A CAMPAIGN has been launched to have a new war memorial in Henley to the town’s “forgotten” soldiers.
Mayor Elizabeth Hodgkin raised the idea during her speech at the Remembrance Day service and it is already winning support.
She spoke after visiting an exhibition at Holy Trinity Church about 73 servicemen from the Henley area who lost their lives in the First World War.
Researcher Mike Willoughby, who compiled the display of photographs and documents, has established that all the men had connections with Henley but their names do not appear on any memorials in the area.
The Mayor said: “They were Henley people and we need to keep their names in people’s minds. It’s important to commemorate everyone, especially coming up to the centenary of the First World War in 2014. The question now is where that memorial could go.”
She said she would like another memorial in the town centre but suggested Mill Meadows as an alternative location.
“It’s very much up to the town where it should go,” she said. “I would have thought it would be paid for by public subscription and I hope people would be willing to donate money for it. Finding the right place and doing it all correctly is important.”
Mr Willoughby, a heating engineer from Woodcote, put on the exhibition, called Lest We Forget, at the church over both of the last two weekends and said he was delighted at the response.
He said: “Now we know the Mayor and other people in Henley are on board we can move it forward but I’m staying realistic. We will have to have a get-together to decide where we’re going to go with this.
“Our intention is to have a new and complete memorial, including the men that Henley feels have been left off. There’s no intention to interfere with any of the existing memorials. If people are starting to talk about where these names could go, then bring it on. I will support it wholeheartedly.”
Mr Willoughby, an honorary sexton at Holy Trinity, began his research after discovering his great uncle, John King, died in the Great War.
He discovered his name was on a war memorial but that no one knew anything about him.
Since then, he has helped more than a dozen visitors to the church find out about relatives who died in service.
He has also visited and photographed about 1,800 graves of Oxfordshire soldiers in France and Belgium.
He believes that poor communication during the war meant knowledge of many soldiers had been lost.
Mr Willoughby, 60, said: “If I hadn’t looked for information about my great uncle I wouldn’t have realised just how many unknown people there were on village memorials.
“I’m trying to remember them all as a mother’s son, husband or brother because that’s what they all were.”
Mr Willoughby has been working on the project for seven years alongside Rev Duncan Carter, vicar at Holy Trinity.
Rev Carter said: “The impact of the First World War is very deep in the community. We want to tell the story of the people who gave their lives for our sake. There are a lot of extraordinarily heartwarming and heartrending stories.”
He became interested in the project partly because his grandfather died in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Rev Carter said: “There’s a list of names on the war memorial but I wanted to give some flesh to who they were. These are husbands, fathers and sons. We discovered that although Henley has eight memorials they are all different and none is complete.” Henley MP John Howell, who attended the exhibition, supported a new memorial.
He said: “We hear the names read out year after year on Remembrance Sunday and for most of us they are just names. It was a great idea to research behind the names and bring to life who the people were.
“This helps us to begin to understand them not just as names but as individuals like us, members of families like ours, so we can perhaps understand the loss of them in a more meaningful way.”
He said he was particularly moved by a map which showed where the people who died had lived, adding: “In some streets many families have lost someone.”
Town councillor Martin Akehurst, whose father and uncle were evacuated from Dunkirk beaches during the Second World War, said: “I would love to see a new memorial. It would get my full support and I think the town council’s as well. I would like to see it somewhere fairly central. There are First World War plaques either side of the town hall so it could go nearby.”
Brigadier Malcolm Page, president of the Henley branch of the Royal British Legion, also backed the idea.
He said: “About 10 years ago I got the then Mayor to appeal for any names that weren’t on the war memorial at the town hall because we said we must have some soldiers from Korea or Malaysia.
“No one came forward so the fact that 73 have been found since then is remarkable.
“I don’t have any views on where it could go unless it went in one of the gardens at Mill Meadows.”
Anyone with information about fallen soldiers or who would like to help the project can call Mr Willoughby on (01491) 680828 or email email@example.com