Remembering true courage: Heroes honoured at restored icon

thisisoxfordshire: Norman Smith Norman Smith

It was solemn proof the fallen will never be forgotten.

Ninety-three years after the guns fell silent on the Western Front, 200 people gathered at a painstakingly restored North Oxford memorial to pay their respects.

An open air service of rededication marked the end of a successful campaign to save the St Margaret’s Church war memorial, dedicated to 47 men from nearby streets who died in the First World War.

The unique memorial, depicting Christ hanging from an oak cross, had been left on the verge of collapse by death watch beetle, until a £28,000 fundraising campaign was launched in 2009.

Through War Memorial Trust grants, the sale of a local history book and an open gardens event, supporters raised enough money for specialist conservation to save the memorial.

Bob Smith, 75, from Oxford Road, Kidlington, yesterday paid his respects to his uncle, Norman Smith, honoured on the memorial after dying in France, aged 21, on July 23, 1916.

His grandfather Bob Smith – Norman’s father – was foreman at Lucy’s Foundry in Jericho, which cast the statue of Christ on the memorial.

Mr Smith, who grew up in nearby Southmoor Road, said: “I must have walked past it thousands of times, but it was not until the article in the Oxford Mail two years ago I realised it was a war memorial.

“We came round here and saw my uncle’s name.

“When I was growing up, my father used to say, ‘Our Norman used to do that,’ or something similar, but he had been the older of the two and I never knew him.”

And Paul Bridson, 39, laid a wreath in memory of his two uncles, Charles and John Bridson, both killed within six months of each other on the Western Front.

John Bridson, who is commemorated in a stained glass window in the church, had joined fellow St Edward’s pupils signing up for the Army on the day he finished his sixth form studies. He died, aged just 19, at the Battle of Loos, but his body was never found.

Mr Bridson said: “I have always been aware of what they had done, and am very proud of that. I am only 39, but the fact they are uncles rather than great-uncles or great-great-uncles is quite something.

“It is fantastic that the memorial has been restored and is going to be there for generations to come.”

Sixty children from SS Philip and James’ Primary School and 30 St Aloysius youngsters joined the service, alongside older pupils from St Edward’s.

Local historian Liz Wade, who led fundraising efforts, said: “It was lovely to see so many children here, and the families were very moved that their relatives’ names are still here and the monument has been renovated to last another 100 years.”

The Rev Canon Dr Andrew Bunch said: “It’s important to honour the people who have given their lives in the service of the country, and by doing so, we aid the cause of peace.”

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