A century of Enfield Cenotaph

Richard Cowley shares memories from his grandfather who helped establish Enfield’s Grade 2-listed monument to casualties of war

Enfield Cenotaph was officially unveiled on 30th October 1921 at Chase Green Gardens
Enfield Cenotaph was officially unveiled on 30th October 1921 at Chase Green Gardens

This month marks the 100th anniversary of Enfield Cenotaph; a special occasion for my family because of our connection to the monument.

My grandfather was Walter George Cowley and he was the headmaster of the old St Michael’s Boys’ School in Chase Side when the First World War broke out in 1914. Apparently he had tears in his eyes as he watched young men march away to war. Most likely is that among the rows of soldiers were boys he had taught in the school.

Walter was also part of Enfield Patriotic Committee, in the role of secretary. The committee was responsible for the fundraising effort to build a cenotaph in Enfield. The total cost was £909/3/1 and the site chosen was in Chase Green Gardens, at the junction of Windmill Hill and Chase Side. Made of Portland stone, it was built to commemorate the men and boys who never came back.

The cenotaph is very impressive and set within a rectangular paved area bounded by stone pillars linked by chains. A stone casket surmounts the cenotaph and an engraving reads “our glorious dead”. It also now commemorates those lost in the Second World War and in conflicts since.

Walter sadly died in 1933 in a road accident in London Road. Through my brother David Cowley, I have a number of artefacts from him which relate to the cenotaph and how it came to be. There is the exercise book containing the minutes of the patriotic committee from 6th June 1918; there is the programme for the opening on 30th October 1921; the armband Walter wore to the event; and also his own invitation.

The opening was attended by Bishop Suffragen of Willesden and an address was given by Lieutenant General Sir Francis Lloyd, who was a hugely experienced military officer in charge of London during the First World War. He had fought in the Sudanese and Nile campaigns and had been mentioned in despatches at the battle of Hasheen. No doubt his thoughts at the ceremony were of many past comrades.

The Enfield Silver Band played Old Comrades, Land of Hope and Glory, The Better Land and The Creation. A hymn was sung and the bishop gave an address; the memorial was then unveiled. There followed a prayer of dedication of the memorial. To close the ceremony, buglers from the 7th Battalion Territorial Middlesex Regiment played The Last Post.

Today some people do not like the idea of remembrance, feeling that it glorifies war. With friends a few years ago, I visited the graves and memorials in France of soldiers who died on the battlefield. To see those crosses set for boys and young men, sitting row on row on row, I could see no glory. Nor was there any glory, I suspect, for the crowds at the unveiling of the cenotaph in Enfield. The scale of tragedy from that war is beyond our modern comprehension.