Friday, 17 September 2021

Lottery funds war memorials

THREE new war memorials to Henley’s “forgotten” servicemen are to go ahead thanks to a Lottery grant.

THREE new war memorials to Henley’s “forgotten” servicemen are to go ahead thanks to a Lottery grant.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded £8,200 to the Lest We Forget project, which now needs only another £3,300 in donations from the community.

The news comes on the eve of Remembrance Sunday and means the 6ft by 4ft glass plaques should be in place at the town hall, St Mary’s Church and Holy Trinity Church in time for the centenary of the start of the First World War on August 4 next year.

Each one 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 project is the work of Woodcote historian Mike Willoughby, 66, who discovered the missing names.

He began researching eight years ago after learning that his great uncle, John King, died in the First World War. He found his name on a war memorial but realised that no one knew anything about him.

He visited and photographed more than 1,800 graves of Oxfordshire soldiers in Belgium and France.

Mr Willoughby said he was “over the moon” about the successful Lottery grant application.

“I’m really flattered,” he said. “This has grown beyond my wildest expectations. We’re very lucky to have the heritage funding as it has turned it from a personal project into a community one.

“When I started this I didn’t have a clue of what it would grow into — that learning about the loss of one man in the Great War could lead to all this.”

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 because it wanted residents to get involved by contributing the rest.

Mr Willoughby said: “It’s the opinion of the committee that the community would want to subscribe and feel a part of the project rather than it just to be something pushed on to them.

“There’s never been a complete record and if we can’t do that on the 100th anniversary of the Great War it would be a crying shame. It’s about the men who made the ultimate sacrifice.”

The memorials will commemorate British soldiers who lived in Henley at some point and died serving their country between 1914 and 1921.

Mr Willoughby, a retired heating engineer, extended the date to three years after the end of the war because some soldiers died of wounds suffered in battle or from disease and poor communications meant that knowledge of many of them was lost.

The plaques will be identical with the names of the soldiers printed in alphabetical order on glass mounted on a poppy background. The information will include their age, regiment, date of death and details of how they died.

One will be placed inside the town hall next to the front door. St Mary’s was chosen because it is the biggest church in the town and Holy Trinity was selected because Mr Willoughby is honorary sexton there. The Diocese of Oxford will be asked to give permission.

The project will also include:

* An electronic book in the town hall including biographies of about 450 soldiers in Henley and the surrounding villages as well as a printed version to be made available to the public.

* An educational programme involving exhibitions and talks to community groups and schools.

* A map showing where each serviceman lived.

* A campaign urging householders living in the former homes of fallen soldiers to display a commemorative poppy plaque in their window.

* Marking graves of fallen soldiers that are currently unmarked.

The two books, called Bringing Them Home, will commemorate all the soldiers on the memorials as well as up to 200 more from surrounding villages including Bix, Fawley, Hambleden, Harpsden, Highmoor, Nettlebed, Remenham, Rotherfield Greys, Pishill, Stonor and Shiplake.

They will include more details about their lives, such as the names of family members, where they lived, occupation, when they went off to war and who they signed up with as well as photographs, where available.

Copies of the 220-page book will be offered to anyone who makes a donation.

Mr Willoughby said: “This will be a permanent record of the men of Henley and surrounding villages who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“I want to provide this facility so that people can see they are no longer just a name on a memorial and an incomplete memorial at that.”

Rev Duncan Carter, rector of Holy Trinity, is also a member of the association and accompanied Mr Willoughy on numerous visits abroad.

Stuart McLeod, head of Heritage Lottery Fund South East, said: “Every community across the UK was touched in some way by the First World War and projects like this are a great way for local people to explore, remember and help commemorate the upcoming centenary.

“By creating a lasting record of the lives and deaths of the brave men who went to war from Henley almost 100 years ago, today’s residents will have a greater understanding of how those cataclysmic events changed their local area and the people living there forever.”

One of the first contributors was Lord Camoys of Stonor. His great uncle, Hon Howard Carew Stonor, was a lieutenant in the Bedfordshire Regiment and was killed in action in 1915, aged 21.

Mr Willoughby will be holding a Lest We Forget exhibition at Holy Trinity tomorrow (Saturday) from 10am.

It will include original and replica artefacts of the war, including weapons, uniforms, equipment and medals. There will also be a display of wartime characters, a mock-up of a trench and information boards.

An associated website will be launched at the same time. To make a donation or for more information, visit www.henley-lestweforget.co.uk

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