Cheltenham Civic Society is fundraising for the creation of a permanent exhibition of Cheltenham’s First World War battlefield crosses at the town’s cemetery in Bouncer’s Lane.
When soldiers died in battle, their comrades made crude wooden crosses to mark their graves. Then after the war, the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) laid the soldiers’ bodies to rest in war graves cemeteries and returned the battlefield crosses to their families. In Cheltenham, a corner of the cemetery was provided for these crosses. But over the decades that followed, many of them slowly disintegrated.
In the late 2010s, Cheltenham Civic Society obtained a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of £9,800 to conserve the surviving 22 crosses. One of the Society’s members, Freddie Gick, led the project and got pupils of Pittville School to research the histories of the soldiers – with their stories being published in a booklet about the project, which you can download here: Cheltenham’s battlefield crosses.
With the crosses conserved, the Covid pandemic halted plans to put the crosses on permanent exhibition. But the Civic Society is now intent on completing the project by displaying the crosses in an old gravediggers’ hut at the cemetery that has been provided by Cheltenham Borough Council. The permanent display – to be open for free to the public during cemetery opening hours – will provide details of the project and the soldiers the crosses relate to.
“Seeing these crosses and understanding what they represent, is a very moving experience,” said Cheltenham Civic Society Chair, Andrew Booton. “It is very important that we complete the project and enable the public to experience the same feelings and learn about some of the town’s soldiers who gave their lives for the country.”
To achieve this final part of the project, another Civic Society member, Colin Smith, is leading a campaign to raise £10,000 to pay for the exhibition and upgrades to the hut including solar-powered lighting. Pledges of more than £5,000 have already been received and potential donors should contact Colin via: email@example.com