By Major David J Nicholson – The Green Howards, Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own Yorkshire Regiment
Background to the Green Howards Memorial
On the 25th May 1904 in the presence of the Lord Mayor of York, the Sheriff and the Corporation, Major General Sir Leslie Rundle unveiled the obelisk, which was erected in the memory of members of The Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards) who lost their lives in the South Africa war, 1899 – 1902. Following the ceremony the care of the monument was handed over to the Lord Mayor, Councillor Wragge, for its safe keeping in perpetuity.
When first erected those responsible could not have imagined that the peaceful area chosen for the memorial would be, today, surrounded on all sides by heavy traffic, thereby denying the public safe access to the memorial. To put this into context, the first of 15 million Model T Fords was not produced until 1908. So no one present at that unveiling ceremony could have anticipated that the memorial to those who had died would be inaccessible due to significant and constant levels of heavy traffic.
During the three-year South Africa War campaign, a total of 248 Green Howards lost their lives, 186 from sickness, 62 killed in action. All their names are inscribed on the obelisk. The memorial is one of the first in this country that commemorates the men who died and not just their leaders, in a democratic move that reflected the political landscape of the day, and an acknowledgement of the impact deaths had on the families they left behind. Many of those men may still be known to relatives living in York and North Yorkshire.
One hundred and seventeen years on from its installation, we have stressed at many Castle Gateway Scheme public consultation events the opportunity it presents to relocate the Regiment’s obelisk to a more tranquil, respectful and accessible place, befitting those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. I believe that this move is agreed in principle.
There has been discussion previously about the suitability of Tower Gardens as a location. There are some difficulties with this suggestion; some of the trees may need to be removed to accommodate the obelisk; the gardens flood regularly, which could damage the memorial; and lastly it would conflict with the pop up commercial activities such as the YO1 Beach Club, the aim of which is the antithesis of a tranquil and peaceful place!
The Eye of York
As stated in the Open Brief, the Eye of York is seen as having important symbolic uses based on its histories. It is a place of authority, and is a place that has been defined by its Castle and later Prisons and a Court. The brief and related documents list other significant historic events to make the point, not least remembering the Jews murdered in the Tower in 1190.
We believe that remembering our Yorkshire soldiers properly falls into this category in a way that befits those who died in the service of their country, however long ago or for whatever reason, and would like to suggest that the appropriate future position for the memorial in on the green alongside or replacing the oak tree.
There has been extensive public discussion about the retention or otherwise of the central oak tree; there is probably adequate space to accommodate both the tree and the obelisk. The memorial would contribute a historical gravitas to the public realm, giving it a focal point and contributing to a quiet area that could be used for peace and reflection; both of which are much needed today.