After finding the photos of the Swanwick Memorial Hall I thought it would be interesting to post some of the activities that have taken place there.

However, with Remembrance day on the horizon I thought it might be remiss of me if I didn’t first  research the man whose life  the Hall was built in memory of.

Russell Kenneth Swanwick (1884-1914)

Although Russell didn’t come from Chesterfield his family were well known in the area and felt that Whittington would be the best place for a memorial to Russell.  His grandfather was Frederick Swanwick, the railway engineer who worked with George Stephenson.  His aunt was Mary Swanwick a name familiar to anyone in the Whittington area, if not least for the school named after her in Church Street Old Whittington.

His father was Russell Drayton Swanwick, although born in Chesterfield and lived his early life at Whittington House, he later moved to Gloucestershire and had a substantial farm there.  His brother was Eric Drayton Swanwick, a local Chesterfield solicitor and father to Michael Swanwick JP, also a solicitor who later became the Chesterfield Coroner, and was well known locally in Whittington.

Russell Kenneth Swanwick grew up in Gloucestershire, he attended Bedales school for one year and then Redgate Uppingham School in Leicestershire. He attended Trinity College Cambridge from 1903-1906 and intended to make land management his career. By 1911 he was working back in Cirencester as his fathers deputy. According to newspaper reports he was a keen point to point racer and whilst at Cambridge, as an accomplished horseman , Kenneth (as he liked to be known) joined the University Mounted Infantry.

He joined up at the beginning of the war and applied for a Commission, he was made a Lieutenant in the 1st Gloucester Regiment.  He was with the  first expeditionary force which sailed for France in early August landing in Le Havre on 13th August.

Russell would have experienced some fierce fighting. The 1st Gloucesters were attached to  3rd Brigade (along with the 1st Queen’s Royal West Surrey,1st South Wales Borderers and the 2nd Welsch)  in  1st Division, the 1st Division remained on the Western Front throughout the War.

Not long after he arrived in France Russell would have been involved in the first battle fought between the British Army and the Germans, the  23rd August 1914 the  Battle of Mons and subsequent retreat.  The battle took place around the area of the Mons-Conde canal and the total British casualties were just over 1600 of all ranks, killed, wounded or missing.

The Battle of the Aisne –

From British Official History. The position of 1st Division during the Battle of the Aisne. It held the line from the Chemin des Dames east of Cerny (with the French on the right) down past Vendresse to Beaulne. The 3rd Infantry Brigade, which included the 1st South Wales Borderers, was on its left front. (http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/

1st Division were involved  in the Battle of the Aisne which took place between the 12th and 15th September.  An eye witness account by Captain C. J. Paterson of the 1st South Wales Borderers (3rd Infantry Brigade, 1st Division, I Corps) reported 

“I have never spent and imagine that I can never spend a more ghastly and heart-tearing 48 hours than the last. Not a moment in which to write a word in my diary. We have been fighting hard ever since 8am on the 14th and have suffered much”.

Russell was involved in this Battle and was killed in action on 14 September 1914  aged 29. However, on the  war office documents Russell’s date of death varies between 14th, 15th and 25th September, but the official date on the headstone is 14th.  What is certain is that Russell died during the Battle of the Aisne.

He was originally buried in Troyon churchyard and the description stated that he was 29 years of age and thought to be approximately 5ft 9 ins tall. His body was exhumed in 1925 and finally laid to rest in Vendresse British cemetery. The inscription on his grave reads:


Russell Kenneth Swanwicks grave

Vendresse British Cemetery (https://www.cwgc.org)

Russell was awarded, posthumously, the Victory medal and the 14 Star, nicknamed the ‘Mons’ medal as it was awarded to soldiers who had arrived in France at the outbreak of war and had taken part in the Retreat from Mons.

He was also awarded the 1914 clasp, instituted in 1919.  The clasp was awarded to those who had served under fire in France or Belgium in the period between 5 August and 22 November 1914.  It was automatically sent out to next of kin.

Russell Kenneth Swanwick

The Swanwick Memorial Hall was opened in October 1915 by Colonel Geoffrey M Jackson (Commander of the Lincolnshire and Leicestershire Brigade) in memory of R K Swanwick.

Joseph Syddall had been involved in the building of  the hall by making useful suggestions as to the design. Syddall was later to be involved in the design for the memorial to the men of Old Whittington on Church Street.

Members of the Swanwick family were in attendance for the opening, together with local people and dignitaries.

The memorial was intended not just as a memorial for Russell but for all the devotion and self-sacrifice of thousands of young men.

Originally opened as a public hall and rifle range,  the description in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph 13th October 1915 states that the main hall was 55ft long by 30ft wide with an elongation 35ft x 14ft, containing a set of targets at the extreme end so that the hall can be used as a rifle range or for public gatherings.

Members of the Swanwick family were Trustees of the Hall  but it was managed by a local committee. During the war the hall was primarily used  for drill and rifle practice  by the Home Guard and ‘kindred’ institutions.

Along with the Hall, Russell was also remembered in Cirencester. The Cirencester Mens Detachment of the British Red Cross Society sent 3 motor ambulances to the Red Cross headquarters, one of the ambulances bore the inscription –

In memory of Lieutenant Russell Kenneth Swanwick 1st Gloucester regiment Killed in Action September 14 1914 at the Battle of the Aisne’.

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