“Ten years ago, in the Spring of 1997, a buzz went round the Smoking Room and Tea Rooms of the House of Commons that an ex-Royal Marine, by the name of Ian Davidson, was coming to one of the Committee Rooms to report on the ‘scandal’ of Britain’s war memorials. ‘Come on, Winston!’ said my bluff Yorkshire friend, Sir Donald Thompson, a Government Whip in John Major’s Conservative Government, ‘We need you!’ Donald came from a long line of local butchers and was built like a butcher. He was as ‘Yorkshire’ as pudding, with accent to match, and had a charm that none could gainsay.
Accordingly, a whole group of us trooped up to the Committee corridor, where Ian Davidson shocked us by what he had to report. He told us that, although the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was doing a magnificent job caring for the graves and memorials to our war dead abroad (post 1914), no one – and no organization – took responsibility for the care of Britain’s war memorials at home, estimated to number more than 50,000.”
The words of War Memorials Trust President, Winston S Churchill in an article in the Trust’s 10th anniversary Bulletin published in 2007 describing the creation of the charity. Following on from the meeting described above Friends of War Memorials (as the Trust was first known) was created with Winston S Churchill accepting the invitation to be President and Douglas R Johnston becoming Secretary and Honorary Treasurer. Countess Mountbatten of Burma kindly consented to become Patron. In May 1997 the organisation became a registered charity, with its Charity Deed including the aim:
"… to educate the public and to foster patriotism and good citizenship by remembering those who have fallen in war by preserving and maintaining war memorials."
July 1997 saw the appointment of Director General Sir Donald Thompson. And during the year the Charity gained further Trustees, Patrons and Vice Presidents.
On 1 July 1998 the Charity held its first Somme Day Ceremony at the Cenotaph on Whitehall. This event continued to be an annual service for the charity until 2006, an opportunity for members and Friends to remember those who sacrificed their lives in conflict and, so often, lie buried overseas. That same year the Small Grants Scheme was created following a £5,000 donation from Halifax plc. This scheme enabled the charity to provide small grants to war memorial repair and conservation projects on a regular basis.
The scope of its activities was widened through the work of the Maritime division in 1999, who campaigned for the protection of naval military vessels, which had sunk, with loss of life during wartime.
In 2000 a collaboration with English Heritage began. The English Heritage Grant Scheme for War Memorial Repair and Conservation was launched English Heritage supported the appointment of a full-time Conservation Officer for the charity. The job involved administering both the English Heritage Grant Scheme and the conservation work of the charity.
In 2001 further Trustees were appointed and the charity continued to grow.
Articles in the Daily Telegraph in July 2002 saw War Memorials Trust receive a positive fundraising boost as well as an increase in awareness of the work of the charity. Sadly for all who met him, David Graves, the journalist who wrote the article about the charity died in a diving accident just days after the piece was published. In 2003 his widow, Diana Graves, became a Vice President. The first award of the David Graves Memorial Scheme Grant also took place as the charity used some of the funds generated from Mr Graves’ article to support projects across the country.
In 2004 the English Heritage Grant Scheme for War Memorial Repair and Conservation was replaced with the Grants for War Memorials scheme co-funded by English Heritage and The Wolfson Foundation. This widened the remit of the grant scheme and increased the funding on offer.
At the end of 2004 the Trustees of the charity decided upon a new name, War Memorials Trust to replace Friends of War Memorials. The change came into effect in January 2005. To support the new name the Trustees approved a change of logo which was introduced in 2005.
In March 2005 the charity lost its driving force, Director General Sir Donald Thompson, who sadly passed away. A Trust Manager was appointed to lead the charity.
At the start of 2006 the charity launched a revised Small Grants Scheme. The changes saw the maximum grant rise from £250 to £1,500 (at 50% eligible costs). The result of the change was a doubling of any previous year's grant spend and offers of over £35,000 towards war memorial conservation projects across the UK were made.
2007 marked the 10th anniversary of the Trust. The Trust held a service at the Guards Chapel in London on Monday 16th July. In May a commemorative issue of the Bulletin was produced reviewing the first decade's achievements. A successful direct mail campaign also helped the charity as supporters responded to an appeal for funds to mark the anniversary.
In 2009, the charity moved offices. Redevlopment at 4 Lower Belgrave Street meant it had to move and improved premises were found on the 2nd Floor of 42a Buckingham Palace Road.
On 2nd March 2010, the Trust sadly learnt of the death of its President Winston S Churchill. Serving the charity for many years his contribution was vital in establishing the Trust as a focal point for war memorial conservation. He is sadly missed.
In November 2010 War Memorials Trust launched a key camapign to identify a War Memorials Officer at each local authority in the UK. A War Memorials Officer would be a single point of contact regarding war memorial issues for the public and War Memorials Trust. They could advise on which war memorials the local authority is responsible for and direct other queries to War Memorials Trust.
At the start of 2011 a revised Small Grants Scheme was launched. Maximum grant spend remained at £2,500 and eligibility criteria were more clearly defined. The 'Expression of interest' form remained the initial method of making an enquiry for grant funding.
In Memoriam 2014 is a project entered into by War Memorials Trust in 2011 in partnership with SmartWater. The project will offer greater protection to war memorials in the UK.
Also in 2011 the charity recruited its first Learning Officer tasked with developing a educational programme for young people to bring a greater understanding of our war memorial heritage. It wil target schools, youth groups and cadets forces.
War Memorials Online launched in November 2012. The website is seeking to create a greater understanding of the condition of war memorials across the UK. Anyone can upload condition information, photographs and other details for war memorials and Regional Volunteers are encouraged to contribute as part of their role. Finding out the condition of war memorials will help target resources at those in greatest need of repair and conservation.
In 2013 the Centenary Memorials Restoration Fund, funded by Historic Environment Scotland and the Scottish Government launched. The fund, scheduled to run from April 2013 to March 2017 offered £1 million to support the repair and conservation of war memorials in Scotland. It replaced the former Small Grants Scheme in Scotland and lead to the appointment of WMT's first remote member of staff; a Conservation Officer based in Scotland to manage the scheme.
At the end of 2013 the Prime Minister announced a £5 million UK government scheme to support First World War activity including war memorials. In 2014 it was confirmed that up to £3 million would be available to WMT, through the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, to support the repair and conservation of war memorials with £2 million specifically for grants. This lead to an expansion of WMT's team in 2015 including the recruitment of additional remote staff to offer more opportunity for site visits and face-to-face support for grant applicants. In addition the Small Grants Scheme became the War Memorials Trust Grant Scheme with projects able to apply for up to 75% of eligible costs up to a normal maximum of £30,000.
The centenary of World War I has seen a significant increase in WMT activity and a growing demand for grant funding. It is a unique opportunity for the charity to seize on the interest in our shared war memorial heritage and support the custodians of the 100,000 war memorials across the country protect and conserve these vital parts if our national heritage.
The charity continues to grow and develop. It is an important heritage and conservation organisation which continues to rely on support from donors and members to continue its work. Thank you to those who have helped us and if this is your first visit perhaps you will consider joining our army of supporters.