Hidden History of Reading’s War Graves and Memorials by Liz Tait

Reading branch talk 31st May 2017

Liz's interest in the town's war graves and memorials was kindled during a bus journey into Reading in 1995 from her home near Palmer Park. It was during the return journey that she caught sight of the Great War Memorial at the Wokingham Road Cemetery; it excited her curiosity enough to decide to visit the cemetery and find out more.

            The cemetery was created by an Act of Parliament because the town's church burial grounds were full to capacity; its first burial was in 1843. The Great War Memorial is located in the extension to the non-conformists' section within the oddly shaped plot known as division 72. The Portland stone monument consists of a memorial screen inscribed with the names of the Fallen and, in the foreground, a 'Cross of Sacrifice' mounted on a plinth.

            There are individual headstones adjacent to the memorial and elsewhere in the cemetery. Liz gave short accounts of those buried there, these included: Private William Lewington the earliest burial; he was tragically killed during a training accident at Maidenhead in November 1914. The earliest female burial was Agnes Maud Russell; she was serving as a nurse in Malta treating soldiers evacuated from the Dardanelles campaign when she died in October 1915. Tragically, many of those who were wounded died from infections later.

            At nearby Alfred Sutton School there is a wall mounted memorial to schoolmasters who lost their lives in the Great War. Liz has done much research into the individuals listed on the memorial and has produced an unpublished work on the memorial's history.

            Common sights for local people at Cemetery Junction were the funeral processions of servicemen killed in action. They would enter the cemetery through the gate lodge; their remains transported on horse drawn carriages accompanied by soldiers, the coffins draped in the Union flag. Liz told us that relatives would often request donations from the onlookers to help pay for flowers to be placed on the soldiers' graves.

            In 2001 Liz Tait formed the Reading Remembrance Trust; its objective was to research and publish the names of the men and women who lost their lives in the Great War. Every year since 1998 she has placed a wreath on the memorial at Wokingham Road Cemetery.

By Sean Duggan

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