A Unique Memorial

Visitors to the museum last November (2018) may remember seeing our exhibition, For The Fallen, which was centered around a unique, painted wall hanging, created to commemorate and honour the 5th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment. One year later, at this time of remembrance, I wanted to revisit the history and meaning of this special object.

What is it?

Central portion of the 22m long, 3m high, wall hanging

The wall hanging depicts a panorama of the battlefields fought over by the 5th North Staffords during the First World War together with a list of the names of 906 soldiers who lost their lives. It is painted on canvas normally used to make kitchen blinds and measures approximately 22 metres long and nearly 3 metres tall. The fabric was donated by Gordon Dyke of Bratt & Dyke’s department store in Hanley.

It was designed by Major Tom Simpson MC, who painted the canvas with the help of a team of artists in 1928.

As well as the grand panorama and roll of honour, the wall hanging contains many small details: snapshots of soldier’s lives in the trenches, rats scavenging for food, and adverts affixed to the walls of ruined towns and villages. Many of these scenes are based on real events sketched or witnessed by soldiers of the 5th North Staffords whilst serving on the Western Front.

Why was it made?

The first reunion of the 5th North Staffords took place in 1920 at King’s Hall, Stoke. The dinners became an annual event and it was proposed that a memorial canvas be created to mark the 10th anniversary in 1929. The banner design was the concept of Major Tom Simpson, who worked closely with a team of artists, at least two of whom (W. Sheard and Cyril Johnson) were also former members of the battalion.

Artists at work, 1928
Artist’s initials on the wall hanging – including those of William Sheard and Cyril Johnson

Tom served with distinction in both World Wars and was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in 1915. He was Chairman of the 5th North Staffords Old Comrades Association and Managing Director of Simpsons (Potters) Ltd of Cobridge. He was also President of the British Ceramic Society, Fellow of the Institute of Ceramics and founder member of the British Pottery Research Association. On his death in 1967 he was described in the Sentinel as ‘one of the outstanding personalities in the pottery industry’.

The hanging was first used in February 1929 and the last recorded use was in 1953. The Roll of Honour was added in the 1930s. The part played by the wall hanging during these dinners was described in moving detail in 1947:

The lights were extinguished and an arc light was switched on, and while drums rolled it slowly traversed the length of one of the walls of the large room upon which was stretched a composite landscape painting depicting in chronological panorama the various battle areas in which the unit served from 1914 to 1918.

And again in 1949:

[T]he room was plunged into darkness, and to the roll of drums a spotlight traversed up and down the panorama, picking out the famous battlefields. As the spotlight focused on the centre Cadet Force buglers heralded the 2-minute silence with the Last Post and afterwards sounded the Reveille.

Where is it now?

The banner is currently in the museum stores and is waiting to go out for conservation work – funded from the entrance fees from For the Fallen, and generous public donations.

Roll of Honour

In you can explore all 906 names on the Roll of Honour by clicking on the link below and downloading the image (right click, ‘save image as’).

EXPLORE THE ROLL OF HONOUR

Written by Joe Perry (Curator, Local History)

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