The Woodford Cross

Eric Hunter

In the graveyard of Christ Church, Woodford nr Stockport there lies a large ornate wooden cross, rotten with age, broken, it is placed over its original footing. Upon the cross the epitaph reads:

“In Loving memory to Sec’ Lieut Frank S. Brooks. 20 Manchester Reg (Pals)         

Killed in Action at Fricourt France. July 1st 1916.

For King and Country”.

Frank Brooks was born in 1897. His father Arthur was a successful solicitor with offices in Manchester and Stockport. The family lived in Gately, Stockport when Frank enrolled at Manchester University to read Law with an ambition to be involved eventually within his father’s business. Frank prior to completing his studies enlisted in the Special Reserve and became a Private in the North Staffordshire Regiment. He was mobilised at the outbreak of war but in November 1914 he applied for a Commission and was posted to 20th Manchester (5th Pals).Woodfordred1


On the First of July 1916 the 5th Manchester’s attacked at 14.30 on a front opposite Bois Francais. The dividing front lines were a short distance 80 – 220 yards. The attack was brief and by 14.45 the German front trench was taken. Frank, his Commanding Officer and over 300 of the regiment fallen, were injured or missing. The successful attack by the Manchester’s at Fricourt meant that the bodies of the fallen could be buried and recorded in a dignified manner. Lieutenant Brooks and his comrades were laid to rest in the captured German trench.

At some point during or after the war, the family moved to nearby Bramhall Moor Lane and the Woodford church presumably became their place of worship. Frank is not buried in Woodford, neither is his name included on the War memorial within the church. After the war Frank’s body was exhumed from the war burial and interred in Danzig Valley British War Cemetery. The family had this memorial made and erected in their local church as an act of very personal remembrance. Further down the cross there is another inscription:

“also of Cyril, infant child of Edith and Arthur Brooks.”

This was a very personal act of remembrance, one which was probably evoked each week as they worshiped.  Their loss was not just their sons but it appeared their future.

My initial feelings when I first discovered this rotten fallen cross was, as a Great War enthusiast, a memorial in a tragic state of repair. When I reflect however I begin to appreciate that memorials have multiple significances. If the Brookes had wanted a memorial to last forever they would have commissioned it from stone not wood. It was a personal statement for lives lost which they had no control over.

I have not researched if there are still members of the Brooks family that live locally and keep Frank and Cyril’s memory alive. We in the WFA do remember but not in the emotional context as to which this memorial was erected. To that end is intervening and restoring or replacing the cross an appropriate response, or should we acknowledge and note its existence and let time ultimately reduce any personal attachment?