Monday, 27 September 2021

Three new war memorials for Henley

THREE war memorials dedicated to fallen soldiers from the First World War are set to be erected in Henley.

THREE war memorials dedicated to fallen soldiers from the First World War are set to be erected in Henley.

They would be at Holy Trinity Church, inside the town hall and in a memorial garden at the new Townlands Hospital. Each one would have the names of about 300 soldiers from the town and surrounding villages who sacrificed their lives between 1914 and 1921.

It’s hoped that two of the memorials will be in place to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War in August next year and that the hospital memorial will be installed in 2015.

The idea follows research by historian Mike Willoughby, who has found more than 70 names missing from Henley’s nine existing memorials.

Mr Willoughby, 65, from Woodcote, said: “I think 2014 is the most amazing opportunity to permanently mark the young men of this town and surrounding villages who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“Henley is ahead of the game because our plans are well advanced in marking the 100th anniversary. We just want these guys remembered and I’m really excited about the way it’s going.”

Mr Willoughby began his research after discovering that his great uncle, John King, died in the First World War. He discovered his name on a war memorial but that no one knew anything about him.

Since then, he has helped more than a dozen visitors to Holy Trinity Church, where he is honorary sexton, find information about relatives who died in service.

He has also visited and photographed about 1,800 graves of Oxfordshire soldiers in France and Belgium.

Mr Willoughby believes that poor communication during the Great War meant knowledge of many soldiers was lost.

He extended the date on the proposed memorials to three years after the war because some soldiers died of wounds suffered in battle or from disease. On the eve of Remembrance Day last year, he held an exhibition on the “forgotten” soldiers called Lest We Forget at Holy Trinity.

Mayor Elizabeth Hodgkin attended the exhibition and immediately proposed that a new memorial be erected.

A committee was set up chaired by Rev Duncan Carter, vicar at Holy Trinity, and including Mr Willoughby, three town councillors, two members of the Royal British Legion and members of the community.

The name of the project is Lest We Forget: Each One Was Some Mother’s Son.

Mr Willoughby and Rev Carter were already planning to erect a memorial in their church but the committee has agreed to recommend another one is placed in the town hall foyer, funded by private donations.

It is also suggesting a memorial in a garden at the new Townlands but talks with the developer have not yet taken place.

The existing memorials in the town only include the initials and surnames of soldiers but the new memorials will include their full name, age, regiment, date of death and a description of how they died.

Mr Willoughby, a part-time heating engineer, is also compiling a book with a biography of each soldier.

It’s hoped that a special edition, leather-bound copy of the book and a map illustrating where each soldier lived will accompany the town hall memorial while funds raised from a retail edition will be donated to a memorial project at Townlands or any others that may arise.

Mr Willoughby said: “It’s a fantastic culmination of what will have been eight years’ work but only because the Mayor started the ball rolling.

“The most I anticipated was the Trinity memorial but I think it’s brilliant that she said what she said and when she said it and I’ve been quite happy to facilitate this.

“It has been agreed that no existing memorial will be modified or added to. There are 186 names on the town hall memorial but on the new one there will be in the region of 300 names.

“A memorial will definitely be in Holy Trinity and we would also like a memorial in the foyer of the town hall with a plaque outside indicating it is there.

“In the second phase of the project we hope that a more solid memorial and a copy of the map will be sited in the grounds of the new Townlands development.

“Henley and District War Memorial Hospital was the original memorial because the town decided the best way to remember the dead was by building the hospital so it would be nice for the new development to carry on this spirit.”

Last month, Mr Willoughby and Rev Carter visited Mash Valley in the Somme and walked in his great uncle’s last footsteps.

“Eight years ago he was in obscurity but now he’s as well known a casualty of the Somme as anyone,” said Mr Willoughby. “His story is indicative of what happened to so many of these blokes.

“It’s a privilege to have looked into it. I’ve visited a lot of the graves of local lads and when I get there, I feel as if I know them because I’ve researched them so much.

“I’m sure that for half of them, no one has ever visited their grave because they haven’t had the wherewithal or the opportunity.” Mr Willoughby, who was helped by Colin Pike at Henley Register Office in finding birth dates of soldiers, will be giving a talk at Pishill Church on May 10 at 7.30pm.

Entrance is free but a collection will be made in aid of the church appeal. Anyone wishing to attend should call Andrew Myrtle on (01491) 638469 or email

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