Message from the Chairman of
The 4th of August 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the day Britain entered one of the costliest conflicts in history – the First World
War – with fighting continuing until the 11th of November 1918, Armistice Day.
The Royal British Legion was founded by British veterans in the aftermath of the First World War and is at the forefront
of Centenary commemorations. As we come together in Remembrance of events a century ago, we are reminded of the important welfare work the Legion continues
to provide today and will need to provide in the future.
The Henley-in-Arden Branch of the RBL will be re-creating the VAD Hospital and I invite all readers of Henley NEWS to
visit the hospital in its original location during this week. It looked after 1,576 patients, all but 2 survived, a truly remarkable record.
Dennis Cox, Chairman of the Henley-in-Arden Branch, Royal British Legion
At 10 o’clock on Sunday 3rd August, a large group of people met outside the Memorial hall in Henley to come together
to form up for the Parade preceding the Drumhead Service in St Nicholas Church Yard in Beaudesert Lane, Henley.
The parade was led by the Shirley Pipe Band, who were as ever splendid in their regalia; colour parties who carried the standards;
followed by members and friends of the British Legion, who were dressed in WW1 uniforms, nurses outfits of the time, “walking wounded“ dressed
in blue (which at the time signified that they had been to the front and were not branded as cowards); members of Henley Court Leet led by the High and Low
Bailiffs; Dignitaries from Henley Parish Council; the Fire Service, and Henley & Wootton scouts and guides.
The Parade left the Memorial Hall at 10.10 and marched down Station Road into the High Street (which had been closed for
the occasion). It then continued southwards down to St Johns Church and then left into Beaudesert Lane. The High Street was packed with people who had come
out to watch, with an estimate of 400 to 500 on the pavements. The Parade continued down Beaudesert Lane into St Nicholas Church Yard that was laid out for
the outdoor Drumhead Service. Such Services were held regularly just behind the front line.
We were fortunate that the weather was good (it would have been sad if it had been on the Saturday 2nd August, which had been
wet all morning). All members of the Parade were seated & the Service commenced at 10.50 led by the Rector John Ganjavi. Drums were placed at the front
and the colour party presented their standards to the Rector, which would form the altar.
The Rector set the scene for the Service, saying it was very much about remembrance of all servicemen who had taken part in
the Great War, but particularly those from Henley in Arden and had made the supreme sacrifice with their lives. He then introduced Dr Douglas Bridgewater who
has just published a book entitled “A Small Town and the Great War“,, spoke about the individual personalities who had lost their lives,
and particularly Arden Coterell Coldicott MC and John Aubrey Hawkes. He then unveiled a newly refurbished Memorial in the Graveyard, where the front is inscribed “John
Aubrey Hawkes 2nd Lieutenant Leicestershire Regiment, killed in France 11th September 1918 (just 2 months before the end of the war). The Memorial also reminds
us of the other 29 men from Henley who also lost their lives.
The Drumhead Service led by John Ganjavi and comprised hymns, prayers, Act of Remembrance, the Last Post and 2 minutes silence.
It was a very moving, respectful and thought provoking service of which all those who attended should be proud.
The Service concluded with the National Anthem and at 11.50, the Parade re-formed in Beaudesert Lane behind the Shirley
Pipe Band to march back to the Memorial Hall in Station Road.
Everyone was then invited to watch the opening of the recreated VA (Voluntary Aid) Auxiliary Hospital in the Memorial Hall,
which served as a hospital between November 1914 and April 1919. The hospital was manned by volunteers from around the area, who cared for 1,576 patients,
with just two deaths in the four years – a real credit to the care of the team at the time under Dr W E Nelson, Commandant and acting Medical Officer.
On Sunday, the re-created hospital was officially opened by David Lodder, local solicitor and Steward to Henley Court Leet.
David was asked to make the opening because his Grandmother, Phoebe Lodder, was Lady Superintendent at the Hospital during the four years it was open. He unveiled
a Plaque at the entrance to the Hall, which states that it was a Voluntary Aid Hospital between November 1914 & April 1919. This Plaque has been funded
by the British Legion, with help from Lottery funding and the local Council.
After this ceremony Dennis Cox, Chairman of the Henley Royal British Legion asked for 3 minutes' grace whilst “injured
soldiers “took their places in the beds. At around 12.15 members of the public were invited to view the re-created hospital.
The sight that met them was described as amazing and truly authentic. WW1 hospital beds, patients with a variety of injuries
and bandages, nurses dressed as they would have been at the time, soldiers in WW1 uniform and catering (Sue Dalby) in clothing that would have been used at
the time. There was a Matron in the middle of the room, with a wide variety of medical instruments on display. The displays also included medals and pictures
from local people who had links with servicemen at the time. On the stage there was a rolling video showing many pictures and stories from the period. An adjacent
room was set aside for the Operating theatre, where the surgeon demonstrated some of the instruments that would have been used to conduct operations – all
quite gruesome, but sadly this was the reality of the situation during the Great War.
The VAD Hospital, in Station Road Henley is open every day w/c 3rd August from 2pm-5pm, until and including Saturday 9th August.
If you are at all interested in Henley, its history and the Great War, the recreated hospital is a “MUST VISIT“. You will be fascinated by the
exhibits and will treasure the memory of what the town contributed to WW1.
This whole event has been orchestrated by the Royal British Legion in Henley and it must be given much credit for the organisatioit
of not only the detail in the Hospital but the Parade , Drumhead Service and the Candlelit Vigil which took place at St Johns Church between 10 and 11pm
on Monday evening 4th August.
The Service again comprised WW1 soldiers and nurses in uniform and was led by John Ganjavi, the Rector. It was both moving,
solemn and poignant. The Rector read some poetry from soldiers at the time and highlighted that all who took part and lost their lives were individuals, had
personalities and loved ones who were unlikely to see them again. During the hour the lights in the church were gradually extinguished until the congregation
lit candles towards the end of the service, which were themselves also extinguished at 11pm to commemorate the start of the First World War – remembering
Sir Edward Grey, the then Foreign Secretary saying that “The lamps are going out all over Europe”.
Alistair Price - WW1 Soldier
Parade and Drumhead Service
Dr Douglas Bridgewater spoke at the beginning of the Drumhead Service about the impact of the Great War on families in
Henley and he told the congregation:
For reasons which will become apparent, this is the most appropriate place to meet today to commemorate the beginning
of The Great War, a war which had a major impact on the history of this nation, this community of Henley in Arden and the families within it. As an example
of its impact on a local family, I should like to tell you something of the Hawkes family. John Aubrey Hawkes (known as Jack) was the younger son of
Harry and Mary Hawkes, his father being a well-known butcher in the High Street. Jack joined the Warwickshire Yeomanry at the outbreak of war, a regiment
in which his brother was already serving and in which his father and grandfather had previously served. The first line of the regiment, including his
elder brother Percy, sailed for Egypt in April 1915. Jack, with less military experience, was serving with the 2nd line in East Anglia. He established
himself as an exceptionally good instructor in both riding and shooting and was rapidly promoted to Sergeant. His skill as an instructor resulted in
his many requests to be sent on active service being turned down.
One reason for Jack’s anxiety to go overseas was that his great friend, Arden Cotterell Coldicott (known as Cottie),
had been serving as an officer in France with the Royal Warwick's since May 1915 and was awarded the Military Cross in July 1917. Cottie Coldicott’s
family lived in the Old Rectory of Beaudesert, just beyond the church. Jack finally informed his commanding officer that, if he was not sent on active
service abroad, he would resign from the territorial army and join the regular army as a private. He was then recommended for a commission, which he duly
received and was posted as a 2nd Lieutenant to the 7th Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment, joining them in France on 15 June 1918.
Less than two weeks later, on 28 June, Cottie Coldicott, was reported to have been killed, though it later emerged that
he had been wounded and was a prisoner of war in Germany: however, he died of his wounds on 14 August 1918 at the age of 21.
After a short but eventful period of active service Jack Hawkes was also severely wounded while leading his men in an
attack and died of his wounds on 11 September 1918 at the age of 24. Cottie Coldicott is buried in Cologne, Jack Hawkes in Sorrel le Grand on the Somme.
Jack’s parents erected an obelisk to his memory in a prominent position in this churchyard and you see it just to my left.
There was a further link between the Hawkes and Coldicott families. Cottie Coldicott was engaged to Marjorie Hawkes, one
of Jack Hawkes’
sisters. Within a month she lost her fiancé and her younger brother. When asked at a family funeral in later years why she was the only one not
crying, she replied that she had shed all her tears in 1918. Jack Hawkes had also been engaged at the time of his death.
These are just two of the thirty men of Henley who died in the Great War and two of the almost two hundred associated
with the town who were on active service. These men must not be forgotten, but neither must the women of the town and many of the men who stayed behind
and staffed the Auxiliary Hospital which was opened in November 1914 and did not close until April 1919. They worked on an entirely voluntary basis.
The Hospital was established in the Public Hall which had been built in 1908. The Hall was largely the creation of Dr
Ernest Nelson, Henley’s principal medical practioner, who had his surgery at Greengates in the High Street. 1908 was also the year in which Voluntary
Aid Detachments were created to provide medical assistance to the Territorial Army in the event of a war. Henley had both a men’s and women’s
Voluntary Aid Detachments, both of which were trained by Dr Nelson. When the Hospital was opened in November 1914, Nelson was appointed its first and only
Commandant. His wife Rosa became its Assistant Commandant.
Both are now buried in the upper slopes of this churchyard.
It is very fitting that we commemorate here, today, the former residents of this town who gave up so much of their time
to the service of their country and in many cases died for it.
View the photo report
VAD Hospital in the Memorial Hall
Report by Ray Evans
I have written a play, which is loosely based on the events that took place following the opening of the Public Hall in Henley.
I had appealed in Henley NEWS for any background and local knowledge, concerning the VAD Hospital period at the hall
from 1915 to 1919. Perhaps prompted by this publicity, earlier this year, I had a call from Carsina Goodman, asking me if I knew where The British Legion might
obtain old hospital beds, WW1 army uniforms and VAD nurse costumes they needed for an event they planned to stage in August. I failed to provide them with
any worthwhile and tangible leads. To be honest, I thought they were being somewhat ambitious in thinking that they would be able to source such items, knowing
that the whole country was gearing up for this awesome centenary, with unbelievable fervour.
Last Wednesday evening, I entered the Memorial Hall with some of my fellow thespians for a play reading. I switched the hall
lights on and, it is true to say, that the hair on the back of my neck stood up on seeing the transformation of the auditorium. It was now a VAD Hospital.
I was stricken because my narrative for the section of the play dealing with this scene, came flooding in to my mind. There it was, in all its three dimensional
glory for all to see, every little detail, nothing overlooked, no corners cut.
I wanted to stage the play right then, right there! I was impelled to write this piece in praise of the immense amount of
effort and planning the Henley British Legion have obviously expended in staging this week long presentation. With such fortitude and organisation, it is no
wonder to me that we won the war!
I urge you all to visit the hall particularly if you have young children, this will not be seen again in our lifetime.
Finally, here is the relevant narrative from the play…..
An extract from
“From the Somme to Station Road” by Ray Evans- ‘Nurse Mary’s story’.
“I was born and bred in Henley, my mother and father lived on the High Street. I had no siblings. The Hall? Goodness,
where do I start. Looking at a photograph. Well first, that’s me, that starched little uniformed thing standing by the stage, nearly a century
ago. Busy as ever. A wonder we stood still long enough for the photographer to take our picture. They took ages to take a photograph then.
You know, there is no doubt in my mind that those who benefited from this Hall the most, were those accommodated there
from 1915 to 1919, because during that period, it was registered as a VAD Hospital under the direction of Dr Nelson.
It started with just 22 beds, and ended in 1919 with 82 beds. One thousand, five hundred and seventy six soldiers and
auxiliaries were treated here, with only two deaths.
We, that is myself and my colleagues, were the Voluntary Auxiliary Detachment, the VADs, or as the boys nicknamed us
Vivacious Angelic Dollies. You see it was an emergency measure designed to cope with the huge demands placed on our medical facilities during the great
war. Oh yes, we repaired them and sent them on their way. You see they were all needed, as many as we could put together again. Off they went, some
for the second time, some for the third time, and some for last time.
Even now I can still see the splints, the crutches, the bandages, the antiseptic dressings, the kidney bowls, the scalpels.
I can still smell the ghastly odour of a cocktail of gangrenous wounds, trench mud, and men’s terror. I can still hear the cries for help, help which
for some, would never actually be realised.
It was January 1915, I had kept in touch with one or two of my friends in Henley, and one in particular, Polly Robinson,
had written to me saying that they were to adopt the Memorial Hall as a VAD Hospital and that she had enlisted. I made my excuses to Oscar and company
and within a week, I had packed my bags and left for Henley advising my parents, who at that time, had moved from Henley to Ullenhall.
Overwhelmed by the sheer size and decadence of London, my arrival at the recently opened station in Henley, was to have
a calming and grounding effect on me. Nothing had really changed, nothing that is in terms of the buildings or rural surrounds, but there was a
marked difference in the behaviour of my family and old friends.
Several local young men, boys really, had by the time of my arrival, enlisted in His Majesty’s forces and were
out in France facing the enemy.
I took no time in joining my dear friend Polly and visiting the Public Hall where I met with Dr Nelson, who was then
the Medical Officer, along with Miss Stevenson, the Matron.
The auditorium was barely recognisable and instead of rows of chairs, there were now rows of beds, filled for the most
part, with young men in various stages of recovery. All of them, yes all of them, smiling as if to brush off their obvious suffering. I was truly inspired
by their wonderful cheery disposition in such dire circumstances.
Henley VAD Hospital was more of a convalescence unit, designed to calm the nerves rather than providing involved surgery
procedures. Nevertheless, it would be unforgivable to undervalue the benefits that were blatantly obvious, in alleviating the suffering of these young
Polly lost her dear husband Harry in the conflict.”
Ray Evans (With acknowledgements to Rosemary Powton)
View the photo report
The Rector's "Great Henley Bake-Off"
Laura Floyd receives her certificate as SUPREME BAKER
View photo report
Resident congratulates the RBL
I would like to offer my deep and most sincere congratulations to Dennis Cox, Les Goodman and all the others taking part at
the Memorial Hall Hospital Re-enactment. What a fantastic achievement to put on such a realistic display.
The soldiers were smart, the nurses excellent and the patients, with their dreadful injuries all keeping up morale. They were all lovely with the children,
were happy to explain everything and all visitors had a wonderful time sharing a laugh and joke as well as the sadness of how it was. I did tell them that
I was sure they would all be better and could go home by the week-end.
The operating theatre was most gruesome and the equipment looked like it came from a torture chamber with the blood-soaked bandages on the floor, adding to
Then we had a generous pot of tea with a delicious freshly cooked and still warm, cream and jam scone, all served in china plates, with cups and saucers. Most
My Grandfather helped Dr. Nelson with his work there so it meant so much to me personally. The only thing missing was my Uncle coming to collect the pig-swill.
Well done all and a huge thank-you for what must be one of the best things Henley has done.
I now look forward to reading my copy of A Small Town and the Great War, Henley in Arden 1914-1919 by Douglas Bridgewater.