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Lest we forget: the Maze Hill War Memorial at 100 years

11 November 2022

“In glorious and grateful memory of the men of this borough who gave their lives in the Great War.”

Cecil Harold Swell VC, raised in Crooms Hill in Greenwich, was just nineteen years old when he joined the fight in 1914.

By 1918, Cecil was a lieutenant in the Tanks Corps. On the 29th of August, during heavy fighting, Cecil went to the rescue of his men when one of the tanks of which he was commanding slipped, and became stuck in a shell-hole. The tank had overturned and caught fire, but despite this and the heavy machine gun fire, Cecil left the relative safety of his own tank and went to the aid of his men. Digging the earth away from the jammed door, Cecil managed to free the crew. As he saw to his wounded men he was hit, however he continued to dress the wounds of his wounded driver. He was hit for a second time and sadly died. For his actions, he was awarded the Victoria Cross. He was 23 years old.

One hundred years ago today, four years after the fighting ended, Cecil’s father Harry Bolton Sewell unveiled the Maze Hill War Memorial, on the 11th of November 1922. Cecil was the third son Harry and his wife Ann lost during the First World War. All of their sons went to the front, and, before Cecil, the family had lost Herbert Victor in 1916 and Harry Kemp in 1917.

The Maze Hill War Memorial, a Grade II listed structure located on a well-travelled corner of Greenwich Park, was initially planned to be significantly larger. We can see this in designs presented to the public and the press in late 1921.

On the 1st of February 1922, the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich ultimately decided on a build costing £650 (about £28,612 in today’s money), paid by the Greenwich War Memorial Committee. This, likely along with other factors, resulted in the smaller, but no less dignified, memorial we see today.

Today, both the Maze Hill War Memorial and Cecil’s Victoria Cross stone, located in Crooms Hill near his family home at number 26, are in Greenwich Heritage’s care. We honour and remember Cecil and the more than 1600 local dead and casualties on the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich’s roll of honour for the First World War.