Half Moon Lane can be chilly at this time of the year, but I am basking in the warm glow of a job well done. It’s nearly a week since a very successful event at Herne Hill Station and I am still asking myself how we did it. In under six months we planned and delivered something that just a year ago would have seemed almost impossible: a hand-carved memorial slate in Herne Hill’s most important building.

But there it is, fixed to the wall

Marks Brooks’s finished war memorial

A 1914-18 war memorial for Herne Hill was mentioned two and a half years ago when we were sketching out our research project with the Charter School but… where would we put it, what would it say, who would design it, and what would it cost? With no answers and so much else to do, we put the idea to one side.

A year ago we published our memorial website and our little book to schedule, then held Herne Hill’s first ever two-minute silence on Armistice Centenary Day: a community event that left some in tears. That was my first blog post (and this is my 44th.) A perfect way to celebrate the completion of the project. Except that it wasn’t complete; there were literally hundreds of casualties still to investigate. 

One fine June morning, my friend David Statham, who happens to be MD of Southeastern Railway and is a great supporter of community projects in Herne Hill, said “How about a permanent memorial in the station? You commission it and we’ll pay for it”. No committee, no contract, no fiddling with our text.

We were left to get on with it

Through the Lettering Arts Trust the name “Mark Brooks” was suggested. When we met him at the station, Laurence and I were sure we had found our man.  I immediately wrote a letter of appointment.

***

As the summer passes, Mark designs the lettering, awaits the arrival of the Welsh slate, then finally starts to carve. He keeps us informed of progress.

Work in progress

As the deadline (Sunday 10 November 2019) approaches, I am been telling all and sundry. I have our MP, Helen Hayes, lined up to unveil it. I also have three local councillors coming. I leaflet the local shops. Of course, Dave Statham is going to be there, as well as Christian Hicks, Head Teacher of The Charter School. And the CEO of the Lettering Arts Trust. (The Mayor of Lambeth is too busy trying to succeed Tom Watson as MP for West Bromwich East.) I’m having a special wreath made and the Town Crier (yes, we have one of those) is primed for action. Can’t guarantee fine weather, but it would be nice if the sun shone.

Helen Hayes unveils the memorial

And so, on Remembrance Day, Sunday 10 November 2019, here I am again: leading a two-minute silence in brilliant sunshine. Young Walter Feeny has played “The Last Post” so beautifully, in front of a huge large. It is a moment that I will always treasure.

The crowd shows its respect for Herne Hill’s victims

Websites and books come and go, but a big lump of Welsh slate is as permanent as it gets. It will surely outlive us all. And the line about “innocence”? See Philip Larkin’s “MCMXIV” – it was the inspiration of my friend and colleague Laurence Marsh to quote it on the memorial. 

Credit: photographs by Tricia of Portrayed Photography

One thought on “Never such innocence again

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