Friday, 24 September 2021

Historian researches rowers lost in war

A HISTORIAN has visited the graves of 102 members of Leander Club who fell during the First World War.

A HISTORIAN has visited the graves of 102 members of Leander Club who fell during the First World War.

Mike Willoughby, from Woodcote, embarked on a 1,300-mile round trip to France for his research. He placed small wooden crosses, including the Leander badge, on each grave and took photographs as well as gathering information on the soldiers.

Mr Willoughby, 65, said: “These people are part of Henley, even if they weren’t from the area. They were all Olympic rowers or Boat Race people and it was fabulous going to visit their graves.”

He came across notable servicemen, including Charles Dickens’ grandson, Major Cedric Charles Dickens, who died days after the Battle of Guillemont in 1916.

He also researched the life of Major Valentine Fleming, who was Henley MP from 1910 to 1917 before he was killed.

Maj Fleming, who lived in Nettlebed, was a close friend of Winston Churchill and wrote to him during the war. Mr Willoughby, a heating engineer, is working on a memorial and accompanying book to include the “forgotten” soldiers whose names do not appear on the current memorials in Henley.

He said the Leander project provided him with an extra challenge, adding: “It will probably end up being a separate publication dedicated to them for Leander Club. They are all interesting stories and it has touched a nerve with people at the club. No one has done this before.”

Paul Budd, general manager of Leander, said: “We have a very prominent roll of honour to those members who died during the Great War and we are very grateful to Mike for his hard work in tracking down the graves of all those we lost so long ago. His assistance will be a great help as we prepare to remember the centenary of the outbreak of war in the most sympathetic and appropriate way.”

Anyone with information about relatives from Henley who died in either world war should call Mr Willoughby on (01491) 680828.

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