I often feel as though I don’t achieve anything particularly meaningful, but today I feel I have.
I write this on 11 November and today was the culmination of months of research and planning. We held an event at Godalming College to mark the reinstatement of the memorial to those former pupils who gave their lives during the Second World War. I first began to think about the memorial probably over a year ago. As a pupil at the former Grammar School I used to pass the wall-mounted memorial every time I went up or down the main staircase, and at Remembrance time the cabinet was opened up to reveal the 16 photos of the men who were killed.
At some point, maybe 12 or 15 years ago, the memorial was taken down. It was deemed at that time not to be relevant in a modern Sixth Form College. I started to make enquiries of various people and fairly soon ascertained that it was being stored in the old sports pavilion at the other side of the field. I talked with the only other Old Godhelmian on the staff, a History teacher, and together we went to speak to the Principal to ask how she would feel about reinstating it somewhere, especially in view of the imminent 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War. She was very positive about the idea and particularly keen to engage the enthusiasm of current students. We felt it would be great if current students could conduct some research into the lives of those on the memorial.
And so, earlier this year, the memorial was retrieved from the sports pavilion and one of the Estates guys did a fantastic job of sanding down and re-waxing the wood. A position was decided on and the memorial put back up. As the History students were being enthused about the research, we invited to college a 100 year old lady who had been in the very first intake to the school back in 1930. She talked with the students about her experience of school and her memories of those on the memorial, including Thomas Tinsey who she reported had been dared to set fire to the boiler room! (He didn’t succeed).
Today we welcomed the mayors of Godalming and Waverley, the Chair of Trustees and some Old Godhelmians as the students presented their research and we marked Armistice Day. A student played the Last Post very ably to a large crowd of students and staff gathered outside and it was very moving to observe the two minutes’ silence in that way. Back inside a wreath was laid at the memorial and the exhortation read. This year, among this cohort of students, there has been real engagement with the lives of those who went before, finding local connections and making their history studies more real. The mayor asked that in due course a copy of their research could be passed to the local museum. I am very pleased with what we have achieved together, honouring those who achieved so much during that war. We will remember them.
I’ve had a couple of lovely surprises recently: the first was a few weeks ago when our daughters and their husbands took us out to lunch. This was arranged by them some months ago as a way of celebrating our Pearl wedding anniversary with us. The six of us going out for lunch was what we were expecting. However, on our arrival at the pub in question, we were taken through to the function room at the rear. To our total astonishment there assembled were my husband’s parents and sister, my Mum, my brother and all his family, and a number of our close friends! We had not suspected a thing. Apparently my daughters grabbed a sneaky look at my address book as long ago as Mothering Sunday in order to find some contact details! The expression on my face said it all – the photo taken by my brother was hilarious. I’ve never been the recipient of a surprise party before, but down the generations isn’t that what people have often done for one another to celebrate and demonstrate their appreciation of each other? (I recall the surprise party we ourselves organized for my Dad’s 70th birthday).
The other surprise was just last night. There I was in bed reading Family Tree Magazine (as is my wont). I turned the page and there staring me in the face on page 57 was the name of my own family history blog ‘Family History Musings by Marian’ in large letters! Paul Carter, in October’s ‘Techy Tips’, was reviewing none other than my own blog! Yes, I was certainly astonished by that. Some time ago the magazine was asking people to be in contact if they had their own family history website or blog and accordingly I emailed in with details of what inspired me to set up my blog in the first place and how I use it to consolidate and focus my research. I hadn’t thought much more about it until there it was staring me in the face last night! How very exciting! And it coincides with the 4th anniversary of my blog – a great way to celebrate.
Not a celebration, but an important commemoration took place last week but was one that could easily have been missed since it was so low key: 80 years since the outbreak of the Second World War. A few twitter posts recalled the anniversary which my Mum remembers so well. She was 9 at the time. Thanks to her Mum’s diaries I know exactly what she was doing: “Cloudy, still warm. Alf came up to Brook for breakfast then back to Granny’s for rest of day. War declared on Germany. Alf and I went to Church 6.30pm then spent an hour with Will, Alice, Bertie and Florrie.” Mum remembers hearing the news of the outbreak of war on the radio at her Aunty Pat’s. The family were at the end of a fortnight’s holiday with family in Cowfold, Sussex, during which time they were obviously following the political events closely. At the end of the fortnight the children did not return home to Croydon but stayed on in Sussex and a week later were starting school in Cowfold. They stayed there for the next two years while their father continued to live and work in Croydon and their mother divided her time between husband and children. That news broadcast changed their lives irrevocably, as it did for so very many. It is entirely fitting that this autumn we commemorate the fortitude and bravery of that generation.