Newtownards, County Down

For the names of the Fallen in the Great War click here.

For the names of the Fallen in the Second World War click here.

For Newtownards Chronicle Articles on ‘Remembering The Fallen,” click here

The story of the three Great War Memorials in Newtownards is described below.

SNOW TRIBUTE IN BOWLING GREEN. (March 1924)

The unemployed ex-soldiers of Newtownards took full advantage of the great amount of snow on Monday to remind the townspeople of an honour due them in keeping with that done the ex-soldiers of all the towns in the North of Ireland.

A vast heap of snow was collected in the centre of the Bowling Green and a large number of hands soon joined in the formation and moulding of what eventually proved to be a snow memorial to fallen heroes.

A massive pedestal standing eight or nine feet in height was first constructed, with four guarding pillars. On top of this pedestal one of the workers perched himself in an attitude similar to that on other properly constituted war memorials, with the representation of a rifle through his arm, and with "tin hat" and other accouterments complete. In front in large letters was a placard “Lest we forget.” The erection attracted considerable attention.

The War Trophy Gun presented to Newtownards in 1919 or “scrap heap,” as some person properly dubbed it, still hides its head behind the walls of the butter market, about the only place fit for its reception.

Four young Newtownards men were summonsed for obstruction in Castle Street (beside the Bowling Green) by standing on the footpath. Defendants denied causing any obstruction, and moved away when they were spoken to. They said that they had gone down to see the snowman.
A fine of 2s 6d. and 2s costs (24p) was imposed in each case.

THE PLYWOOD/CONCRETE MEMORIAL

The Plywood Cenotaph was first erected by members of the British Legion in Conway Square in 1925 for the Somme Commemoration ceremony. The first wreaths were laid at  7-30 a.m., the time at which the Ulster Division made their attack on the 1st July, 1916. After the Somme service in 1927 members of Newtownards British Legion conceived the idea of erecting something of a more permanent character. The volunteers made a concrete cenotaph modelled exactly on the same lines as the temporary structure. It was constructed in the grounds of the Legion Headquarters on land that had been secured from the County Down Railway.
On the face of the upright standard are the words “our Glorious Dead;” on the first base, “In Memory of Our Fallen Comrades,” and on the next the words, “The Great War.” There is a third step, and then an outer verge.
Despite  the erection of the permanent memorial in 1934, commemoration events were still being held at it as late as 1941.

This report is from the Newtownards Chronicle of Remembrance Day in Newtownards, 1941.

At the headquarters of the British Legion the day was also observed, when Mrs. Humphries, representing Mrs. William Wright, President of the Newtownards Branch of the Legion, placed four wreaths on the little Cenotaph. After the silence had been observed Rev. George F. McQuitty recited the Legion Exhortation.
Mr. James Gibson, M.M., Honorary Secretary of the Legion locally, was present on the occasion.
 

PERMANENT MEMORIAL
The present Newtownards and District War Memorial is located at the junction of Castle Street and Church Square in a small park known locally as The Bowling Green.

Quote from the unveiling ceremony in 1934, ‘No more appropriate spot could have been chosen for the erection of a memorial to our glorious dead. Situate in the old Bowling Green, and surrounded by trees, shrub, and railings, it is a spot of peace and quiet in which any mother, any wife or any sister, might go on the anniversary of the battle in which their loved ones lost their lives, and spend a few minutes in peaceful meditation, and in conjuring up a vision of the departed ones.’

The Marquis of Londonderry, to whom the Bowling Green belongs, has made a free gift of it to the town, for all time, and free of rent.

The memorial, which is a granite obelisk with a figure symbolic of Peace and Honour on the front, and with a carving at the top symbolising Justice, it has the Newtownards Crest on the base. It is in reality a County Down memorial for County Down men, for it is composed of granite from the Moor quarries at Newry, and it is quite an imposing structure.

As close as can be ascertain l,396 men enlisted from Newtownards and surrounding districts, of whom at least 316 paid the last sacrifice.

Snow memorial Newtownards
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Newtownards war memorial has its own story
Catherine Switzer

Newtownards, County Down.
The Newtownards and District War Memorial is located at the junction of Castle Street and Church Square in a small park known locally as ‘The Bowling Green.’ The unveiling and dedication took place on Saturday, 26th May, 1934. The memorial was unveiled by The Most Hon. The Marquis Of Londonderry, K.G., Secretary of State for Air.
Mr. J. S. Moore handed over custody of the Memorial to the Urban District Council. Senator T. R. Lavery, D.L., accepted the Memorial on behalf of the Council.
The memorial was originally created to commemorate more than 300 local men who did not return from the First World War, but now also remembers the Second World War dead and also members of the security forces killed much closer to home.

Each of the men and women commemorated by the memorial has his or her own story, but the memorial also has a history of its own. It might seem surprising, but the history of the Ards war memorial is far from straightforward.

The idea of a town war memorial was first raised in 1916, when the Chairman of the Urban District Council said that he hoped that, when the war was over, something would be done ‘to perpetuate the memory of those who had gone down in the great fight, and to keep fresh the brave deeds of those fine fellows.’

The war ended in November 1918, and in the months afterwards the issue of a war memorial was widely discussed. A committee was established to organise the memorial scheme, but there were many issues to settle. Should the memorial be a monument, or was it better to create a public service like a cottage hospital or houses for ex-servicemen?

The committee decided on a monument, but this opened up a new series of questions. What form should it take? A statue? A cross? Where should it be placed? The committee discussed sites at Conway Square and in Movilla Cemetery.

Conway Square was central, but as one speaker put it, ‘they must take into account that the Square was a market place and altogether unsuitable for a monument of the kind it was proposed to erect. In a very short time it would be the rendezvous for the unemployed in the town.’

Movilla, on the other hand, was a more peaceful location, but was also far from the town centre. ‘People would come to Newtownards to see the monument,’ said another speaker, ‘but they were not going to walk to Movilla to see it.’

Although some money had been raised towards the memorial, the scheme dragged on without any result. Meanwhile, other towns nearby were dedicating their war memorials: Ballywalter and Holywood in 1922, and Comber in 1923. Newtownards was being left behind.

In March 1924, the town’s ex-servicemen took it upon themselves to bring the issue to public attention again. A group of former soldiers built a large war memorial from snow. The snow soldier figure wore a tin hat and a board with the words ‘Lest We Forget.’ Several local men later received fines at the Newtownards Petty Sessions for obstruction in relation to the snowman.

More years passed and still no war memorial appeared. In July 1925, the Newtownards ex-servicemen again took action, building a wooden war memorial in Conway Square which formed the centrepiece for a service commemorating the Battle of the Somme.

It is obvious from newspaper reports that this wooden memorial was very important for those who came to visit it. Dozens of wreaths were laid on it, one by 80 year old Martha McKittrick in memory of her youngest son. Having laid her flowers, she ‘went away in a paroxysm of grief,’ reported the Chronicle. The war had been over for nearly seven years, but the pain of those who had been bereaved was still fresh.

This temporary memorial then seems to have been moved into the grounds of the British Legion in Victoria Road, before being replaced, in 1928, by a concrete version. The Legion’s premises were opposite the present SERC Campus near the junction of Victoria Road and North Street. In the continued absence of a town memorial, local people left flowers and wreaths here to remember their loved ones.
In 1929, a Spectator journalist observed how ‘Another Armistice Day has come and gone, and yet it would seem that we are no nearer to seeing the Newtownards war memorial an established fact.’ The writer pointed out that the money was still accruing interest in the bank, and suggested, with some irony, that ‘if we only put off long enough there is no doubt some day there will be a sum sufficient to build a memorial.’

It would be another four years before the scheme resurfaced, but this time the committee were quick to take action. By this stage they had £734 to spend on the memorial, and were able to gather several hundred more from local businesses.

Within a month the committee had obtained sketches of several different designs for a memorial on the Bowling Green. One was an obelisk with a figure of Peace in relief, a second had a figure of Peace on top of a pillar, and a third was a statue of a soldier.

Having chosen the first of these designs, the committee were unsure about the height of the proposed memorial and agreed to employ a local firm to construct a wooden replica on the Bowling Green, in order that everyone could see what the memorial would look like.

The committee were pleased with the results. ‘It certainly looked very well,’ said the Chairman. Another committee member said he was ‘very agreeably surprised to see the beauty of the design. It certainly looked well in its setting.’ It was therefore decided to go ahead with the final version.

The memorial was built by Belfast firm Purdy and Millard, and was finally unveiled on 26 May 1934 by the Marquis of Londonderry. Hundreds of local people turned out to watch the ceremony.

The Spectator reported that ‘One of the most impressive moments of the ceremony came when Mr John J. Black read out the names of the fallen. What memories those names must have resurrected in the thoughts of the hundreds gathered in that silent throng. There were many moist eyes among the folks of the Ards when each much remembered name fell clear and sharp on the silent air…  It was a moment of most poignant intensity.  Not a sound was heard save the breeze rustling among the trees and the distant purr of far-off traffic.’
The Marquis of Londonderry, to whom the Bowling Green belongs, has made a free gift of it to the town, for all time, and free of rent.
Quote from the unveiling ceremony in 1934, ‘No more appropriate spot could have been chosen for the erection of a memorial to our glorious dead. Situate in the old Bowling Green, and surrounded by trees, shrub, and railings, it is a spot of peace and quiet in which any mother, any wife or any sister, might go on the anniversary of the battle in which their loved ones lost their lives, and spend a few minutes in peaceful meditation, and in conjuring up a vision of the departed ones.’
The Marquis of Londonderry, to whom the Bowling Green belongs, has made a free gift of it to the town, for all time, and free of rent.
The memorial, which is a granite obelisk with a figure symbolic of Peace and Honour on the front, and with a carving at the top symbolising Justice, it has the Newtownards Crest on the base. It is in reality a County Down memorial for County Down men, for it is composed of granite from the Moor quarries at Newry, and it is quite an imposing structure.
As close as can ascertain l,396 men enlisted from Newtownards and surrounding districts, of whom 316 paid the last sacrifice.’

The inscription is;-

In Memory of the Men of Newtownards and District who laid down their lives serving
King and Country in the Great War 1914 – 1918.
“Lest we forget.”

The Newtownards war memorial was one of the last to be dedicated in Northern Ireland. The only later public memorials were also in County Down – in Ballynahinch (1934) and Newry (1938) – although in recent years new memorials have been erected in some towns.

Today the War Memorial still stands in the Bowling Green, commemorating men who died in a war now almost beyond living memory. It is so familiar a sight as to be almost invisible, but behind its familiar facade lies its own unique story.

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