Today I completed one of the most enjoyable jobs I’ve had for the last couple of years. It was delivering 102 year old medals. The job started out as a simple Facebook request mid-July, from Toni at Flinders Naval Depot Museum looking for somebody heading from Melbourne to England.
I replied that I was in England and that our daughter Siobhan was heading to England in August. The only drawback was she was in Perth.
I left it with Toni and soon received a message that she wanted some World War One medals delivered to the village of Englefeld Green, near Runnymeade. Originally the medals had been ordered to arrive for a special ceremony in England. The only drawback was that she was still waiting for it to be delivered from the Australian’s Honours and Awards Department in Canberra. As the medals hadn’t arrived in time for the ceremony there was no longer a rush. She also had to organise getting it to Perth. Near the end of July I received the message that the medals had arrived in Melbourne.
As the medals were so precious they couldn’t be sent through the mail so it had to be sent safe hand. It was a round about route with the medals travelling from Melbourne to Brisbane. Then Toni’s brother was heading from Brisbane to Perth, where he’d deliver them to our daughter.
A week later Siobhan flew via Doha to Heathrow where we met to receive the medals.
Delivery to Englefeld Green
I rang John Scott at Englefeld Green to organise delivery and met up with him at Englefeld Green.
Finally after a journey of roughly 21800 kilometres it was nice to hand over the medals and find out the story behind them.
John Scott was a British Army veteran who had walked into the cemetery at Englefeld Green, looked at the Cross of Sacrifice and read its inscription of “Their Names Liveth For Evermore” and wondered do they? Soon John was to create a project to make their names Liveth For Evermore.
The first part of the project was to research the names. In the villages former Royal British Legion building, John was to discover his first clues. At the emergency exit which was formerly the main entrance a memorial board displayed names of the fallen. However, the list of names didn’t stop there. With the help of other researchers soon more and more names were being added. Eventually John and his team discovered that during the First World War 329 local men enlisted of which 117 were killed. It’s a pretty bad statistic when considering that at the onset of World War One the village of Englefeld Green only had a population of approximately 2,000 people.
The population were mainly employed at the 60 stately homes which surrounded the village. These were the homes belonging to rich bankers and merchants not too far from London but also close to the castle at Windsor. With so many killed in the war it would be hard to imagine any families not touched by the tragedy. That’s not even considering those who returned damaged.
The monument also records the names of the thirty Canadian Forestry Corps volunteers who fell victim of the influenza which swept through Europe near the end of the war. One of those Private John Chookomolin was a Cree First Nation Canadian who was buried under a headstone with the wrong spelling of his name.
During World War Two, more locals joined up of which 35 were killed and also 4 civilians who were killed in London by aerial bombing.
One soldier was killed in Afghanistan
Building a monument to honour all these people wasn’t a simple task. Firstly you have to answer a few questions, such as. Where are you going to build it? Where do I get building permission? What’s it going to look like? What’s material is it going to be built from? Who’s going to build it? How much is it going to cost?
Soon a letter writing campaign started answering some of these questions. It also recruited people willing to aid their services for free. The land was the first issue and a vacant plot at the front of the church was gifted by the Englefeld council.
John and his team had looked at building a wall in front of the church, however as more names were added the wall became too tall. The local council wouldn’t allow the view of the historic church to be blocked. A four sided box style monument wasn’t an option either as whose name goes on the front and whose goes on the back. Whose name is more important.
A local architect happily volunteered to help designed a monument of a ring of vertical stones. Maybe he wanted to look out his office window across the road to the monument he designed with a bit of personal pride.
Sourcing the grey marble slabs for the monument was also a challenge. Eventually they purchased some grey marble quarried in Finland, at a market in India. They were then sent to China to be cut and polished before being carved by the local stone mason in Englefeld Green.
Leveling and earthworks for the monument was done by a local company who also paved the area free of charge. Whilst they were leveling the plot John discovered that the man volunteering his labour was the father of one of the soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
All of the people who volunteered their services had a reason.
The total bill for the monument came to £80,000. To achieve this amount John wrote letters far and wide. John wrote to the three local councils surrounding Englefeld Green and they happily donated some money. He also applied for a grant from the exchequer who also chipped in £20,000. Community donations flowed in from local businesses, people and local community fundraisers were held until the amount was raised.
Before the monument was commemorated a biography of each person whose name is on the monument was created. It included a photo if one was available and a brief history of the person. Plasticised copies of these bio’s were attached to the fence surrounding the memorial.
So why were the medals important? Whilst researching the names for the memorial it became apparent that all of these people who gave their lives needed to be more than just names on a cenotaph. Their stories had to be told and they had to be remembered. John approached the local museum with the intention of establishing a permanent exhibition.
Battle of Bita Paka
So where was the Australian connection? One amongst the names of those killed was Able Seaman Henry (Harry) Street. He was born in Englefeld Green but emigrated to Australia. When the war broke out the Australian Naval and Military Expedition Force was raised with an intention of seizing German New Guinea and the New Britain Archipelago.
With the seizure of the territories and wireless stations then German surface raiders would be denied of information and support. Harry was part of the South Australian Contingent, No 6 company (AN &MEF) and on the 11th September 1914 was part of the very first Australian unit in action. It’s not very well remembered but the first action was the Australian Naval raid on wireless station in German New Guinea.
Unfortunately he was also one of Australia’s first casualties of World War One and was buried in Rabaul War Cemetery. His sole surviving relative was his mother in far away Englefeld Green, who never recovered from the news. With the death of his mother his story was basically forgotten and his medals remained at Australia’s Honours and Awards Department unclaimed. A poem was written about him which appeared in “The Sun”, “The Kiama Independent” and the “Shoalhaven Advertiser” on the 21st October 1914 but after that he settled into obscurity. With the new monument at Englefeld Green and the display of medals and biographies at the museum John and the whole town are not only honouring those who died but also making them more than names on a cenotaph.
Whilst I was in Englefeld Green I was treated to a tour of the cemetery with John. As we wandered through the cemetery he pointed out graves of soldiers killed in training, or died convalescing, some of the forgotten people. He also told me some of the stories of those who survived the war. There were so many stories. One which stuck in my mind was the husband and wife who both were pilots. She was part of the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) a group of female pilots who ferried new, repaired and damaged aircraft between repair facilities and the airfields. He was a squadron leader with a spitfire squadron. He arranged for her to ferry a spitfire to France where he met up for a wedding in Paris. Unfortunately the weather was against them and she was grounded in France for three extra days. The military also took a dim view and their trip was to cost him a fine of three months pay.
It was a wonderful few hours wandering around Englefeld Green and learning about the local heroes. Hopefully next time I visit I can check out the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede on the edge of Englefeld Green. It honours the 20,456 men and women of the various airforces of the British Commonwealth killed in air and other operations who have no known graves. We might even take time to visit the location where King John was said to have sealed the Magna Carta in 1215.
One thing is certain however, when we visit Englefeld Green we’ll raise a glass to Harry Street and all the people who are more than just names on the memorial.