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Unveiling of the Great War Cross

NEXT time you walk or drive into the cemetery, have a closer look at the Cross
of Sacrifice which is just inside the grounds behind the north lodge and close
to the short stone wall that marks the first boundary of the cemetery.
It's very impressive.

Similar to scores of war memorials throughout England and abroad, it was designed by architect Sir Reginald Blomfield for the Imperial (later Commonwealth) War Graves Commission. You will see them in Commonwealth war cemeteries containing 40 or more graves.
There are close to 100 in Darwen Cemetery.

There are three sizes of the freestanding, four-point limestone Latin cross, ranging in height from 18 to 32 feet. On the face of the cross is a bronze sword, blade down. It is usually mounted on an octagonal base. The Cross represents the faith of the majority of the dead and the sword represents the military character of the cemetery.

Late last year contractors for the CWGC relaid the stones around the base and the Friends have erected a notice board alongside it.
There is a second notice board by the Lark Street entrance.

Darwen's Cross of Sacrifice was unveiled at a dedication service on the
afternoon of April 20, 1929. It was known as the Great War Cross and the
order of service noted that it had been erected by the Imperial War Graves Commission "to the memory of members of His Majesty's Forces who gave
their lives for their country in the Great War, 1914-18 and who lie buried in
the Borough of Darwen."

Many scores of soldiers, sailors and airmen from Darwen who fought in the
Great War fell in battle and were buried in graves far away from their home
town. The "lucky" ones were buried in Darwen. Many others died of their
wounds in the months and years that followed the end of the conflict.
Others died in the great influenza epidemic that ravaged Europe as the
war ended.

Now, of course, the Cross is also in memory of other members of our
Armed Forces who died in later conflicts around the globe.

The unveiling of Darwen's Great War Cross was quite an occasion and a
large gathering of the great and the good met by the cemetery entrance
at 3.25 that Saturday afternoon. Among them were members of the British
Legion and other ex-service men, clergy and ministers, magistrates,
councillors and the town clerk, representatives of the Imperial War
Graves Commission and Corporation officials. There was a large crowd, every
one of whom had been touched by the war.

A choir under the direction of Mr John Bentham led the singing of the first
hymn "O God, our help in ages past, / Our hope in years to come." and then
the Rev. F Bolton said a prayer. The Rev. GW Stacey read the lesson and this
was followed by the hymn "Jesus, lover of my soul / Let me to thy bosom fly."

Mr EH Wilson of the IWGC officially handed over the War Cross to the Mayor, Councillor Eli Leach, who performed the unveiling. The Mayor's chaplain, the
Rev. A Bond, gave the dedication and there was a final prayer from the
Rev. J Emrys Morgan.

The impressive ceremony concluded with the Last Post, a one-minute silence, Reveille and the National Anthem.

The cemetery in those days must have been impressive. Sadly, over the
years, the last resting place of many local servicemen - and other residents -
was allowed to deteriorate. Only now, through the Friends of Darwen
Cemetery, is a concerted effort being made to bring some measure of
deserved respect to Darwen's heroes of yesteryear.

                                                                       HAROLD HEYS

                                                                       March 2011

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