In early 1917, there was a strong sense that this would be the year of victory. The directors of the East London Cemetery were so confident that they had it set in stone.
In February 1917, a new monument was unveiled in the East London Cemetery. Under a celtic cross and over a soldier’s cap, rifle and sword set in bronze, the monument’s main message read:
THE MEMORY OF
THE BRITISH EMPIRE
WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES
IN THE CAUSE
FREEDOM AND HONOUR
IN THE WAR
1914 – 1917
At some point the latter date was removed and, after the war, replaced with ‘1918’ to leave the monument as it stands today:
On its other faces the directors express their sympathy of the families of the dead and their gratitude to the maimed servicemen and record the full list of Britain’s allies (which includes the ‘US America’, presumably added after they entered the war later in 1917).
The preemptory inclusion of an end-date for the war is an interesting reflection on the optimism hope felt early in 1917 that the war would indeed end that year. It is a reminder of the obvious fact that one must bear in mind when reading contemporary material from the Great War – that they simply did not know how much longer it would last.
West Ham and South Essex Mail, February 1917
Thanks to Dai (DeeGeeBee51) for permission to use his photograph of the cross