Debate rages over changes to village’s Remembrance Sunday commemorations

The parade passes the war memorial in Rothbury. Picture by Mary Scott
The parade passes the war memorial in Rothbury. Picture by Mary Scott

A war of words has broken out after ‘grim’ weather conditions prompted last-minute changes to a Northumberland village’s Remembrance Sunday commemorations.

Plans had been in place in Rothbury for the annual procession to the war memorial for an outdoor service and wreath-laying, following a civic service in All Saints’ Church.

Crowds wait in the rain at Rothbury. Picture by Mary Scott

Crowds wait in the rain at Rothbury. Picture by Mary Scott

However, due to the wind and the rain, those behind the event decided it was best for the tributes to be laid inside the church at the altar and then move them to the cenotaph in time for tomorrow’s Armistice Day commemorations at 11am.

It meant that the traditional outdoor service and wreath-laying at the war memorial was cancelled, although the Rothbury Highland Pipe Band led the procession past the cenotaph where Air Vice-Marshall Sandy Hunter (ret) and Colonel Tony Glenton took the salute.

However, not everyone was impressed with the decision to lay the wreaths inside the church, with some saying they were left out in the rain at the war memorial for no reason, unaware that the last-minute changes had taken place. The incident has sparked debate on Facebook.

Katherine Foggon wrote: “Very disappointing. All people had to do was get wrapped up. As someone else pointed out, the boys in the trenches didn’t have the option not to go over the top if it was raining. It is a small sacrifice for us to pay to stand in the rain for 15 to 20 minutes. I am very happy to make my point face-to-face with whoever made this decision because personally I think it was the wrong one!”

Air Vice-marshall Sandy Hunter and Colonel Tony Glenton took the salute at the war memorial in Rothbury. Picture by Mary Scott

Air Vice-marshall Sandy Hunter and Colonel Tony Glenton took the salute at the war memorial in Rothbury. Picture by Mary Scott

Craig R Armstrong posted: “I was at Morpeth and the weather (which I’d describe as typically Novemberish) did not affect proceedings. In my opinion war memorials are the places for acts of remembrance.”

However, Katie Arkle, who played in the band, said: “I stepped out of the church to see people waiting (by the war memorial) and yes I felt an awful guilt knowing we would march past.

“However the more I remember I sat in church on Sunday and among us were the elderly, frail, humble medal-wearing people that we all talk about who fought, lost friends, family and innocence. And I realised that sadly some would have really struggled on Sunday and yes there were many of you waiting at the war memorial but these people would have equally been excluded had it gone ahead.

“The poppies would have blown away before the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour. Instead they are kept safe inside the church where they will no doubt be brought out from on Wednesday to symbolise what we all wanted to and all shall remember. Yes we were all disappointed that the usual parade did not go ahead as we had all planned. But please remember what Sunday was about, remembrance.”

In a letter to the Gazette, and trying to explain the situation, Rothbury Parish Council chairman Mark Gilson said: “You will be aware that after last year’s Remembrance Sunday parade winds gusting to 50mph spread our tributes to the fallen as far east as Barclays bank.

“This year the weather forecast suggested that strong winds and rain would produce the same result. The Royal British Legion, the church and myself, having consulted with as many of the other organisations as possible, decided that the conditions looked grim enough at 1.30pm for us to expect a repeat performance of last year. We therefore agreed to lay our tributes in front of the altar in All Saints’ to be transferred to the war memorial in good time for the act of commemoration at 11am tomorrow.

“We apologise to those who then spent a lonely vigil at the cenotaph, but we did attempt to tell as many people as possible of the changes we instigated.”

On his Facebook page, Coun Steven Bridgett, ward member for Rothbury, wrote: “A number of residents have approached and contacted me over the last 24 hours regarding the Remembrance Sunday event in Rothbury.

“I must stress at the outset that Northumberland County Council and Rothbury Parish Council have no involvement in organising this event, but we do attend the church service and lay wreaths.

“Residents appear to be unhappy about the fact the whole service was conducted within the church and many of those who had gathered around the war memorial were out in the rain for no reason.

“Some of the points that have been made to me by residents;

○ Those residents who are of a non-religious denomination who do not wish to take part in the church side of the day but attend the laying of wreaths at the war memorial, feel they were left out.

○ It was very poorly communicated by those who had taken the decision to hold the whole service indoors, some residents would have come into the church but were unaware.

“Residents have said: ‘You have laid wreaths in worse weather than what we had on Sunday, including snow’; ‘Those boys spent four years in the soaking wet trenches of France, it is a shame we cannot spend 10 minutes in the rain honouring them’; ‘The weather did not seem to alter the parade at Alnwick, why should Rothbury be any different?’

“I will endeavour to raise these concerns with all those involved in organising the day.”