Half Moon Lane is a chilly place 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 less than six months we planned and delivered something that even a year ago would have seemed most unlikely: a hand-carved memorial slate in prime position in central Herne Hill’s most important building.
But there it is, fixed to the wall
A 1914-18 war memorial for Herne Hill was on the agenda 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, what would it cost? With no clear 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 Day: a moving community event that left many close to 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 left to investigate.
One fine June morning my friend David Statham, who happens to be MD of Southeastern Railway and 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 trusted 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 him 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.
As the deadline (Sunday 10 November 2019) approaches, I’ve 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, and Christian Hicks, the 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 book in fine weather, but it would be perfect if the sun shone.
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 crowd. It is a moment that I will always remember.
So we’ve done it. 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 include it on the memorial.
Credit: all photographs by Tricia of Portrayed Photography