The Soldier Returns

For many years Jacksdale and Westwood residents have been longing for a new soldier to grace the top of the war memorial but it just seemed an impossible task, something that we would never be able to afford and would therefore never happen.  Petitions had been raised over the years and the war memorial has always been looked after and cherished but a new soldier seemed to be beyond our wildest imaginings.

In 2007 our then BADJER News Editor, Tina Moult decided to run a front page story in the June edition entitled  “It’s Time Our Soldier Was Back” with an appeal “Anyone who has an interest in replacing our soldier – please contact BADJER News”  I think many of us thought it was a nice sentiment but that little would probably ever come of it. But to our surprise a volunteer did come forward from the village, Jeff North who announced that he would make sure the soldier did come back and was prepared to start fundraising and even sell the shirt off his back if it came to it.   Jeff seemed to believe it could happen so why then, shouldn’t we?
Our first port of call was to contact Beresfords of Belper, the stonemasons who actually erected the war memorial to see if any of the original plans had survived but unfortunately no records had been kept.

Dec 2008 Survey & Investigative Work

We then tried to discover how much a new soldier might cost and stonemasons were sought up and down the land.  It seemed there were few that we could find who had the experience for such an undertaking.  All sorts of questions arose – should the soldier be made in white carrara marble like the first one, or should he be moulded in cast carrara or carved from stone?  What sort of technical difficulties might there be – could the war memorial,  now nearly ninety years old, support a new soldier and why did the first soldier really fall off and could it happen again? Would nearby phone lines and trees now be in the way?  And what about planning permission – would the council turn us down?
After months of phone calls and emails Jeff managed to find a company in Gloucestershire, named Centreline who had recently restored a soldier for the village of Coundon in Northumberland.  This was a great discovery and inspired us enormously because if another village could do it then why couldn’t we?  We decided to get through the minefield of red tape and form filling before we started fund-raising in earnest.  We did not want to start collecting donations and then be in the embarrassing position of having to give the money back because the memorial could not take the weight or we were turned down for planning permission.  Instead we decided to hopefully create a ripple of interest before launching a big appeal. Jeff obtained a WW1 Soldier’s uniform and attended the Remembrance Day Parade in the village in November 2007, and laid a wreath at the memorial dressed as the ‘unknown soldier’. Public curiosity was aroused and touched by this gesture.
But further problems seemed to hinder the project.  We were told we needed a structural survey of some kind to ascertain the strength of the memorial but nobody seemed qualified to do it.  Stonemasons told us it should be a surveyor or structural engineer, surveyors told us it should be assessed by a specialist stonemason – we were going around in circles and also nowhere fast!

Finally we found a company who were qualified to undertake a survey but it would cost £1500 and the results might not be favourable.  We went, ‘cap in hand’ to BADJER and asked  them to cover the cost of the survey and that the Soldier Project  would raise funds to pay it back.  BADJER’s bank account took quite a dip in funds due to this and the cost of planning permission.

At this point we hoped we were closer to turning the dream into a reality and having just spent £1500 of village funds we thought we had better start fund raising right away.  The Heritage Group dusted off their photograph albums and tidied up their files, phoned a few Heritage Groups around and about and  before we knew it a Heritage Day was planned for October 2008.  The day was attended by hundreds of supporters and raised in excess of £500.  BBC  East Midlands Today  very kindly sent a cameraman and Jeff  was photographed at the Memorial.

We were soon to discover that the £1500 survey was inconclusive.  Despite exhaustive tests the memorial’s inner construction could not be decided.  The bore holes just indicated that the memorial was not solid inside. It was probably clamped together with iron rods or plates but what were their condition? The memorial would have to be opened up and a further survey arranged.
Faced with the costs of a more thorough survey quoted at £4500 the project now seemed doomed to failure.  We just did not have the money and would have to look for funding to go a step further.  We were also worried that we could spend £4500 only to be told we also needed a new memorial.  At this point, Local Councillor Liz Mays and County Councillor Joan Taylor looked for other areas of funding. The Nottinghamshire County Councils ‘Building Better Communities’ scheme was approached, and an application from Jeff North reached the officers of the NCC heritage section and was selected for funding.
The first stage was to fully investigate the current structure, and stonemason Mark Stafford’s company began their investigation shortly after Remembrance Sunday 2008. The stone name plinths were removed to allow access to the interior, which was discovered to be hollow and rubble filled, supporting a metal-braced stone block which the statue would have been attached to. The structure was reinforced in order to allow the reinstatement of a new statue, and was then thoroughly cleaned, with damaged and re-carved areas of stone replaced.
Whilst this work was carried out, Jeff North and the NCC officers had met with the masons at Centreline Stone to discuss the history of the site and work out how Centreline could provide a replacement statue as close as possible to the original.  By late January, a full scale drawing and a half-sized clay mock-up had been created in Gloucestershire, the type of stone for the replacement statue was finalised and the block that would become the new statue was ordered.

It took three or four months to carve the new soldier and the masons had to work from old photographs as best they could. Photographs of the soldier in progress were sent to the village and the story was covered by BBC Radio Gloucestershire.

Our new soldier arrived in the village on the morning of 12th June 2009 greeted by a gathering of excited villagers. It took Centreline three or so hours to position and prepare the new top plinth and tension built as the crowd waited. At last the upright packing crate the soldier had been transported from Gloucester in was finally opened, and we caught our first glimpse. The soldier was hoisted by crane and carefully guided onto the base posts. We had a few minutes to enjoy the spectacle before the soldier was veiled with a golden silk cloth ready for the Soldier Day celebrations on Sunday 14th June 2010.

The Soldier Day Celebrations, funded by Grassroots, were all that we could have dreamed of and all the hard work, planning and preparation paid off. The day was attended by the Lord Lieutenant of Nottingham, plus many other dignitaries, the standard bearers of the Royal British Legion, the Mercian Regimental Mascot, Private Derby and a representative from every armed force and regiment. The service of dedication was attended by a crowd of four to five thousand. There was a veteran’s buffet, concert by local children and teenagers, renditions by the Pye Hill Male Voice Choir and the Beeston Pipe and Drum Band. The day’s celebrations culminated with a good old knees up at the world war two tribute dance. The day was so successful, that the return of the soldier has now become part of our local ‘folk lore’ and the villagers celebrate ‘Jack’s’ return in June every year.