A persistent legend insists that Waterhead War Memorial was the first of the many in Oldham.
In fact, the first memorial erected in the Oldham Borough is a simple cross situated in the grounds of St Mary’s (Oldham Parish Church), which was unveiled on Easter Sunday 1919. It was followed very shortly afterwards by another modest memorial erected to the left of the entrance to the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Carmel on Union Street West (commonly called ‘St Patrick’s’).
Waterhead’s War Memorial was the first to be erected on civic land. Within a few months of the Great War ending, the Revd Gouldie French was successful in raising nearly £2000 for a memorial near his Church. It consists of a full-size bronze soldier. The artist was George Thomas MC and the statue was cast by Albion Art Foundry of Parsons Green Lane in Fulham.
An elegant inscription says, ‘To the men of Waterhead who fought and fell in the Great War 1914–1919’ — the latter date because the treaty of Versailles was signed in that year. On the rear of the base are carved the words, ‘Erected by public subscription. Unveiled by Elisha Bardsley JP April 17th 1920’. The plinth does not mention those who fell in the War.
The delay in actually erecting Waterhead’s war memorial was due to Oldham Corporation, which was not keen for a separate memorial in Waterhead when it was already planning a large war memorial near the Town Hall in Oldham Town Centre. Local persistence and local money won. The Waterhead War Memorial was officially unveiled by local dignitary Elisha Bardsley, JP on 17 April 1920.
The memorial was struck by a car in 1930 and practically demolished. The photograph that appeared in the Oldham Chronicle shows the bronze statue on its back above the car, with his raised hand (still holding a helmet) poking through the car roof. The memorial was repaired and re-erected. The statue was repaired again in 1972 when the bayonet was found to be missing.
The statue and plinth were moved about 20-feet closer to Oldham Town Centre in 1976, to a position within the ‘Y’ of the junction between Huddersfield Road and Brideoak Street.