The great war was horrific both for the soldiers and local communities which suffered very heavy losses. As many of those who enlisted were friends, colleagues or relations, the idea was that by enlisting together in the local Pals battalions they would stay together during their service.
The casualty lists that came back after the 1st of July 1916 devastated some of the communities which had sent these Pals battalions. As friends, colleagues and relations had joined up together, so they often died together, and families, streets and whole communities grieved together when the telegrams arrived.
Beckenham parents would have watched as their children, some as young as 15 went off to war not knowing if they would ever return. Today, mothers watch as their 15 year old children set off for school. Britain’s demand on it’s men did not find Beckenham unresponsive. Men young and old, were ready to go to war.
With its manhood on the front Beckenham’s social activities came to a standstill. The improvised hospitals and other emergency institutions combined to counteract the anticipated demoralisation diligently and adequately. It was during this time of great national necessity that one of Beckenham’s most enterprising movements commenced. Women took over in the shops, on the land, made munitions, became conductors and drivers of the buses and ambulances and as nurses in the hospitals for the wounded soldiers coming from the coast to Beckenham. Hospitals ran by the Red Cross sprang up all over Beckenham, notably at Kelsey Manor, Christ Church School and the newly built schools of Balgowan. Dr G R Stilwell, grandson of Dr Ratheram Stilwell, was the Commandant at Balgowan. The Beckenham War Relief commenced operation. Allotments were developed, and became a source of much needed supplies.
Every knock on the door, was anticipated heartbreak. Rumours would have been running rife without proper lines of communication and the end to the war could not be predicted. Every one in Beckenham would have known someone who died or was injured.
In 1918, weary of futile, reasonless slaughter, the world signed a treaty of “peace”. Beckenham’s part in the war can be estimated by the fact that 835 soldiers were treated in Christ Church Hospital.
Upon returning home soldiers would have been forced quickly back into work to support their families, some factories would have closed at the start of the war never to re-open, these men would certainly have struggled. As many as 711 did not return and a far greater number returned injured, both mentally and physically and were burdened with those scars for the duration of their life.
In 1919 Beckenham realised at once the suitability and moral necessity of a memorial in the High Street to those who had fallen. Every November on remembrance day there is a Memorial service, the returnees and their families would have attended to reflect on the horror that was WW1, their lives would never be the same again.
There were 711 names inscribed on 12 tablets when the Beckenham memorial was unveiled by Sgt B Hanscombe DCM, MM on 24 July 1921. All the 711 names were from WWI. Over 300 forces names were added in 1950 from WWII with 288 civilians including 22 children, 30 AFS and 12 Civil Defence.