Lost World War One memorial finds permanent home in Colchester Town Hall

A missing tablet dedicated to employees who lost their lives in both world wars has been returned to the Colchester Town Hall.

The final chapter in the hunt for the missing tablet, dedicated to employees of the Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society Limited, who lost their lives in both world wars, has ended with an official unveiling.

The dedication tablet, once forming part of the Essex & Suffolk Fire Office war memorial in the building which stands at the top of the High Street, was tracked down following a 2017 public appeal.

Local historian Heather Johnson caught the attention of Dick Barton, the former Chairman of the Colchester Town Guides’ Association after the appeal in the Essex County Standard. 

Investigations by Mr Barton, back in 2006, led him to the company archives of Guardian Royal Exchange and a warehouse in Sussex, where the dedication tablet was being stored. Mr Barton had been acting as custodian of the memorial ever since. 

AXA UK plc had, through its take-over of Guardian Royal, become the official owner of the tablet but in May 2018 the company was happy to relinquish its ownership rights enabling it to be given a new permanent home in Colchester Town Hall – with the support of Mayor Peter Chillingworth, Cllr Lyn Barton and Town Serjeant Paul Lind.

On 5th December 2018, Mayor Chillingworth unveiled the dedication tablet, on the first-floor corridor of the Town Hall. 

The Mayor of Colchester, Cllr Peter Chillingworth, said: “I am tremendously pleased that the search to find the dedication tablet has finally, thanks to the painstaking efforts of Dick Barton and Heather Johnson, seen it return to the town after all these years – and less than 200 yards from where it once stood!

“The timing could not be more fitting – coming less than a month after commemorations in the borough marking the end of World War One.

“I was incredibly honoured to unveil the memorial in its new home and enormously grateful to everyone who made the occasion possible.”

Heather Johnson added: “I have to thank everyone who made this unveiling possible. All would probably agree that I was rather fixated on achieving an outcome such as this! It was so heart-warming, and appropriate, to see the Mayor reveal the tablet, from beneath a Union Jack flag, which all named on the tablet had served under.

“I look forward to seeing the tablet after it has received its final renovation in the New Year. It will then complement its grand surroundings.”

Cllr. Lyn Barton, Armed Forces Champion, said: “It is hugely gratifying to see this special piece of Colchester’s history on permanent display in the Town Hall, where it can be appreciated by everyone.

“Its remarkable rediscovery represents an important addition to the chronicle of personal stories of bravery and sacrifice made by those who lived or worked in the town and who fought and died for our freedom in both world wars.”

In 2019, the tablet will undergo much-needed renovation.