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Central Park monument lies forgotten and defaced

PUBLISHED: 13:00 28 October 2017

The Girls' Life Brigade memorial stone in Central Park, Dagenham. Picture: Michael Foley

The Girls' Life Brigade memorial stone in Central Park, Dagenham. Picture: Michael Foley

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There is a small stone in Central Park close to the entrance from the car park in Wood Lane.

The Girls' Life Brigade memorial stone in Central Park, Dagenham. Picture: Michael FoleyThe Girls' Life Brigade memorial stone in Central Park, Dagenham. Picture: Michael Foley

It looks an insignificant small item that could be part of an old wall or the base of something that used to stand there.

I remember the stone being used as a step to climb onto ponies that were used for rides up and down the pathway next to the stone in the Dagenham Town Shows of the late 1960s.

It is only when you get close to the stone that you see there are words engraved on it. The words say, “These birch trees were planted on 29th February 1964 to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the Dagenham and District Battalion of the Girls.”

The words don’t quite make sense because the last two words have been almost obliterated either by time or wear as they are so close to the ground.

The silver birch trees in Central Park, Dagenham. Picture: Michael FoleyThe silver birch trees in Central Park, Dagenham. Picture: Michael Foley

The words have also been partly covered by the use of blue paint that has been sprayed on the front of the stone.

It took some research to find what the missing words were. There was a faint trace of the last word which looked like “brigade”.

This proved to be correct as the missing words were “Life Brigade”. I wasn’t sure what the Girls’ Life Brigade was but as the stone commemorated something in 1943 I suspected that it had a military basis. I found out, however, that in 1943 – which was 21 years before the memorial was erected at Upney Baptist Church – a group of the Girls’ Life Brigade was formed.

It began life in August 1943 but there was an enrolment ceremony in September which was celebrated by other companies of the Girls’ Life Brigade which composed the Dagenham battalion of the Girls’ Life Brigade.

The organisation had been in existence in England since the early 20th century but it seems that the Dagenham battalion was formed in 1943, although there may have been some separate smaller units of this before that date.

The year 1964 was to be a turning point in the organisation. The Girls’ Life Brigade in England amalgamated with the Girls’ Guildry of Scotland and the Girls’ Brigade of Ireland to form the Girls’ Brigade. It seems then that the monument in Central Park not only commemorated the anniversary of the Dagenham battalion, but also marked the end of the Girls’ Life Brigade.

The ceremony to erect the stone was mentioned in the Dagenham Post of March 4, 1964; in fact it made the front page with a photograph of the ceremony. Unfortunately there wasn’t much information to go with the photograph. All I found out was that the weather was gloomy and that the Dagenham and District battalion of the Girls’ Life Brigade were enjoying themselves, although I thought they had become the Girls’ Brigade by this time.

One of the silver birch trees planted to accompany the memorial was planted by staff sargent Joyce Nevill of the Guides.

Because of the gloomy weather, she was being sheltered by the Rev J J Brown, who was holding an umbrella over her head. The report didn’t say how many trees were planted but there are three silver birch trees towards the left of the stone.

It seems quite sad that an event such as this which was commemorated with a monument and the planting of trees should be forgotten and vandalised. Perhaps this story may make people stop and take some notice of the small stone that is so easily ignored by those using the park today.

michael-foley-history-writer.co.uk.

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