November marks a time of remembrance as we say thank you to our armed forces for their service and commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
In Rotherham, a sombre and moving tribute to the military community has been installed at the Centenary Market with a cascade of 22,000 hand-knitted poppies and a Wall of Fallen Heroes.
The project began in 2018 by market traders Ann and William Savage of Ann’s Candy. Together with support from the council, volunteers, and the Rotherham Rawmarsh & Parkgate branch of the Royal British Legion, the annual event continues to grow.
With her grandfather and great uncle having both served their country in the military, Ann decided to give recognition to the many men from Rotherham whose stories have gone untold.
There are around 80 photographs on the Wall of Fallen Heroes, many of which have been donated by family members of those who died during the wars or who have since passed away. Amongst the black and white images are tributes from loved ones, handwritten notes from sons, daughters and grandchildren, sharing details about the plight of their heroes.
Heroes like Private Harry Roberts from Thrybergh who served in the Coldstream Guards in the First World War and was killed at La Bassee in August 1914 aged 25. His photo was found behind a framed print of a tiger when it fell off the wall and was in a sorry state. But thanks to the help of Barry Woodward, himself now in his 80s, it was digitally restored to bring some dignity back to Pte Roberts.
Barry helped restore and reproduce the majority of the images donated and did a lot of historical research into the soldiers’ lives. He colourised a photograph of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Sapper Lawrence Morris from Canklow who was captured and sent to the largest Nazi Prisoner of War camp, Moosburg Stalag 7a.
There are images of war graves overseas, war medals that bear the only reminder of a family’ loss, and wedding photos of the men before they enlisted. One photo shows a bride wearing a dress made from the silk of a parachute, highlighting how women had to economise during the war.
Most of the men who fought during the wars were under 30, but one photo shows a soldier on horseback, named as Joseph Buller, who was only 16 when he joined the Welsh Regiment in WWI. Soldiers came from all walks of life and all faiths, with the Wall of Heroes paying tribute to the Sikh, Muslim and Jamaican soldiers who fought side by side.
Sadly, there is one photo of an unknown soldier and Ann would love to trace his family.
“That one always makes me cry when I see it. Everyone deserves a name, so I call him George. But it would be very special if we could find more about him,” she says.
Scattered throughout the photographs are handmade poppies and textile displays that have been donated by scores of people from Yorkshire. All along the banister from the bottom of the ramp to the end of the balcony hang displays of poppies by community groups or individuals. Ann’s personal tribute has purple poppies in memory of the military animals, while her mum Rene painstakingly created 5,000 red poppies before she sadly passed away last year.
This year there are three new textile displays which have been donated to the installation. Volunteers from Clifton Park Museum’s peggers have kindly given a peg rug they made in 2014, and Nora, one of the knit and natter ladies, has made a new cushion cover with a needlefelt 3D cross.
Another knit and natter lady, Pauline, has spent hours embroidering all the names off the Cenotaph in Clifton Park onto a Union Jack flag which hangs next to the three tapestry angels – for Sea, Land and Earth – which she previously made.
How can you get involved?
The Rotherham Poppy Cascade was officially launched by Mayor of Rotherham, Cllr Jenny Andrews, and will be in display until Saturday 4th December.
You can pay your respects in All Saints’ Square on Armistice Day, Thursday 11th November, or at the Sunday at Clifton Park on 14th November. On Saturday 13th November, there will be also be a street party in the outdoor covered market from 10.30am.
Together with fellow market trader Debbie of Vivid Jewellery, Ann has been fundraising all year to take 100 veterans and OAPs for Christmas lunch at the Fitzwilliam Arms at Parkgate.
This year, the Royal British Legion is celebrating its centenary year having supported the military community for 100 years, helping with everything from housing, debt and pension advice to providing dementia care, support for independent living, and holiday breaks.
You can back their annual fundraising appeal by donating and wearing your poppy with pride. The Rotherham Rawmarsh and Parkgate branch will have poppy sellers in supermarkets around the town. They will also be at the many acts of remembrance mentioned above, as well as others at Moorgate Cemetery, where there are 80 war graves, and Moorgate Care Village.
This year, the poppy crosses will be back at the Cenotaph at Clifton Park, as they have been for the last five years. But chairman of the Rotherham Rawmarsh & Parkgate RBL, Ron Moffett, is appealing for sponsors to help sustain the future of the crosses now the current ones are getting past their best.
If you or someone you know is connected to the military and needs any support or assistance, call the Veterans Gateway on 0808 802 1212 or text 81212.