THE BLACK Watch Association has added its considerable weight to the campaign to have the word ‘memorial’ reinstated in the name of the Webster Theatre in Arbroath.
As revealed in last week’s issue, historian Morris Scott, John Street, Arbroath, claims that an injustice has occurred as the word ‘memorial’ appears to have been dropped from the name of the Webster Memorial Theatre.
And he believes that it should be restored to keep faith with the agreement reached when the original Webster Memorial Hall was gifted to the people of Arbroath shortly after the First World War.
Mr Scott pointed out that the building was purchased by Sir Francis Webster and his brothers, William and James, as a memorial to Sir Francis’s son, Lieutenant Joseph F. Webster, who was killed in action on October 30, 1914, at Zaandvoorde Ridge.
Following the most recent refurbishment, panels on all the doors and an inscription on the pavement outside refer simply to the ‘Webster Theatre’.
A spokesperson for Angus Council stated: “As agreed by Angus Council, the formal name of the building is the Webster Memorial Theatre and this is used in all normal situations.
“The granite platform and etched glass used the shorter form ‘Webster Theatre’ and the word ‘memorial’ is sometimes dropped in specific marketing or advertising situations where space may be at a premium.”
In a report to the neighbourhood service committee in November, 2007, the director, Ron Ashton, stated that for marketing and publicity “The theatre will be named The Webster Theatre, and a theatre website www.webstertheatre.co.uk will be developed and maintained.”
However, to the members of The Black Watch Association the theatre is a living memorial, not only to Lieutenant Webster, but to all the young men from the area who did not return from the horrific conflict that was the First World War.
Tom McCluskey, secretary of the Angus branch of The Black Watch Association who has a special interest in the history of the First World War, commented: “To call it something different is not on! In fact it is outrageous. The Webster Memorial Theatre I am sure is a memorial not only to a young son whose potential was cut short, but also to the lads who never returned to savour the delights the Theatre has given to the people of Arbroath over the years. And always there is the question to be answered: “Dad, what’s a memorial?”
“Joseph F. Webster was commissioned into The Black Watch, date not recorded. He had initially volunteered for The 60 Foot Regiment, the Kings Royal Rifle Brigade, while at Cambridge and later sought transfer to his county regiment. At the time of his death he was attached to the Gordon Highlanders.
“The 7th Division landed at the Belgian port of Zeebrugge on October 7, 1914. The Division was to take part in the defence of Antwerp.
“However, as the German Army rapidly advanced through Belgium they were tasked to hold certain bridges and other important places to cover the withdrawal of the Belgian army. Once the withdrawal was complete, the 7th Division dug in in front of Ypres. The 2nd Gordons were some of the first British troops to hold the killing ground on the Ypres Salient. “The Division took the hammering of the first Battle of Ypres and paid a significant part in denying the German Army the capture of the Channel Ports. The 2nd Gordons suffered grievous losses between October 19 and November 22, 1914. During this time Joseph Webster was killed.”
Major Ronnie Proctor, chairman of the Angus branch of the Black Watch Association and secretary of the association worldwide, said he has already spoken to his local councillor Ian McIntosh, about the matter.
Major Proctor said: “I told him I am extremely annoyed at what I have heard. The building is a memorial and the word ‘memorial’ should remain. A colleague and I go round schools to lecture about the First World War and we try to explain to them how stupid war is. However, the message we put across is that succeeding generations should not forget the sacrifices made by these young men.
“Unfortunately, when the word ‘memorial’ is removed from a building donated in memory of someone, people do forget. How many local people are even aware of the reason for the facility being called the Webster Memorial Theatre?”
l Letters: page 14