Sir, — I’m an American journalist based in Paris, writing a book about a forgotten unit of black American soldiers.
This unit spent a several months in Checkendon camp and the surrounding area in late 1943 and early 1944.
These men would go on to greatness on D-Day, raising the barrage balloons in a protective curtain over Omaha and Utah beaches. Their medics saved scores of dying men.
Before they boarded ships and headed off to war, they spent a few happy months in Checkendon, where people welcomed them into their homes and made them feel, for the first time, like equal citizens.
They danced with local girls in the village hall, tossed sticks of gum to the local children and raised a pint at the Four Horseshoes and the Black Horse pubs.
I am searching for anyone in the area who remembers the soldiers, or whose parents or grandparents told them stories about them.
The warm reception in Checkendon was dramatic and unexpected for these soldiers, the majority of whom hailed from the southern United States, which at that time observed so-called Jim Crow laws, which called for total segregation between the races.
There were separate schools, churches, public lavatories and even drinking fountains.
The historical roots of southern US segregation trace back to the end of American slavery, when southerners were incensed to lose their slaves and their livelihoods and retaliated against their black neighbours.
Lynchings in the Deep South were rampant and the military uniforms the black soldiers proudly sported made them even more of a target for violence and abuse. A wrong look at a white woman could land a black man in prison — or worse.The American military, which was run by southern commanders, ensured that the army, the only branch accepting large numbers of black men, remained segregated.
This policy carried over to Great Britain, where black soldiers were billeted separately from whites and were encouraged by their commanders not to socialise with the local people.
So it is in this context that hundreds of black men from the 320th and other all-black units joined thousands of white troops aboard a converted British ocean liner in New York and headed for Britain.
They arrived in Oxfordshire not knowing what to expect and to their surprise they were greeted with open arms.
“We were treated like first-class citizens for the first time in our lives,” one veteran, now 91, told me.
Their memories are heartwarming but, due to their advanced age, incomplete. This is the reason I’m searching for anyone in the area who is able to recall life during that time, when the soldiers came to town.
I am looking for personal stories. Any details about the soldiers’ living situation, where they danced or blew off steam, is very helpful. Did they march through town, stage musical concerts? Many men in this unit were musicians. Were there fights with the white soldiers?
Any of these memories would help me a great deal. I have not been able to find any pictures of the soldiers and the local people together so I am very keen to see some photos and with permission, use them in my book. I thank you for any help. My contact information is below. — Yours faithfully,
46 rue de la Fontaine au Roi, Paris 75011, France
Tel: +33 6 3313 3915
We can’t take more homes
Sir, -— The Government now requires all local authorities in a “housing market area” to work jointly to undertake a strategic housing market assessment. Oxfordshire is deemed to be a market area.
This assessment is required by all authorities producing local plans. The outcome of this could be that the housing numbers will increase to more than those in the existing core strategy.
This strategy was promised to be a 15-year plan and is the basis for neighbourhood plans across the country.
The assessment is being conducted by consultants G L Hern. These figures will come out in January.
How does this affect the neighbourhood plans, whether completed or in progress?
Henley may have to revise its housing figures so our allocation of 400 homes could be adjusted upwards whether we like it or not.
It puts into question the Local Plans, the core strategy and all neighbourhood plans. So much for localism!
South Oxfordshire District Council will be legally bound to accept any proposed increases and allocate land whether it approves or not.
The government inspector who approved the core strategy gave many sound reasons why Henley should have a ceiling of 400 homes. We should insist that this reasoning is still sound and that Henley does not have the capacity for further expansion.
I, in my capacity as chairman of planning, and the Mayor will be attending a briefing at the district council today (Friday) to hear more detail about this proposal as well as make it very clear that we do not have the infrastructure to accept more houses than the 400 agreed by the inspector.
The Mayor and I will provide more information afterwards.
If we are allocated more homes, then this is a betrayal to us all by a parliament which only 18 months ago promoted localism - and the core strategy for Henley - as a basis for neighbourhood planning.
We will have the results of this new assessment soon. Let’s hope common sense prevails. — Yours faithfully,
Councillor Dieter Hinke
Chairman of planning, Henley Town Coucil, and chairman of the Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood planning governance committee, Elizabeth Road, Henley
Driven away by minority
Sir, — I am writing to express my dismay and regret that a small but vocal minority have successfully driven out a global sporting event, i.e. what was Challenge Henley (Standard, October 25).
Given participant numbers and associated friends and family, this probably has a negative impact on some 5,000 people and that does not include the crowds who turned up for the event, nor any increase in trade in the town.
Henley is a sporting town and the example that the athletes taking part give to all who cheered them on is exemplary.
I certainly know that my children thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle and that it has encouraged them to take more active participation in sport.
The minority have now removed this opportunity for the participants and their friends and children and removed a potential world class event from the town. Can I ask, given the delays and disruption that the royal regatta and the festival cause, will the same minority be clamouring for their cancellation too? — Yours faithfully,
Belle Vue Road, Henley
I sympathise with parents
Sir, — I read with deep sadness the very poignant open letter from Denisa Perinova’s parents, Jiri and Martina, (Standard, October 25).
One can only imagine the sheer pain, sorrow and tragic loss felt by them both and all their other family and friends who loved and had the pleasure of meeting Denisa.
Dr Helen Measures may be a professional lady of good character and standing but that should not have had any bearing on the accident.
When I read the defence solicitor’s spiteful comments concerning Denisa’s boyfriend Ben Pontin and the suggestions that he could have in any way been partly responsible, it made me cringe with embarrassment. He should not have been subjected to this, which could have only made his own sadness deeper.
The loss of a deeply loved and beautiful young lady has been tragically ended with little regard for her obviously very loving family and friends.
Luckily, Denisa’s parents have seen and experienced compassion and kindness when meeting her very true and loving friends while in England.
I wish them all the strength to carry on and think about the wonderful memories they have of Denisa, be proud and celebrate her life. — Yours faithfully,
Enough is enough
Sir, — While Denisa Perinova’s death in a road accident was a tragedy, I feel that now enough is enough. It was an accident and nothing can alter what happened. Accidents happen all the time. Dr Measures will live with this for the rest of her life. Can the subject now be dropped? — Yours faithfully,
Mrs J Hadley
Leaver Road, Henley
Thinking of the children
Sir, — With reference to Gillotts School’s boundary “issues” (Standard, October 25), I don’t see what all the fuss is about.
The land is owned by the school and it has a right to protect its asset and the children.
Of course it was nice to have use of the fields and the copse but it is not public land. Would people like dogs and the general public all over their land?
The reason the fencing and the signs are there is because people sometimes do not take any notice unless things are made pretty clear. Then some people get huffy when it is made clear.
It is in Henley’s interest that the school is maintained and well looked after for all the present and future children. — Yours faithfully,
Valley Road, Henley
Harmless use of school field
Sir — I have lived in Henley for 20 years and during the majority of that time, Gillotts School field has been used by local residents outside of school hours.
While dog fouling of the field is completely unacceptable, residents were participating in such harmless activities as jogging round the running track, teaching children to ride bikes in a safe and traffic-free location or playing badminton.
As many, including myself, picked up litter and deposited it in the bin they arguably left the field in better condition than they found it.
Residents enjoying such innocent activities are now, apparently, criminals subject to random checks by Thames Valley Police according to the offensive notice on the school gate. I hope sincerely that the local officers have better things to do with their time.
Academy or not, Gillotts is funded by the taxpayer — the local community — and is a community school.
As former headteacher David Grubb says, “For so much of the year these public places are left vacant and... I was very pleased to think that members of the local community would use it”.
I believe that Catharine Darnton, the current head, has badly misjudged this one, antagonising members of the local community in which her school sits who were doing no more than making harm-free use of the “assets” for which they had paid. — Yours faithfully,
St Andrew’s Road, Henley
Path ruined by new fence
Sir, — I moved to Henley in the Seventies and know the bridlepath at the back of Makins Road well.
Our property backs on to this bridlepath and delightful copse. We walk this path twice a day and these plastic notices and ghastly wire fence make a beautiful walk a depressing sight.
The only thing I see constantly is the dropped rubbish that we the residents all pick up as no one from Gillotts does it.
If it is the pupils of Gillotts causing the damage (until this fence was erected I have seen no damage to the copse), they should be taught to respect the area or deal with the consequences.
We the residents should not have to see this every day. — Yours faithfully,
Business needs lorries
Sir, — I would like to redress the balance a bit on the subject of the campaign against heavy goods vehicles in Watlington.
Having lived in Watlington for most of my 48 years, I feel that I am in a good position to put the other side of the story.
I am very much against lorries using the town as a cut-through, but I am deeply concerned that this campaign has become a bit of a witchhunt against a family-run logistics firm that has been based in the town for many years, too many in fact for me to remember.
As this firm has been operating in the town for longer than most of the objectors have lived here, I am disappointed that they see this company as the enemy when it probably has more right to be here.
The family lived in Watlington and are only too aware, I’m sure, of the battles the townsfolk have had over the years.
I know that they try to keep their vehicles using the roads during peak times down to a minimum but anybody who has a business is only too aware that deadlines have to be kept and sometimes it is not possible to avoid these times.
As for the pollution, most if not all lorries now run on low emissions so that they can move freely around London.
I believe that the enormous amount of cars that passes through the town, especially at school run times, is polluting the air much more than the lorries.
I repeat that I am against the lorries that should not be here and I would like to see a reduction in the pollution but for that to happen the town needs to be more free flowing, meaning fewer cars parked on the two main roads and fewer vehicles at a standstill.
And before we all shout “speeding” all that is needed are a couple of narrowed points as they have at the entrance to Benson and then you have slow traffic. — Yours faithfully,
Love Street, Watlington
Electrification is overdue
Sir, — Railway electrification is recognised worldwide for its efficiency, cost and comfort both for main line and suburban services.
The case for electrification of the lines out of Paddington is indisputable and it is to be deplored that action has been so long delayed.
Now that this is proceeding, it is only logical that the “rural branch line to Henley”, as Rolf Richardson called it (Standard, October 25) is included.
If this were not so, separate coaching stock, fuel supplies, maintenance facilities and staffing would have to be retained at quite unnecessary expense and inconvenience — to say nothing of making peak-hour passengers from Henley to London and back change at Twyford.
Progress can only be made if action is thorough and comprehensive. — Yours faithfully,
Retired director of engineering, British Railways Board, St Andrew’s Road, Henley
Sir, — However I manipulate my trusty old slide-rule, I cannot conjure up the £4,000 cost to drop two pedestrian kerbs in Sonning Common (Standard, October 18).
Perhaps I do not understand the accounting principles of major councils using preferred suppliers and contractors to whistle up invoices from thin air. Poor old taxpayer.
Within our village (small town) we have a wide spectrum of businesses and a highly skilled local workforce who are more than capable of this work, probably to higher standards, but are elbowed out of local contracts by the centralisation of these councils.
Being a parish matter, I would venture to suggest that local work such as this is outsourced to our parish council.
My sources indicate we could drop eight kerbs for the same price and employ local resources which in turn feed our local economy.
With the approaching slippery season, the same principles apply to some of our pavements and hedges which are in an atrocious condition and a liability to both pedestrians and wheelchair-users. — Yours faithfully,
Kennylands Road, Sonning Common
Cheap and convenient
Sir, — I read with interest about the increase in parking charges at Mill Meadows to £7.50 for more than four hours (Standard, October 25).
At Henley Rugby Club, just off the roundabout on the Marlow Road, you can park all day for a bargain £3 or even less with a six-month contract. It’s handy for the town centre and all amenities. — Yours faithfully,
Chairman, Henley Rugby Club
Stop moaning about path
Sir, — I am sure that I am not the only one of your readers to find the annual bleating of Kate Ashbrook, David Parry and the Open Spaces Society about the footpath in relation to the royal regatta and Henley Festival nothing short of pathetic.
No one wants to threaten the existence of this “internationally important footpath” and to suggest that the regatta and festival treat it with disdain is ridiculous.
If we are talking about a sense of community, which has been a massive theme in the whole debate about the location of the festival, what about the views of the tens of thousands of people who enjoy both events for two weeks of the year weighed against the lack of opportunity to walk there for a handful of people who clearly have far too much time on their hands if they are worried by this sort of thing?
We live in a democracy, we want the festival there and that is what is happening, so why don’t you go and walk on the hundreds of miles of other footpaths around here for those two weeks, or join an anti-fracking protest, anything really — just stop whinging on about this non-issue, making your organisation, which I am sure has many laudable aims, an object of ridicule in the eyes of the vast majority of Henley residents. — Yours faithfully,
Needless booking fee
Sir, — I was interested to read H Roberts’ letter about the Hexagon box office in Reading (Standard, October 25).
I myself went there to purchase four tickets for the pantomime.
The full ticket price I had seen advertised was £18.50, so I was astonished that I was charged a further £1.95 per ticket as a booking fee.
As I was paying cash, I enquired why I was being charged extra. I can understand a small extra fee if booking online or paying by card but when you go to a box office with cash you do not expect a booking fee.
The amount was an extra £7.80 on top of the ticket price, making each ticket £20.45, which I consider much too expensive for a children’s pantomime, especially as they make no reduction in the price for children.
I do not know how long this practice has been going on at the Hexagon but it has certainly put me off from going to future productions there.
I have been to many theatres over the years but have never been charged an extra booking fee when purchasing tickets with cash from any theatre box office. — Yours faithfully,
Reading Road, Henley
Scarred for life by bomb
Sir, — Further to Robin Barnes’ letter (Standard, October 18) a doodlebug did indeed drop near Bovingdon Green, Marlow, in a field just behind the then five thatched cottages bordering Chalkpit Lane.
When we bought one of these cottages after the war, we saw the crater left behind by the bomb. The cottage itself had lost most of its original lattice windows, which sadly had been replaced with plain glass.
A friend of ours was a little boy at the time, visiting his grandparents, who lived opposite the Royal Oak on the green.
He was playing in the front garden and suffered injuries which to the present day have left him scarred. — Yours faithfully,
Wargrave Road, Henley
Hawks are really flying
Sir, — Readers will have noted that the Henley Hawks beat their old and famous rivals Richmond 18-10 to climb to eighth in Rugby National League 1 (Standard, October 25). In fact, since we were promoted to become one of the top 40 clubs in the country, we have so far held our own against the top five teams at this dizzy level of the game.
From this week’s edition, you will know that we not only entertained Doncaster, the full-time professional, runaway leaders of the league, but beat them 11-10 in a pulsating, gripping match at Dry Leas — not bad for a squad of amateurs.
Henley is rightly renowned worldwide for its rowing prowess and has been for more than 100 years.
Henley Rugby Football Club, since its modest origins a mere 83 years ago as the Henleyensians, has grown to become one of the most successful and exciting sports centres in South Oxfordshire, adding to the popularity and reputation already enjoyed by the town. More than 3,200 spectators roared their acclaim when we won what was, in effect, last year’s league final against the league leaders Worthing.
We currently run five major teams, headed by the Hawks and including a high-flying ladies’ squad, 300-plus family memberships, minis and juniors, and benefit from strong links, through The Henley College, with the London Wasps and their academy.
Our fast, open, exciting style of play has won wide acclaim and respect, not just among our contemporaries but in the weekly national The Rugby Paper.
We are extraordinarily fortunate in having Nigel Dudding as our head coach.
A Henley man to his boots, of national acclaim and with a history of playing in, captaining and coaching our senior squad, he is supported by a dedicated team of coaches at all levels and an essential team of trainers and medics.
Even so, like all sports clubs at our level, we’re desperately short of funds which are absolute essential if we are to be able to maintain our fabulous facilities at Dry Leas.
Even with the vital generous support of our sponsors, we are hugely dependent on our membership and support of our sponsors to keep us afloat.
Why not give us a try (pun intended) and join us for our next home game against Old Albanians on Saturday, November 9? I know you really will enjoy it.
Introduce yourself as a “firstie” at the ticket office, allowing enough time before the 3pm kick-off, and you will be made especially welcome and shown around the excellent facilities at Dry Leas, including our friendly clubroom bar. There is adequate parking at the club. — Yours faithfully,
Fanatical member, Henley Rugby Football Club, Elizabeth Close, Henley
Thanks for all the help
Sir, — As many residents will be aware, Henley won a gold award at the Britain In Bloom regional competition and silver gilt in the nationals.
Members of the Henley in Bloom and civic pride committee are very pleased with both results and we are excited to be entering both competitions again next year.
Henley in Bloom is about more than just the competitions we enter.
It’s a year-round initiative and everything that is done happens with our residents and businesses in mind for the whole year, not just the summer.
I would like to thank everybody who has taken part and supported us over the past year.
From the many community groups to the businesses and the individuals that have been involved, I have been completely overwhelmed by the huge amount of support, proving that other than simply making the town beautiful, we have managed to all work together to create something we can proud of as a town.
As ever, we are seeking new members to become involved with the committee and we always welcome ideas and suggestions, so I encourage readers to come forward.
Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank-you to the Henley Standard for the amazing coverage and support we’ve had this year.
Your reporter Janine Rasiah and her work with us in particular has been very much appreciated. Thank you all. — Yours faithfully,
Councillor Kellie Hinton
Chairman, Henley in Bloom and civic pride committee, Henley Town Council
Best ever fireworks in 21 years
Sir, — The Sue Ryder Halloween fireworks night was the best yet in 21 years.
We still have some bills to pay, but Rotarian Nicky Emms, who organises the event, is confident that we will present a cheque to Sue Ryder for more than the £14,000 we gave last year.
I wish to thank all the Rotarians from Henley Bridge Rotary Club, their families and friends, visiting members from the Caversham and Henley Rotary clubs and Sue Ryder volunteers for helping to run the stalls and make the night a great success.
This year more children than ever dressed in an amazing array of Halloween costumes for the competition.
Thank you to members of the public for supporting the event and, last but not least, thank you Invesco Perpetual for again sponsoring the fireworks, which significantly helps to increase the amount we give to Sue Ryder. — Yours faithfully,
President, Rotary Club of Henley Bridge
School grounds have always been out of bounds to the public
Sir, — During my 14 years as a governor at Gillotts School, including four chairing the governors, the school was responsible for all the trees in the grounds, which included the copse between the sports field and the bridleway to the rear of the properties in Makins Road. So Gillotts looked after all the land to the edge of the bridleway.
The Oxfordshire County Council lease to Gillotts, as part of its move to academy status, is entirely consistent with that.
There is an old and slightly battered sign in the copse stating that “the school premises and grounds are private property and public access, including the exercising of dogs, is strictly prohibited”.
There are similar signs at Trinity Primary School, Badgemore Primary School and The Henley College.
What Gillotts has done to secure its site is consistent with what has been carried out by other schools in Henley and across the county…. without any outcry by residents. — Yours faithfully,
Councillor David Nimmo Smith
Oxfordshire County Council and Henley Town Council