St Just War Memorial was dedicated on 30th August 1931 after a prolonged struggle to recognise and honour the sacrifice of the men of the town who died as a result of their military service during World War One.
Most WW1 War Memorials were erected in the early 1920s, the communities of West Penwith are no exception, and there had been a plan to erect a St Just memorial at that time but the high level of social deprivation in the town in 1920 (see St Just Butter March 7 February 1920) meant that the plan was set aside in order to deal with more pressing issues. The subsequent setting up of a branch of the British Legion in St Just gave a focus for a new effort to have a War Memorial with a new plan for a site in the market square rather than the earlier proposal for a monument at Carn Bosavern. The site then became the subject of a prolonged debate involving the town council, the British Legion, ex-servicemen and others. There were frequent letters to the Cornishman and extended reports in the same newspaper of debates in council meetings.
On 19th June 1920 the ex-servicemen of St Just attended the dedication of the Pendeen War Memorial and doubtless the failure of their own community to provide a memorial to their fallen comrades hit a raw nerve. As time went by and no memorial was erected ex-servicemen and their families must have felt a mixture of shame, anger at sorrow as their comrades, sons, brothers and fathers received no public recognition. On two occasions impromptu memorials were set in place in the market square to mark Armistice Day, responses were mixed but the issue remained in the news, to the dismay of many St Just people.
In March 1929 a letter to the Council from ex-servicemen asked what action the Council now proposed to take since it was their obstructiveness that had caused the previous War Memorial Committee to resign in July of the previous year. At the next meeting of the Council the chairman said that it was not the council's business to erect a war memorial. Typically, the issue was held over until the next meeting but the site in the market square remained at the centre of the dispute. Those supporting the site said that the memorial deserved the best and most prominent site available, while those against argued that the market square was already too busy with motor traffic to host such a monument.
In September 1929 the memorial window in St Just parish church was dedicated by the Bishop of Truro. St Just now had a war memorial though not everyone agreed that this was a public memorial, placed as it was within the Anglican parish church. Its dedication seems to have injected some energy into the campaign for a public memorial however.
St Just War Memorial, dedicated 30th August 1931 (photo: Graham May)
On 24th October 1929 the Cornishman reported a public meeting in St Just at which a scheme for a war memorial in the form an illuminated clock, like the one in Bodmin, to be built on a site by the plain, was proposed. The proposal had already won much public support in the form of hundreds of signatures on a petition. Following discussion the proposal was amended to include an additional site in the centre of Bank Square as well as the original suggested site by the plain. Two weeks later the proposal came before the Council who agreed the proposal with the two sites. A new War Memorial Committee was formed and the job of fund raising commenced with appeals both at home and abroad. By the end of July 1930 the committee was at last in a position to issue and invitation to tender for the job of erecting the St Just War Memorial.
Just as success seemed assured the Cornishman carried news of another blow: on Saturday 8th November 1930, the day before Armistice Day, all the men at Geevor, with the exception of those manning the pumps, were been paid off. Another period of severe distress for the parish seemed to beckon. In response the next Council meeting agreed to petition to County Council to widen the road to St Ives to provide employment while at the same time carrying out a much needed road improvement. At the same meeting a rumour that the County Council was going to refuse permission for the War Memorial was discussed.
By 8th January 1931 the War memorial fund had over £300 in the bank but had as yet received no assurances regarding the proposed site. Correspondence published in the Cornishman of 5th March 1931 made it clear the County Council had indeed refused permission and that furthermore they had conducted enquiries with a view to examining to possibility of erecting the War Memorial inside the Plain. Not surprisingly the Commissioner of his Majesty's Works had turned down this plan which would have meant building on a scheduled ancient monument of national significance. It was the site in the middle of Bank Square that had been refused and at a meeting on the 26th March 1931 the War Memorial Committee bowed to the inevitable and agreed to accept the only site now available, the one by the Plain. At the same meeting they were read a letter from Mr F.H. Carslaw, a member of the previous committee which had resigned in July 1928 and now resident in Abingdon. Mr Carslaw said that while he sympathised with their position he could not accept the site near the plain and as a result he was instructing them to divide his £5 subscription between Canon Taylor and the Reverend Cape to be used for the welfare of the poor of the parish.
On 2nd April 1931 the Council's approval of the plan to build an illuminated clock tower war memorial on a site by the plain, precise measurements being supplied, was recorded by the Cornishman. At the next meeting of the War Memorial Committee it was decided that, because of the hard times in St Just, the memorial should be of concrete rather than granite. At 8am on Wednesday 20th May 1931 Mr R.T. Nicholas cut the first sod for the erection of the St Just Public War Memorial. “At long last”, said the Cornishman!
More than 10 years after the initial plans were drawn up, and after many false dawns, bureaucratic obstacles and much acrimonious dispute, the St Just Public War Memorial was dedicated on Sunday 30th August 1931. It was designed by Henry Thomas and executed by John Angwin and William Trezise, all St Just men. Engraving was by J.H. Trevenen of Penzance and the monument was unveiled by the Hon. W.C. Angwin, Agent General of Western Australia, born in St Just. When erected the War Memorial carried the names of 45 men from St Just who died in World War One. Like W.C. Angwin, some of these men had left for foreign parts, but they were all St Just men remembered, finally, by their home town.
St Just War Memorial (photo: Graham May)