The labour of love at Lilley memorial

Lilley councillor Roy Simmons at the village war memorial
Lilley councillor Roy Simmons at the village war memorial

Lilley councillor Roy Simmons, 65, has never been to Flanders.

But he has faithfully replicated the simple white crosses that mark so many World War One graves – immortalised by John McCrae’s much-loved poem ‘In Flanders Fields.’

Six now stand on each side of the village war memorial, in a unique tribute that is already generating poignant comment among locals and visitors alike.

Roy admits making them from salvaged wood was a profoundly emotional experience.

The 12 crosses commemorate not only the 10 men whose names are proudly engraved on Lilley’s flint-encrusted cenotaph but also one who’s buried in the churchyard behind it, dying of his wounds after the war ended, as well as the unknown soldier.

The grandfather-of-four said: “We wouldn’t have the life we have today if it hadn’t been for those lads – and they were lads. You think of World War One as being dusty old memories of dusty old men – but the youngest from the village was Sidney Clark. He was only 19 when he died, three months into the war.”

Roy added: “We wanted to do something to mark the anniversary and to make a statement. Because whatever you think about the rights or wrongs of it, the losses were horrendous.”

The former journeyman electrician was helped in his memorial mission by clerk to the council Steve Patmore, who lives opposite St Peter’s Church.

Roy said: “There was talk about putting the crosses on the village green, but that didn’t seem quite right, so we decided to place them around the war memorial.”
He carefully calculated the size of the crosses from old photographs and they were put a body length apart.

He said: “We spent a day mortising each piece and it came home to me there must have been whole regiments making coffins – if it took us that long to make a dozen markers, how long must hundreds of thousands taken?

“It affected us both and I know I was welling up. There was a significance to it, and I felt very proud and humble to be involved.”

> Have you seen the Lilley memorial? Tell us what you think. Our details are on page 4.