The Creation of the Kingston Bagpuize with Southmoor War Memorial Crescent
by Rob Belk
Memorials Matter. They are the stepping stones of history. They make indelible the footsteps in the sands of time of ordinary people who became extraordinary - for us. We need to know about them. We need to remember. And honour. And thank. And take example. For throughout history, for civilisations to survive and flourish, some have had to be prepared to die. These selfless ones perhaps hoped that their sacrifice would be remembered and not have to be repeated. Our compact with the Selfless is Remembrance of them and what they gave for our Freedoms.
In December 2010, I was contacted by Jan Kelly, then Chair of the History Society and asked to prepare material for a History Society weekend entitled 'Our Villages in Wartime', scheduled for April, 2011. The scope envisaged included the villages covered by the History Society, being Hinton Waldrist, Longworth and Kingston Bagpuize with Southmoor. So began intensive research that culminated in the 'Our Villages War Dead' script and timeline. Like the Bayeux Tapestry, the War Dead Timeline told of war and the lives and deaths of 65 villager people in the great canvass of chaos that was their lives and their lot from 1914 to 1945.
'Our 65' included
In researching the war dead for Kingston Bagpuize, it quickly became apparent that the village had no proper external war memorial and that the two brass plaques in St John's church were incomplete (they didn't include two war dead buried in their own churchyard) and, in one case, inaccurate.
The 'Our Villages in War Time' presentation in Southmoor Village Hall in April 2011 also included anecdotal accounts of airplane crashes on and around our villages, from the standpoint of village witnesses. Some of the accounts were laced with conjecture as to the missions and causes of the crashes, with no record of the crews who were killed or facts surrounding the crashes.
So began the undersigned's campaign for (a) a proper external war memorial in Kingston Bagpuize and (b) to know more about the crashes and the crews who had died over and around our three villages.
The campaign for a proper and inclusive external war memorial in Kingston Bagpuize with Southmoor dovetailed with and gave real substance to another request to the Parish Council for some kind of external marker or memorial utilising stones from Southmoor Henge for the Afghan war dead, none of whom were from Kingston Bagpuize. In particular, John Weston was among that concerned band of people who, come rain or shine, stood out on the A420 to honour corteges of repatriated war dead from Brize Norton to John Radcliffe hospital, Oxford.
Following representations to the Church Wardens, in July 2011 a proposal was tabled to the Parish Council for a proper external War Memorial that righted wrongs and properly recorded all of our local war dead, Allied Air Crews, forces based in the village that deployed to Normandy - and also honours those who have continued to sacrifice since WWII. Thus all the strands of Remembrance brought to bear in one external War Memorial.
There then ensued a number of Parish Council meetings to review the matter - at which, due to other commitments, I was unable to be physically present. In September, 2011, my proposal was tabled by John Melling and it was agreed to hold a round table meeting of interested villagers to further discuss. In November, 2011, there was a lot of interest when the 'Our Villages War Dead' banners were displayed in the churches in Hinton Waldrist, Longworth and Kingston Bagpuize. In December, 2011, my proposal was again discussed at the Parish Council and it was clear that funding would be required from the public.
In January, 2012, Ron Green launched the drive for funding by organising a Table Top Sale in Southmoor Village Hall that raised £250.
In March, 2012, my proposal for four stones and four acts of remembrance via plaques to be inset into the stones was debated and in April, the first of five requests for quotations went out for Stone Masons to quote for the plaques in either York Stone or Welsh Slate - with the objective of having all in place in time for the November, 2012 Remembrance Service. Brian Forster talked to Cliff Belcher who offered to move the stones for free.
By the end of June, 2012, my research on the Allied Air Crews who were killed in crashes on Kingston Bagpuize with Southmoor, Longworth and Hinton Waldrist was complete. I decided to hold-back the information on the Longworth and Hinton Waldrist crashes in order to concentrate on the key issue of 'righting the wrong' of no external War Memorial in Kingston Bagpuize.
July 2012 was a busy month in the creation of our Memorial Crescent
In August, 2012
In September, 2012
In October, 2012 -
There then began a series of five 'plaque template trials' - to get right the size and positioning of the formal plaques on the highly individualistic stones.
Planning also then began in earnest for the last fund raising act - the 'Names Set in Stones and Music' evening on 3 November. We knew that the date clashed with Bonfire Night - but also that come 5 November, we would need to start to fit the Remembrance Plaques - and the Appeal appeal would be virtually over! 'Names' promotion posters were put in place, Ruth Hastings volunteered her 'Harmony Inspires' A Cappella chorus, Alan Bolder volunteered his Abbey Sax saxophonists and both worked on scores that would recall the music 'Names in Stone' would have known as they set-out on their last missions. In addition, of course, the 'Names' PowerPoint presentation had to be created and Ron Green needed to recruit volunteers to help with the buffet and bar.
It all came together. On 3 November, Abbey Sax played-in some 55 people. The presentation was well received and Harmony Inspires and Stan Webb were wonderful singers. And that very night, David Warr stepped forward and said that he would fund the Canadian Flag (two other donors have since said that they will pay for the American and Union flags).
Week commencing 5 November was 'Plaques Week'. Three masons from Abingdon Stone Ltd came and 'inset' the five stones ready for the plaques.
The Corallian limestone was harder than granite, they said - wearing out their diamond-tipped cutters at an alarming rate and taking days longer than anticipated. The BBC turned-up on the last day, to film the plaques being put in place and record an interview with Murray Maclean, the nephew of Wellington Bomber pilot, Donald Maclean, who gave his life for his crew, on 1 October, 1940 - and who, in a very real sense, was 'coming home', the Memorial Crescent being on land once owned by his family.
By 8 November, the KBS Memorial Crescent was complete - and ready for the Remembrance Day Service, on Sunday, 11 November, 2012.
Anatomy of giving
The overall Appeal ran for 64 days (1 September to 3 November, 2012). We started with individual letters to key potential donors and Appeal Buckets in local shops and pubs. The raffle began on 1 October and ran for 34 days and the Appeal culminated in the 'Names' evening on 3 November. Collection buckets in shops and pubs were emptied weekly.
Cliff Belcher and his family and colleagues gave freely of their time, expertise and equipment to move the stones and the Appeal would not have been successful without the unstinting support of other members of the KBS War Memorial Working Group, especially Ron Green, Brian Forster, John Weston and Melinda Tilley. The mission would not have succeeded at all without the wholesale support of spouses of the above, in particular, Clare Belk.
The funding breakdown for the remembrance plaques was as follows:-
In addition, as noted above, three individuals offered to fund the three flags - and Mr Robert Mattock offered to fund and manage rose borders to the Memorial Crescent green.
The Kingston Bagpuize with Southmoor War Memorial Crescent is unique and striking:-
The KBS Memorial Crescent is truly a village war memorial that forever honours and thanks:-
All names are listed in the order in which they died (not alphabetically), so that the plaques better tell their story against the broad canvas of war.
A 6th plaque on the east side of Stone Three tells 'The Story of The Stones' and includes a geological explanation for the school children amongst us.
Several people included touching notes with their War Memorial Appeal Fund donations. Perhaps the best was from Owen Developments. It said -
"we have heard many stories over the years about what went on during the war. . We should never be allowed to forget the tremendous sacrifice made and for the younger generation to know THIS WAS NOT A STORY - IT WAS REAL AND THE PEOPLE WERE REAL AND THEY HAD NAMES AND FAMILIES".