The recent news of the renovation of Mains War Memorial in Dundee sounds like good news. It makes me cast my mind back to the renovation of Crossford War Memorial in South Lanarkshire last year.
Like Mains, Crossford was a water feature which had been neglected and fallen into disrepair. Like Mains the names were fading and it was turning into little short of a disgrace.
In the 21st Century a water trough may not have had the community benefit it did when Crossford was at the heart of the Clyde Valley farms, and draught horses were a common sight; but when it came to renovating Crossford War Memorial the locals wanted the spring water to flow again. It had last flowed in the 1990s.
The same local authority who had neglected it for 15 years was not going to do anything about renovating it, so in 2008 the Crossford War Memorial Restoration Group was set up amongst locals in Crossford and Hazelbank. After two years and a lot of hard work the war memorial was restored to its former glory.
The stonework was repaired, the water flow was reinstated and more importantly the names of the fallen were inscribed on granite slabs. Too often new memorials are built of sandstone and stainless steel which may be cheaper in the short term, but will degenerate in the long run. It's a sensible decision by Crossford which should benefit the community for many years to come.
The memorial was returned to the 'care' of South Lanarkshire Council and it should now be included in its annual maintenance programme. Hopefully it will not be allowed to fall into such a poor state of repairs again.
Back to Mains. There has been no community involvement in the renovation, in fact, the council has now started work on it without informing any of the local parties who had been petitioning for its renovation.
Whilst on the face of it this may seem like good news there are perhaps some worrying aspects which may rain on the parade.
1. The council have moved the memorial. Whilst this may make it easier to maintain and reduce the chance of vandalism it means that it is unlikely the water fountain will be reinstated. I hope I am wrong. Since this memorial has been moved into a sports facility I think a golden opportunity has been missed to make a practical war memorial fit for purpose again. If it had been completely refurbished then dehydrated Dundonians could once again refresh themselves at its taps, and at the same time stand back and pause for thought about why it was there. It is a symbol of the sacrifice of the men of Mains nearly 100 years ago; but a war memorial also allows us to think of those who have lost their lives in wars since the First World War.
2. The damage done to the memorial is quite substantial. Years of neglect has allowed the effects of wind and rain on the sandstone to be aggravated by bored youths so that much of the surface stonework has been removed. This was especially serious on the name panels. With a quick lift and shift of the memorial (with at least a deep clean to remove graffiti I hope), then it is unlikely that any stonework has been replaced.
Sandstone was never a good choice of stone for inscribing names, and many across Scotland have been replaced by a tougher granite slab. It looks like at Mains this is not going to happen. This was a chance for the names to be re-inscribed in a more durable material. It was also perhaps a chance to add the names from the Second World War and any names from post-1945 conflicts.
I'm sure many people in Mains will know of local boys in the Black Watch, and other units, who have served in Afghanistan . As far as I know no local has died in Iraq or Afghanistan in recent years and hopefully none ever will; but there are war memorials across Scotland which have had names inscribed for men lost on active service in the last ten years. War memorials are not just pieces of architectural sculpture in the middle of parks; they sill serve a purpose within our communities today, as a focus for remembrance for those who have lost loved ones, and as an anti-war message of lives cut tragically short.
It won't be long until we know what the council has done at Mains and what it still intends to do. It looks to me like a quick fix has been applied, and an opportunity has been missed.
Crossford was a successful renovation but it was privately funded and run. Should Mains have gone the same route? I don't know if was there the ambition within the community to do as much as Crossford without council support. The locals liaising with Dundee City Council seem to have been bypassed at this late stage, and the council has decided to press ahead with some work unannounced. This is a worrying sign and suggest what has been done will just be a sticking plaster over a gaping wound . More should have been done to investigate a long term solution before work started.