Sunday, 24 March 2019

Founder of campaign to honour “forgotten” soldiers and community champion recognised

Founder of campaign to honour “forgotten” soldiers and community champion recognised

A MAN who launched a campaign to honour “forgotten” servicemen and a former mayor who helped spearhead the project have been awarded the Henley Town Medal.

Mike Willoughby and Elizabeth Hodgkin were presented with the honour at a ceremony in front of about 50 people at Henley town hall.

Mr Willoughby was recognised for the Lest We Forget project which honours the fallen of the First World War, and Mrs Hodgkin for her involvement in countless charities and community groups in Henley.

She helped bring Mr Willoughby’s project, launched in 2013, to the attention of the wider public during her speech as mayor on Remembrance Sunday in 2012.

Since then Mr Willoughby, from Woodcote, has discovered the names of 312 soldiers from Henley and the surrounding villages who died in the conflict and whose names were not featured on any memorials.

As part his work three new memorials were installed at the town hall and Holy Trinity and St Mary’s Churches in the early stages of the project.

Mr Willoughby also successfully campaigned to have the name of the new Townlands Hospital changed to Townlands Memorial Hospital and a new memorial was unveiled within the grounds in November.

He wrote a book, Bringing Them Home, which includes background information and photographs on each of the fallen 

He has also staged numerous exhibitions with his wife Lesley, who also works on the project, and has visited schools to speak about their work.

Poppy plaques were placed in homes and business around Henley where the fallen had once lived.

Mr Willoughby thanked Mrs Hodgkin, who lives in Nicholas Road, Henley, for her support at Tuesday night’s ceremony.

He said: “Her exact words were ‘something must be done about this’. I’d got no influence, no clout, no standing.

“This had been an absolute privilege for me. I've been backed by all these people here who have contributed to the project.

“It’s totally unexpected - I’m thrilled.”

Mrs Hodgkin has lived in Henley most her life with her husband Richard and been involved in numerous charities, community groups and organisations in the town helping young people and the elderly.

These include the Henley Educational Trust, Citizens Advice Henley, the Over 60s Club, Henley Youth Centre, Henley Municipal Charities, the Thamesfield Youth Association and many more.

She is also the founder of the Gardening  Buddies, a gardening group which keeps the town’s public spaces looking clean and tidy.

She was elected as town councillor for Henley Residents Group in 2003 and served for 12 years, including two spells as Mayor of Henley in 2009/10 and 2012/13.

She also served as district councillor between 2010 and 2015.

She said: "It’s a real honour to receive the town medal and I know a great deal of thought and debate goes into it.

“I’ve had a lot of fun. I’ve also not been alone when working with charities and organisations – I’ve been working as part of a team.”

She paid tribute to her husband saying he had made it possible for her to get involved in so many organisations.

One of the first was the Eyot Centre, off Wargrave Road, who were fundraising for a new building.

The initial cost was £90,000 but by the time it was built this had risen to £600,000 and Mrs Hodgkin’s job was to find new sources of funding which she did successfully.

She has also been able to help young people via the Thamesfield Youth Association helping to create a “lasting legacy" for future generations of youngsters.

“Gardening Buddies has been a wonderful way to meet and make friends - we have such fun,” she said.

“My first love, apart from Richard, has always been music and especially choral music. That’s why 10 years ago, when I was mayor, I put forward the idea of the Henley choir festival.”

This year’s festival, last month, had been another great success.

She added: “Thank you again, I’m very touched that I have this award, it means a lot.”

 

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