IN early 1919, the townspeople of Darlington were presented with three options by the War Memorial Committee about how they might remember the fallen of the First World War: they could build a garden suburb in which war widows could live rent free; they could build a new town hall with a memorial wing attached, or they could build a hugely ambitious Memorial Hospital.

They narrowly went for the hospital – and then had to raise the funds to match their ambitions.

Workers began donated 3d-a-week from their pay packets and, assisted by a £15,000 grant from the Red Cross, the committee purchased The Elms, a 17-acre estate off Hollyhurst Road, for £30,000.

But as the 1920s wore on, economic conditions worsened, and every other town and village for miles around was unveiling their more modest memorials, the fund-raising ground to a halt amid great frustration.

It was revived in 1924 when the National Union of Railwaymen started a week-long railwaymen’s carnival, which became a bi-annual fundraiser. Then the Rotary Club adopted the £12,000 children’s ward, with Rotarians building a house in Haughton-le-Skerne and then raffling it.

The first sod was turned by Lady Barnard in December 1925. The foundation stone was laid by Lord Daryngton in June 1926, and on November 11, 1928, the memorial obelisk was unveiled.

However, because of money shortages, it wasn’t until May 5, 1933, that the Memorial Hospital was officially opened by Prince George, the king’s youngest son.

With a large crowd gathered around the obelisk, he turned a key in the door of the Bradford Memorial Porch. It was built in memory of Roland and George Bradford, the only brothers to have won the Victoria Cross in the war and whose family only lived a stone’s throw away in Milbank Road.

The prince then walked through the Bradford Memorial Porch and into the Memorial Hall in which the walls are covered with the inch-high names of 700 townsmen killed in the conflict.

He said: “I am sure this hospital is a most fitting memorial to those who fell in the war, and its usefulness is, without doubt, far greater than a formal memorial of the usual type.”

Now only the memorial hall survives of the original hospital, but since 1928, it has been the focus of the town’s remembrance ceremony. This year, as every year, the mayor of Darlington will lay a wreath, but there will be no civic parade or service – and, in our times of pandemic, the Memorial Hospital has never been more central in the town’s thoughts.