AN appeal set up to raise money for three new war memorials to Henley’s “forgotten” servicemen is halfway to reaching its initial target.
The Lest We Forget project must raise £3,200 in donations from the community in order to receive a £8,200 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The money will fund the memorials in the town hall and at Holy Trinity Church and St Mary’s Church in time to commemorate the centenary of the beginning of the First World War on August 4.
Mike Willoughby, an amateur historian who has conducted research for the project, said: “When I started this, 2014 felt like a hell of a long time away. Now suddenly it’s here and the clock is ticking towards our targets for August.”
The Henley World War One Remembrance Association, of which Mr Willoughby is a member, applied to the Lottery for about 70 per cent of the cost of the memorials so the community can become involved by contributing the rest.
Each plaque will include the names of about 260 soldiers with connections to Henley, including more than 70 who are not featured on any of the town’s nine existing memorials. The glass plaques will commemorate British soldiers who lived in Henley at some point and died serving their country between 1914 and 1921.
The town hall is already being prepared for the erection of its 6ft by 4ft plaque and permission is being sought from the Diocese of Oxford to install the other plaques in the churches.
Mr Willoughby, from Woodcote, has compiled a book called Bringing Them Home, which includes the biographies of about 450 soldiers in Henley and the surrounding villages. It will be available electronically in the town hall and as a free print version to people who make donations.
A second edition may be produced to mark the centenary of the end of the Great War in 2018 if more soldiers are identified.
Other ideas include producing a map showing where each serviceman lived and urging the current occupants of their former homes to display a commemorative poppy plaque in their window.
Mr Willoughby said: “Although we know 90 per cent of the addresses of the soldiers, for those who we don’t have addresses for we’re inviting people to adopt a soldier and we will give them a plaque to put in their window.”
A projector and display boards have been bought for an educational programme involving exhibitions and talks to community groups and schools.
The project has so far raised about £1,600 from the public, including donations from Lord Camoys of Stonor and Sir William McAlpine, who owns the Fawley Hill estate.
Higgs Group, the publisher of the Henley Standard, has donated £500.
Donations can be made using the form which can be printed out here
Mr Willoughby would like to pass the target in order to pursue other projects marking the war’s centenary, including marking the graves of fallen soldiers that are currently unmarked.
He has located four graves at Fair Mile cemetery that are unmarked and is seeking permission from Henley Town Council to place gravestones on them. Last month, he identified Alfred Barnes, of West Hill, Henley, who died from illness in 1916 after being discharged from war service the previous year.
Mr Willoughby said: “I found an amazing letter from his landlady to his regiment saying he died at 3am that day and unless they did anything about it he would be buried in a pauper’s grave. As far as I know, that’s what happened because his grave was never marked.
“This is why I haven’t printed the book yet because I’m afraid that the day I decide to get it printed something new will come along.”
Rev Duncan Carter, rector at Holy Trinity Church, said: “It’s lovely to see both the research coming to fruition and the opportunity for other people to share in it, particularly families.
“Some of the soldiers have never been on a memorial before and it would be great if we could track down some of the families to be at the unveiling.
“These things that we knew privately are now being shared and beginning to be discovered. It’s lovely to see people being recognised and the opportunity to commemorate them in a special way 100 years on.
“It’s no one’s fault but it’s setting something right as well as discovering things that weren’t available at the time.”
Councillor Elizabeth Hodgkin first suggested a new memorial in her Remembrance Day speech in 2012 when she was mayor and is now a trustee of the project.
She said: “I’m really pleased it’s moving apace as this is now the year. We’re pushing at an open door because people are very keen to do it.
“We’re learning so much about the people from Henley and district who went to war and making sure everyone is named.
“It’s such a good project and a very interesting one because it’s the history of our town, which is really important.”
Mr Willoughby is appealing for information that may help him commemorate servicemen, including photographs, postcards, letters or other memorabilia. Call him on (01491) 680828 or visit http://www.henley-lestweforget.co.uk