It was a real honour to play a role in the Service of Dedication last Saturday at North Cemetery to remember victims of war and to dedicate a new memorial.
Eighty-one people, victims from the two world wars, are buried in the town’s North Cemetery.
Many are from the streets surrounding the cemetery. It is striking to read the names and see the distinctive surnames of Hartlepool families, the ancestors of the people who now lie in peace in the cemetery.
We are a month away from Remembrance Sunday and it is pleasing and correct that the whole country stops and remembers.
I have to say that we in Hartlepool are particularly diligent observers of the two-minute silence and remembering people who made the ultimate sacrifice and died for our country.
I believe that as the further the First and Second World Wars move into history, the more respectful the country feels towards the events of 1914-18 and 1939-45.
It seems astonishing and shocking that in the 1970s North cemetery fell into decline and memorials to the town’s war dead, after being damaged by vandalism, were abandoned.
A decision was taken 40 years ago to simply forget those people buried in North Cemetery and commemorate the war dead with a memorial at Stranton Cemetery instead.
I am pleased that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, responsible for maintaining the graves of 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during the two world wars, have made a decision to commemorate cemeteries across the country and the Commonwealth where war graves reside.
North Cemetery had been one of the largest war graves in the country without a specific war memorial and I’m grateful that the first significant project in the North East is based in our town.
A beautiful and appropriate new war memorial was designed and built. The location in the cemetery was thought about long and hard. We decided on the upper footpath, leading to and from one of the entrances on the junction of Raby Road and Hart Lane.
This was definitely the right location, as the new memorial can be seen for a long and contemplative walk from the entrance to the cemetery.
None of this could have been possible without great partnership. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission provided their experience and professionalism. Hartlepool Borough Council were excellent in doing all they could to fast track administrative problems and planning permission.
However, the big thanks should go to the Friends of North Cemetery. Fifteen years or so ago the cemetery was virtually a no-go area.
Now, thanks to the Friends’ love for the area and care for the cemetery it has transformed into a welcome green space for the centre of Hartlepool whilst respecting its solemn purpose and historic role. The dedication of the war memorial is a symbol not just of the fallen, which of course rightly is its primary purpose, but actually a testimony to the Friends of North Cemetery, whose vision has helped respect the past.
I would really encourage you to visit the cemetery, see the beautiful memorial and remember those who gave the greatest sacrifice for us.