Misspelled memorial ‘disrespectful’ to soldier who died during WW1

Walter Witham, who died age 26 at sea
Walter Witham, who died age 26 at sea

A woman from Rotherham is fighting to have her great uncle’s name corrected on a village war memorial, over a century after he died age 26 whilst serving in World War One. 

The memorial pillar in Killamarsh

The memorial pillar in Killamarsh

Anne Jarvis, aged 69, from Kiveton Park, says the misspelling of Gunner Walter Witham’s surname as ‘Whitam’ on the memorial stone in High Street, Killamarsh is ‘disrespectful’ to the soldier who fought with the Royal Horse and Field Artillery in Gallipoli in 1915.

She has been battling with Killamarsh Parish Council for months to correct the error, but says they are denying custodianship of the memorial instead saying that when it was completed it was signed over to the Royal British Legion.

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She said: “Some people will say that it doesn’t matter, but it does matter. The only way we are remembered is by our name. 

The correct spelling of Witham on the Helles war memorial in Turkey

The correct spelling of Witham on the Helles war memorial in Turkey

“He is commemorated correctly on the Helles memorial in Turkey. They can get it right over there, but not where he lived.

“In 100 years we will be gone, and his memory may be forgotten. When people look up his name to research him they won’t know who he is, they’ll be able to in Turkey, but not in Killamarsh.”

Anne says Walter, who was originally from Chesterfield, moved to Wales Bar, before ending up in Killamarsh.

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She added: “He moved to Wales Bar when his father died, with his mum and brother John. He later married Gertrude Lane, and went to live in Killamarsh where they had a daughter, Elizabeth in 1913.

“Our side of the family lost touch, but I’ve always known about him, when you hear stories you remember, and I started to put the pieces together.

“He fought in Gallipoli, where he was taken ill and was sent home on a hospital ship. He actually died on the ship on Christmas day, and I believe he was buried at sea.”

Anne initially contacted the Parish Council in July, hoping it would give them enough time to correct the misspelling before the 100th Anniversary of the end of hostilities. 

However, she says they have been ‘very disrespectful’ in their handling of the situation, and after initial correspondence they have now reached an impasse in the argument.

Unfortunately whoever is responsible for the memorial remains unclear.

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The new memorial was erected in 2011 by public subscription, after concerns that the original memorial – a stain glass window at St Giles Church – did not match people’s expectations of what a memorial should be, as the names were only visible inside the church.

The War Memorials Trust released a statement on the issue, it said: “If the parish council did not participate in the new war memorial project they may not take responsibility for it, as it would be expected to remain with the group that created it unless formal arrangements have been made.

“It may be the case that the parish council retains an involvement with the original memorial. Whilst the 1923 Local Authorities Powers Act enables local authorities such as a parish council to maintain war memorials whether vested in them or not, it does not oblige them to.

“War Memorials Trust understands that, under their charitable guidelines the Royal British Legion is unable to spend its funds on war memorials, so it would seem unlikely that they would be a custodian.”

According to Anne, the council have said they can add Walter’s name again correctly, but the War Memorial Trust have branded this ‘inappropriate' stating they would not support the addition of the name spelt correctly at the bottom as that would duplicate the individual being remembered.

Despite the confusion Killamarsh residents are asking the Parish Council to do the right thing.

Stephen Jarvis said: “How can they call themselves a Parish Council disgraceful and very disrespectful they should be ashamed of themselves!”

Amy Boyd added: “How disrespectful is this?!”

The Star have contacted Killamarsh Parish Council for a response.