The bloody slaughter of World War I ended on November 11, 1918, and the ink was barely dry on the armistice paper when Kingstonians began considering a fitting memorial to the hundreds of local men killed in battle during the previous four years.

But views on what constitutes a fitting memorial were so diverse, and so fuelled by the raw grief of the bereaved, there was risk of a local war starting, even as the world one was ending.

Conflict began at a public meeting convened by the then Mayor of Kingston, Alderman Sir Charles Burge.

He was adamant that Kingston should have a “monument of artistic beauty, worthy of the grand traditions of the royal borough, and an honour to our dead heroes for all time”, and warned that “a mean or a poor memorial would be an insult to the men who will never return, and a perpetual reproach to the town, whereas a beautiful memorial would be a lasting consolation to them”.

Confident of carrying public opinion, he said he had already persuaded “one of the most fertile brains in Kingston” to suggest a suitable memorial, and had got an artist to prepare sketches, which were passed round for inspection.

He did not get the response he had hoped for.

Many accused him of trying to force a cut-and-dried scheme on the gathering.

Some thought a carillon at the town hall or the church would be more appropriate.

Others wanted a memorial hall or an educational centre. One called for “the erection of cottages with a memorial in the centre”.

Another commended the example of Slough, where the memorial was taking the form of a maternity and child welfare centre.

Then came the question of where the memorial, whatever it turned out to be, should be sited. Canbury Gardens was suggested, as were Queen’s Promenade and Clarence Street.

The meeting – said by a Comet reporter to have degenerated into “irrelevant argument” – was finally brought to order by the passing of a motion “that this meeting of the inhabitants of the borough requests the Mayor to raise a fund worthily to commemorate the sacrifices of the men of Kingston upon Thames who have given their lives for their country, and this meeting agrees to support the Mayor in the attainment of this object.”

It proved a tough challenge.

Though public spirit for the project was strong, post-war poverty made donations weak.

Nevertheless, by 1920 there was enough in the kitty to commission a work from Richard Goulden, a former Royal Engineer who had been invalided out of the army, and become one of the most eminent sculptors of the day, noted for the quality of the plaques, memorials and other works he created all over the UK.

In February 1922, the Surrey Comet printed an urgent appeal for donations to complete the project.

Eight weeks later, it reported that not only had the money been raised “at last”, but permission had been granted to place Goulden’s creation in “the old burial ground” – the site we know today as the Memorial Gardens in Union Street.

Thus, nearly five years after that first argumentative gathering in the town hall, Kingston achieved a finely-crafted memorial of which it could be truly proud.

It was officially unveiled by the MP for Kingston, Frederick Penny, on Armistice Day 1923.

Meanwhile, the former burial ground in which it stands was being restructured as a public garden in memory of all Kingstonians, civilian and military, lost in the Great War.

It opened in 1926, and has been a green haven in the town centre ever since.

This weekend’s Remembrance Sunday is also the 90th “birthday” of Kingston’s war memorial, and it is interesting to recall the views of the corporation committee which selected it all those years ago.

Their words seem equally relevant in today’s war-torn world: “The committee were unanimously of the opinion that, primarily, the memorial should serve as a perpetual reminder of the noble effort and sacrifice of those who fought to rid the world of a menace to civilisation in the form of ruthless aggression, and to purge the way of life for the generations that follow.

Members also felt that mere effigies of soldiers failed to do this. Moreover, the contemplation of such things probably tend to create the very attitude of mind that makes war possible.”

Those were the views that shaped the monument that looks out over Church Street and Union Street today.

It consists of a granite plinth surmounted by the bronze statue of a man shielding two children with a sword in one hand and a flame held in the other.

To quote the original selection committee: “The group represents the spirit of youth pressing forward, helping on the little ones who look to him in trust to clear from the path the evil that threatens mankind...”

The plinth has several bronze plates bearing the names of more than 600 Kingston military personnel known to have died in action.

But there are thought to have been about 100 more whose names could not be verified.

Many of Britain’s memorials are in such disrepair that the Government has issued an appeal for them to be restored in time for the observance next year of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I.

The appeal does not apply to Kingston where, thanks to the vigilance of Marie-Claire Edwards, the council’s service manager for green spaces, and Lionel Randell, leader of a maintenance team from Quadron landscape services, the town centre memorial and its garden are cared for.

Says Lionel, a local resident with a passion for local history: “My team is in the gardens daily, litter picking and bin-emptying, and the lawns are cut bi-weekly."

The memorial itself gets an annual pressure wash, but if there’s too much mess from pigeons etc, Marie-Claire allows an extra clean.

She plays a big part in our heritage, and things like looking after the memorials are a credit to her.”

Lionel says people often ask why the memorial bears the inscription: “The Great War 1914-1919”.

He explains: “What we actually remember is the day the fighting stopped on November 11, 1918.

"But the war did not formally end until the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919 – five years to the day after Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated.”

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