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Court refuses faculty to change names on two war memorials in Elston

31 March 2023

No need to refer to fallen by legal names only, says court

THE Consistory Court of the diocese of Southwell & Nottingham has refused to grant a faculty permitting alterations to be made to the names on two world war memorials which had been “erected by the Elston people” at the parish church of All Saints’, Elston. The memorials named “Elston men who laid down their lives for their country”. The First World War memorial had seven names on it, and the Second World War memorial had five names.

Two members of the parish had undertaken research into Elston’s fallen, and it was now asserted that three of the 12 names were different from other records, or were wrongly spelled. The Parish Council (not the Parochial Church Council) petitioned for a faculty to make alterations.

At an early stage of the proceedings, it was argued that the Consistory Court had no jurisdiction over the war memorials, and that the issue of whether they should be altered was solely a matter for the Parish Council. The Chancellor, the Worshipful Mark Ockelton, said that there was “no merit in that argument.” The monuments were in the church porch, attached to the church building and fell within the faculty jurisdiction.

There was no general rule that a person or community erecting a memorial, whether or not a war memorial, was obliged to refer to individuals by their full legal names only. A name on a memorial marking an actual resting place of human remains should include the legal or “official” name of the person whose remains were to be found there. But there was no good reason for saying that people who erected a memorial, not associated with a grave, to somebody they loved and respected, should not describe the deceased in any way they chose.

That was of importance because it meant that discovering that a person’s legal name was not the same as the name on the memorial did not necessarily mean that that there was an “error” on the memorial. The inscription on the memorial might well be in the form it was because those who erected the memorial chose it that way. In those circumstances, the alteration of the memorial to show the legal name was not correcting an error, it was substituting a current view of what a memorial should be for the views and wishes of those who erected a memorial to their dead.

There was no general principle that names on a war memorial should exactly match the legal names of the deceased, nor was there a presumption that any errors should be corrected. There was no evidence that those who had known and loved the dead showed any dissatisfaction with the memorials as erected. The proposal for correcting the errors said to have been discovered was incomplete, inconsistent, and unsatisfactory. A war memorial was not a record of the service and deaths of those commemorated: it was a record of the community’s remembrance.

The Chancellor said that “nothing we can say or think — in many cases more than a hundred years later — should be allowed to displace that. For us, the war and the sacrifices made in it are history. For the community at the time, the war was their own experience, and the deaths were their own losses. The precise way in which they chose to mark those losses is entitled to the greatest respect . . . and it is difficult to see why our generation, whose interests are different, has a duty, or even a right, to make alterations to it.”

The full details of those commemorated were available in folders in the church, and there was no need to make the suggested alterations. The faculty was refused.

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