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West Watford History Group

History of West Watford and environs

Poppies, Poetry and Peace

A very long, but ultimately very rewarding day. Our Poppies, Poetry and Peace commemoration on the 11th of the 11th, to which we didn't think many would be able to come due to other commitments around the town was very well attended. So many thanks to all those who came and stayed, paid their respects and made it worthwhile, including the young children, one of whom sat and drew a lovely poppy (see gallery).

Decorating the hall at the Community Centre began in the morning and continued right up until the first visitors came through the door at 2.15; there are always one or two early birds, in this case some friends from Watford Central U3A. The tables had been laid out with an array of First World War information, including photos and illustrations, books of WWI poetry, articles, files of research and some hand-made 'freebies' such as bookmarks and paperweights for people to take as mementos. 

On the notice boards were strings of ribbons; the names and regiments of all the Fallen of West Watford, street by street, meticulously researched by Sue Ettridge, Secretary and her partner Jim. So  much work had gone into that. And all the names were contained in a beautiful Book of Remembrance. 

There was a model showing Belgium refugees fleeing their homes and on the windowsills and tables, glass jars painted with poppies by the Centre's art group and others. It was aimed to have 100 candles to represent the 100 years since the Armistice in 1918.  In the smaller room at the back, arches of poppies looped over more jars either side of a screen that was showing a film of the Battlefields.  Once again put together by Sue from a recent visit. This attracted many viewers during the afternoon who watched in respectful silence. 

By mid afternoon the hall was filling with visitors, many sitting to look through the displays on the tables while partaking of tea or coffee and even some mulled wine. Our thanks to Val and Shirley for their assistance in the kitchen.

At 4 o'clock we paused for some readings.  The light outside had faded and the hall was gently awash with the glow of the candles. It was a very poignant few minutes as we listened to the words written by those who had endured the harsh torment of war, most of whom never returned, spoken with such emotion by Ann Rattue, Val Chick, Lynda Bullock and at the end a haunting rendition of the folk song Waltzing Matilda by Steve Magraw.  As Sue said afterwards:   The most rewarding part of these occasions is the knowing that visitors have responded to the theme of the event. On this occasion it was the millions of young wasted lives and the aftermath of those losses, in particular the boys and sometimes middle-aged men we found details of and whose names we stood among. Yes, it was well worth the effort. 

Despite the numerous commemorations around Watford, we were thankful also to those who managed to pop in and see us, if only for a few minutes; the Mayor Peter Taylor, Luke Clark from the Museum, Councillor Mo Mills and others.

Slowly people began to make their way home and the afternoon ended.  

Last words should go to Sue Ettridge, who's idea this had been and who had pulled the Commemoration together in her inimitable style and with such respect:

We are so pleased that everyone appreciated our efforts to bring this long, sad story to the West Watford community and its friends. It would not have been possible without the input from people like local Councillor, Mo Mills and WWCA member, Janet Keen, for their artwork that was reproduced in several ways. A special thanks goes to Helweun Jones, who helped members to paint the beautiful candle jars, to friends Christine Ball and Virginie Jones for such good advices, to Shirley Craft and Val Chick for their tremendous efforts on the catering side, to our poetry readers, to Sue Shrimpton, who sadly could not make it and to everyone who came along to join us in acknowledging the suffering, grief and deprivation brought about by WW1. Very special thanks go to Simon Colbeck, for joining us and for wearing that white poppy so bravely worn by those who believe strongly that we should avoid war at all costs. 

Lest We Forget