HUNDREDS of people attended an outdoor service in Henley on Sunday to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.
The 30-minute service in Market Place was one of several ceremonies and other events that took place across the area.
A plaque commemorating Henley’s “forgotten” soldiers was unveiled by the Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire Tim Stevenson.
The drumhead service — so called because soldiers in the trenches would drape the Union flag over drums to create an altar — was led by Rev Duncan Carter, vicar of Holy Trinity Church, and Rev Canon Father Martyn Griffiths, rector of St Mary’s Church.
Dignitaries and civic leaders who attended included Henley MP John Howell, South Oxfordshire District Council chairwoman Ann Midwinter, Reading Mayor Tony Jones and Abingdon Deputy Mayor Helen Pighills. Also present were standard bearers from 11 Royal British Legion branches.
There were prayers and hymns and readings by Mayor Martin Akehurst and Deputy Mayor Jeni Wood.
Bugler Gregor Spowart, of Woodley Concrt Band, played Reveille and the Last Post and there was then a two-minute silence for which the standards were dipped.
The service ended with the Lord’s Prayer, the National Anthem and a blessing. This was followed by a fly-past by four Tiger Moth biplanes and the release of a dozen pigeons like those used as messengers in the war.
The plaque inside the town hall features the names of 298 soldiers from the Henley area who fought in the war, including about 90 whose names are not included on the town’s existing memorials. Another two plaques will be installed at Holy Trinity Church and St Mary’s Church in November.
They were commissioned as part of the Lest We Forget Project, which is funded by the Henley Standard, the National Lottery and donations.
Mr Stevenson was also presented with a copy of Bringing Them Home, a 320-page book about the men from Henley who died in the war by amateur historian Mike Willoughby, from Woodcote.
The Mayor thanked everyone who helped organise the service.
He said: “It was an amazing piece of teamwork because lots of people from lots of organisations were involved. I’m absolutely delighted with the turnout. It was a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives.
“It needed to be recognition of the start of the First World War, not a celebration. The war is one of those things we should never forget. The next generation needs to understand how frighteningly easy war can happen. I think with the publicity that will come over the next four years that message will hopefully get home to youngsters.”
Mr Howell said: “I was very proud of the attendance at the service, which was extremely well organised. It was very touching and had a tremendous amount of dignity attached to it. I thought the fly-past at the end was a brilliant touch.”
He added: “It’s a good thing to remember but it’s also good to consider the differences there are between the world of 100 years ago and the world today. It’s important to remember that self-sacrifice is still required to defeat terrorism.”
Mr Willoughby said: “I thought it was fantastic. We would have had a job to do much better. To have 11 Royal British Legion standards is something that will not be seen again for a long time, if ever.” John Green, chairman of the Henley and Peppard branch of the Royal British Legion, said the service was “very poignant” as it brought together a wide cross-section of the community and people of all ages.
He added: “The service was particularly well done and it again brought to our attention the work of Mike Willoughby and the fact that he had prepared the book and the information about all those missing chaps.
“It was marking the start of a tragedy that we’re still affected by today.”
Mr Stevenson said: “I thought the organisers got it absolutely right. It was a very dignified occasion and was one of those services that will have helped people to stand back and reflect on what happened in 1914 as well as everything that followed. Henley always does these things extremely well.
“Mike Willoughby has done an astonishing piece of work in putting together the biographies of everyone from the Henley area who was killed. It somehow brings them back to life and it is an extremely powerful way of remembering them.”
More than 100 people gathered at the war memorial in Cookley Green for a service led by Canon Tony Williamson.
There were readings, hymns and prayers and Jackie James, who lives at RAF Benson, played the Last Post.
Wreaths were laid by Mr Howell and representatives from RAF Benson, Thames Valley Police, Swyncombe Parish Council, Swyncombe Parochial Church Council and the Royal British Legion.
David Orpwood, who helped organise the service, said: “We tried to involve as many people as we could. It’s nice to see the community come together.” Mr Howell said: “I was glad to be able to play a part in the service, which I found very moving. It was important that so many youngsters were here.
“The start of the war is now well outside their memory but it is absolutely vital that they should remember the courageous sacrifice made, particularly in a world that is still full of conflict.”
A drumhead service was also held at Nettlebed Bowls Club. The 45-minute service was led by Rev Brendan Bailey and featured hymns, prayers and poems.
The standard bearers were David Challis and David Jennings, of the Nettlebed branch of the Royal British Legion.
The names of fallen servicemen from Nettlebed, Nuffield, Highmoor and Swyncombe were read out and Richard Powell, a member of Pangbourne and District Silver Band, played the Last Post.
Over the weekend there was a display of First World War memorabilia in Nettlebed Village Club.
Exhibits had been loaned by local families whose relatives took part in the war and included a cavalry sword of the Life Guards, a German Pickelhaube helmet, gallantry medals and a Queen Mary’s tin containing sweets and cigarettes sent by the Royal family to all servicemen.
On Sunday evening a choral evensong was held at St Botolph’s Church in Swyncombe followed by a candlelit vigil where all the lights were extinguished at 11pm. A vigil also took place at St Nicholas’ Church in Rotherfield Greys.
On Monday a service was held in War Memorial Place, Harpsden, the site of the old War Memorial Hospital, led by resident David Tapp.
People sat under an oak tree planted 100 years ago to hear readings of First World War poems and letters.
The service ended with the Last Post and Reveille and Mr Green and county standard bearer Brian Hughes both carried standards which they dipped in salute during the two-minute silence.
The Caversham branch of the Royal British Legion held a service at the war memorial in Christchurch Meadows and a “field of remembrance” featuring crosses was staged at the Henley Road cemetery.
On Monday evening a vigil concert featuring the Reading A440 Choir took place at All Saints’ Church in Dunsden commemorating the moment 100 years ago when “the lights went out in Europe”.
War poet Wilfred Owen lived in Dunsden from September 1911 to February 1913 when he was a lay assistant to the vicar of All Saints.
On Friday night, there was a preview for invited guests of a First World War exhibition put together by Mr Willoughby at the Old Fire Station Gallery in Henley.
The display features men from the town who lost their lives in the conflict, and replicas of weapons and equipment used in the war. More than 100 people attended, including Cllr Akehurst, Mr Green and Lady McAlpine of Fawley Hill.
Mr Willoughby and his wife Lesley both gave speeches thanking those who had helped them create the exhibition, including Higgs Group, publisher of the Henley Standard, Henley Lions Club and the Royal British Legion.
They also played a recording made by students at Gillotts School, who read out the names of the 300 Henley men killed in the war.
The exhibition will be open to the public until tomorrow (Saturday).
On Monday there was a “lights-out” event at Henley town hall when a single candle was left on the steps from 10pm to 11pm.
• The First World War began on August 4, 1914 and had claimed the lives of almost one million British soldiers by the time it ended on November 11, 1918.