiers who succumbed to their injuries during 1914 and 1915 were cremated as part of traditional ceremonies on open-air concrete slabs at a location in the Sussex Downs. Between 31st December 1914 and 30th December 1915, 53 such cremations took place.

In 1921 The Chattri was built on the cremation ground as a memorial to those who lost their lives. An inscription on the base of the monument in English and Hindi scripts reads "To the memory of all the Indian soldiers who gave their lives in the service of their King Emperor in the Great War this monument erected on the site of the funeral pyre where the Hindus and Sikhs who died in hospital at Brighton passed through the fire is in grateful admiration and brotherly affection dedicated". The space, which was featured as part of Centenary Fields Legacy on 4th November, continues to be visited every year by local residents, those with connections to Indian soldiers and a large group of motorcyclists to pay their respects.

The contributions of Indian soldiers during World War I are also remembered as part of two new installations in Smethwick and Preston. Lions of the Great War is a new memorial, unveiled in a ceremony on 4th November, to soldiers of all faiths from the Indian sub-continent who served in the British armed forces. The memorial takes the form of a three-metre tall bronze statue depicting a World War I Sikh soldier in full trench wear and bearing a rifle.

In Preston in Lancashire today (9th November), finally, a ceremony took place in Avenham and Miller Parks to unveil the Centenary Fields plaque and a new interpretation board which marks the contributions of Sikh soldiers during both World Wars. The board remembers the 83,000 Sikh soldiers of the British Indian Army who were killed serving in the two World Wars and 109,000 Sikhs who were injured. Sikh soldiers have historic links to the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, based at Fulwood Barracks in the city, and the Jullundur Brigade was one of the first Indian brigades to go into battle on the Western Front.

These six spaces which remember the contributions of soldiers from across the Commonwealth during World War I are protected in perpetuity as part of the Centenary Fields programme, meaning they will always remain in living memory of the fallen.

Background on the contributions of Empire and Commonwealth soldiers during World War I with thanks to the National Army Museum.

Centenary Fields:
Protected in memory of those who lost their lives in World War I

Take a tour of the spaces already featured as part of Centenary Fields Legacy

Centenary Fields Legacy:
Angela Lewis introduces the campaign and what to expect over the coming weeks

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