Emotional scenes as Norwich war memorial is re-dedicated
They had waited for this day for years and yesterday proud veterans were able to pay their respects at a war memorial, which fittingly honours those who served and died for their city and country.
The rain and wind only added to the emotion of the occasion as Norwich's restored war memorial was re-dedicated, ending a saga which has seen it closed to the public for six years.
As the Last Post was sounded, one of the standard bearers flanking the carefully restored memorial, designed by the same man responsible for The Cenotaph in London, fought back tears.
It was a moving ceremony – one of sadness and reflection on Armistice Day, but mixed with pride and relief that the war memorial has finally been restored to its former glory after a �2.6m restoration project.
Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, every stone of the Grade II listed monument has been painstakingly put back exactly as it was before –only this time it faces City Hall, something veterans have lobbied long and hard for.
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The gold lettering on the Portland stone war memorial, which reads Our Glorious Dead Their Name Liveth For Evermore, has also been freshly gilded.
As the crowds, including a band of Second World War veterans, looked on, dignified representatives from associations including the Royal British Legion, the Desert Rats, the Royal Navy Association and the Royal Signals Association held aloft their standards as the wind buffeted the flags.
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Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk Richard Jewson, Lord Mayor of Norwich Tom Dylan and Sheriff Derek James were among those who gathered for the re-dedication.
Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council, gave a speech in which he thanked the veterans for their patience while the council tried to find a solution to the long-running saga.
He said: 'Today the contractors hand the war memorial, now finished, to the city council and I am very proud to hand it back to the city.
'I can't tell you how proud I am and how pleased I am am with the results of the exercise. You can see people in the street stopping in awe to look at it.
'In a few weeks the memorial gardens will open and we will have a big ceremony to celebrate that in the new year, but most importantly the war memorial is ready for Remembrance Sunday.
'At last the war memorial looks the way it should do and faces the way it should – a fitting tribute to all who served and fell for their city and country.
'It's been an enormously complex exercise to get it into the state it should be and I hope you will agree it has been worthwhile.
'At last, the saga of shame is over and we have a place of pride, remembrance and contemplation for present and future generations.'
The Rev Peter Nokes, from St Peter Mancroft Church, re-dedicated and blessed the war memorial, using the same words that the Bishop of Norwich used when it was first dedicated on October 9, 1927.
Before the Last Post and two minute silence, he read from Revelations and recited the famous line from Laurence Binyon's poem 'For The Fallen': 'They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.'
Among the veterans was Ray Self, 85, from Norwich, who served with the Royal Navy during the Second World War and was involved in the Normandy landings and in Burma. He had been calling for years for the memorial to be turned around.
With him was Royal Marine Freddie Fitch, also 85, from Heartsease, who was in the first wave of the D-Day landings in Normandy and served in the Pacific. Mr Fitch said: 'You see war memorials wherever you go around the country, but this one has topped the lot.'
The money to revamp the war memorial and the memorial gardens came after an �8m deal was agreed with the city council and the Homes and Communities Agency.
Terry Fuller, director for the HCA in the East of England said: 'This is the high point of my career. I am forever in the debt of those who served their country and to those who gave their lives and freedom to secure the life and freedom we all enjoy.
'This memorial was designed by the greatest architect of all time located in a great city. It is our duty to honour and remember.'
The refurbishment of the war memorial saw the city council work with English Heritage to ensure every stone of the Grade II listed memorial was painstakingly put back exactly as it was before, down to the age-chipped steps around the base of the monument.
Specialist stone masons Fairhaven and Woods carried out the work, while the supporting structure underneath it and the memorial gardens was repaired by RG Carter.
Other events to mark Armistice Day – which observes the signing of the armistice between the Allies and Germany which ended the First World War on November 11, 1918 – were held around the city.
At City College Norwich a ceremony of remembrance and a two-minute silence were held outside the college to commemorate the wartime sacrifices of members of the armed forces and civilians.
In Sprowston, wreaths and crosses were laid at the Cenotaph outside St Cuthbert's Church, with members of the Royal British Legion among those at the Remembrance service.
Make sure you get tonight's Evening News for more pictures from the ceremony.
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