Erdington is now an inner city area of North Birmingham. It is easy to forget that at the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, it was still an independent Warwickshire town outside the boundaries and control of its larger neighbour Birmingham. Many inhabitants were called to serve in the conflict. The churchyard of St Barnabas, on Erdington's High St, shows a wide range of Great War service burials and a number of fine private family memorials indicating the great pride felt by local families in remembering those who fell and are buried far from home.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission ( CWGC; previously the Imperial War Graves Commission - IWGC. ) register lists 27 servicemen buried here, between 1915 and 1922, all of who died as a result of their war service. A memorial stone behind the church lists 8 of these as "known to be buried here" but whose exact location has been lost.
Of the remainder three are shown in the records as having died of wounds received in "France and Flanders" on active service, Their wounds would have been serious enough to warrant transfer back to England for treatment, but sadly they did not survive.
|The grave of Corporal Minahan, 6th battalion Royal Warwickshire
Regiment , situated outside the south west corner of the church is particularly
interesting as it is a rare private burial and memorial of a Great War soldier.
The bodies of soldiers who died in military hospitals in England were usually
returned to their families and buried either with a military ceremony, or
privately. After the war the IWGC offered to buy and take over responsibilty,
in perpetuity, for such plots, providing an IWGC headstone was erected. Most
acceded to this offer but some families would have preferred to maintain
their private plot and memorial themselves, and this is obviously what occurred
The memorial itself is a fine example of familial pride. Carved in the shape of a rock it bears the inscription,
"Here lies one of Britains heroes"
and gives the information that Corporal Minahan died on the 22nd September 1916 as the results of wounds received on the 18th August at the Battle of the Somme.
The other headstones show a wide range of service, a baker from a field bakery, a Machine Gun Corps trainee, a young airman killed in a flying accident, two more died of wounds received with front line battalions, a number of older men transferred home for service with agricultural battalions, two other RAF personnel etc.
At least five are noted as dying in a five week period October to November 1918. This was the time when the dreadful Spanish Flu epidemic had reached ,and was particularly prevalent within, the Midlands. At least two are actually noted as dying of pneumonia - one of the principle causes of death during the epidemic. It is likely that so many in so short a time were all victims of the epidemic whilst undertaking Home Service.
A further number all died after the Armistice, up until 1922. IWGC policy was that if a serviceman died as a result of his service, old wounds, gassing, even general disability, then they were entitled to burial at the expense of the IWGC and a headstone. A number of these are older men in their forties. I am sure this reflects the tremendous strain many were under and this probably contributed to a number of these deaths.
|The churchyard contains a number of fine and extremely unusual memorials to family members who fell in action. A little way down the path, on the right, is the Flintham family memorial. In the shape of a large headstone in memory of Elizabeth Flintham aged 60, it recalls three members of the same family who fell in various actions in France throughout the War. Rifleman Harold Flintham, most likely a local Territorial, fell in September 1915 at the Battle of Loos. Private Walter Flintham must have given a younger age on enlistment as he actually was 34 years old. Undoubtedly a Kitchener volunteer, he fell on that dreadful day, whose date was, and still is if you dig deep enough, burned deep into the collective psyche of the British nation - the First Day of the Somme, July 1st 1916. In October 1916, LCpl Charles Haynes, 24 years, became the third family member to die in France.|
Elsewhere a memorial in identical style recalls another Erdington resident who fell, far away, in Gallipoli. Tall family memorials line the path. This are obviously not their original sites. A WFA member told me he recalled seeing these being moved in the early 1980,s in a misguided effort to "tidy up" the churchyard. He was also certain that others had been taken away on a lorry, presumably for destruction.
If so it was a shocking act of official vandalism. We need to be certain that the future of these memorials is safe guarded.
The memorials are to those who died in the late 1920s and 30s but several also contain panels dedicated to others who made the supreme sacrifice.
The Woods family memorial recalls Lieutenant Horace wood, age 23 with pride, "A volunteer, he gave his life for his country", and notes he is buried in Dive Copse Cemetery France.
Others are in similar vein, whilst the Gray family headstone recalls Horace George Gray Wireless Operator 1st Class "torpedoed February 28th 1917 whose grave is the sea".
Overall the burials and memorials give an idea of the sacrifce made by the citizens of Erdington in what was the first example of total war.
THE MISSING WAR MEMORIAL
I do not come from Erdington but pass through and around it quite often. I have yet to come across an official war memorial. I have enquired of several friends who were actually born and brought up there and they have no recollection of one. It would be extremely unusual for a town the size of Erdington not to have commissioned a permanent memorial to their war dead. Does anyone know if one does or did exist??
Christopher John Birmingham Branch WFA
(If of interest a half hour illustrated talk is available on the burials and memorials.)
For a direct link to the author of this article, email Christopher John
Copyright © Christopher John, May, 2002
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