Mystery of the lost war memorial

  Mystery hangs over the whereabouts of a large war memorial, once the focus of a large open air Mass each Remembrance Sunday. Two old residents of St Mary's school, a Catholic orphanage in North Hyde, Middlesex, have launched an appeal this year to find the monument commemorating many of their fallen comrades. More than 14 feet high, with a life-size cross, and figures of a soldier and sailor above a stone inscribed with more than 80 names, the memorial stood for many years on the roadside at the front of St Mary's School, Southall Lane, Middlesex. The school was run by Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary and Jesus and supported by the Crusade of Rescue (now the Catholic Children's Society). Although the regime was spartan, the school was quite progressive for its time, with a swimming pool, a farm with livestock and a choir and band who were sometimes recruited to play for special occasions at Westminster cathedral and Spanish Place. Remembering the grounds in front of the school, ex-pupil Walter Adams said: "They were beautiful. There was a statue of the Sacred Heart and the war memorial looked like something you would see in Rome. A real work of art. Two of the names had the Military Medal and one had the Legion of Honour." "Some things in life are printed in your memory forever," said another St Mary's old boy, Arthur Gaubert, 80, who attended the school from 1924-1933. During the inter-war years, each Remembrance Day, 600 boys, staff and local parishioners would assemble on the lawn in front of the monument, for a memorial service. "The school band would play, the choir sang hymns and then there was the last post," said Arthur. "By that point the atmosphere was electric. Many of the nuns would be weeping." Casualties from St Mary's were high. Several young men died during the Boer War and during the First World War many more were killed or went missing in action. In November 1917, the Mother Superior, Reverend Mother Attracta wrote: "I wish it would all end because our losses have been grievous. We've already lost 48 boys." Many more boys from the school were to give up their lives during World War Two. Arthur and Walter became lifelong friends. During the Second World War they ended up on the same beach at Dunkirk on 28 May 1940. "The boat I was on, the Queen of the Channel, was sunk during the evacuation," recalls Arthur. I can still see the Junkers circling round overhead shooting at us." Both Mr Gaubert and Mr Adams got married and started families after the war. Mr Gaubert moved to Essex and ended up as a school headmaster. Mr Adams became a bandleader working on cruiseliners. He now lives in Cambridgeshire. In the years just after World War Two, together with other St Mary's old boys, they would visit the school to reminisce and pay their respects at the monument. However, in 1953, the building was demolished, and the memorial disappeared. Its whereabouts is a mystery. During the war, the building had been requisitioned by the Air Ministry. Afterwards, for a few years, BOAC had offices at the school, while the grounds were being considered as a site for the new Heathrow airport. When the building was pulled down, Mr Gaubert, Mr Adams and a number of other friends made extensive efforts to trace the memorial. Ex-pupil Patrick MacManus, grandfather of singer Elvis Costello, spent several years trying to find it. After leaving the school MacManus was a bandleader and worker on the SS Olympia, sister ship to the Titanic. But he never forgot his old school. His son, the bandleader Ros MacManus (who worked with Joe Loss) said: "My father kept in touch with everyone and he never gave up his search for the monument. It is as if it had vanished into thin air." Mr MacManus died in 1963, but his son Patrick would still love to know what happened to the memorial. This year Mr Adams and Mr Gaubert decided to redouble their efforts to find the missing monument. "Those boys were already dealt a very bad hand ending in an orphanage," said Mr Adams. "They ended up losing their lives in the trenches of the First World War before they had a chance. Most of them were under 20. I feel it is the least we can do for them." This week the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster, Hounslow Council, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary and the War Graves Commissions were all contacted. None had any record of the memorial, although they would like to know any information that is discovered. "We don't know who made it, who paid for it, or where it is now," said Mr Adams. But the information must be somewhere. It can't have just disappeared." The War Graves Commission has told ICN they would be very interested to learn any information about the monument as they are just beginning to compile a directory of war memorials and have funding available for restoration. If you have any information about the St Mary's war memorial, please contact ICN or Jim Richards, director of the Catholic Children's Society at 73 St Charles Square, London W10 6EJ tel: 020 8969 5305.

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