A PLAQUE to remember the Barnsley Pals who died at the Battle of the Somme has been lovingly restored after its wood mount rotted away.
Brian Smith, 50, is an inspector with the Metropolitan Police and an avid First World War amateur historian. While on a visit to the Battle of the Somme battlefields, Brian noticed that the plaque commemorating the Barnsley Pals had fallen to the ground due to the wood the plaque was mounted on rotting away.
The Battle of the Somme was fought between July 1 and November 18, 1916 and was one of the largest and bloodiest battles ever fought. More than three million men fought at the Somme and it is estimated that around 1.3m men were killed or wounded. Now a memorial site sits on the battlefield and features memorial plaques to each regiment or battalion who were involved in the conflict, as well as graves of fallen soldiers.
“I am very interested in the First World War and I visit the battlefields a fair bit,” said Brian, from Southampton. “I was walking through Sheffield Park which sits on what would have been the front-line when I saw the plaque laying on the floor.
“The wood had rotted away due to the harsh winters of Northern France and the screws had come loose from the tree. I couldn’t just leave it there because I knew it means so much to people. I knew that if I handed it in it would get lost because the upkeep of the site does take a lot and I didn’t want the plaque to be forgotten about.”
Brian brought the plaque back to England where he restored it at his home.
“I got a decent piece of wood so that it will last out in the open. One minute it can be sunny and the next it can be raining so I varnished the wood five times to make sure that it was weatherproof.”
The process of restoring the plaque took Brian more than a month to complete and involved completely replacing the wood mount with a piece of English oak, using new brass screws to attach the plaque to the wood and cleaning the plaque. In early October Brian and his nine-year-old son, Noah, returned to the battle site to return the memorial to Sheffield Park.
“It was a really great feeling to see the plaque back where it belongs,” said Brian. “Knowing that everyone who comes to this part of the battlefield can remember the people of Barnsley and their town’s contribution to the war, and knowing that I helped to keep that memory alive is really great.”