The Royal British Legion in Shropshire and the Ditherington memorial rededication

PUBLISHED: 16:35 19 October 2010 | UPDATED: 18:01 20 February 2013

The re-dedication of the memorial to men from the old parish of Ditherington who lost their lives in the Great War, with Shropshire Vice Lord Lieutenant, Colonel Edmund Thewles, taking the salute

The re-dedication of the memorial to men from the old parish of Ditherington who lost their lives in the Great War, with Shropshire Vice Lord Lieutenant, Colonel Edmund Thewles, taking the salute

Howard Franklin reports on the work of the Royal British Legion in Shropshire and attends a moving re-dedication ceremony

Lest we forget... lest we forget

Howard Franklin reports on the work of the Royal British Legion in Shropshire and attends a moving re-dedication ceremony

Remember, O Lord, all those who have died the death of honour, and are departed in the hope of resurrection to Eternal Life, especially the
Officers, Men and Women of our Sea, Land and Air Forces, to whom it was given to lay down their lives for the cause of Freedom and Justice

Remembrance Day and the two minutes silence have been observed since the end of the First World War and the relevance remains totally undiminished. Bowing our heads, we remember those who fought valiantly for our freedom during two World Wars. Today, with our troops on tours of duty in Afghanistan and other trouble spots around the world we can also reflect and mourn lives lost in more recent conflicts.

Nationally, The Royal British Legion organises a number of events to ensure the nation has the opportunity to pay its respects to its Services on land, air and sea: the two minutes silence at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month; the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall and the Parade and Service at the Cenotaph in Whitehall on Remembrance Sunday.

The Royal British Legion is honoured to have Her Majesty the Queen as its Patron. The National President is Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely KCB, MC who was appointed in 2009, and Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal is President of the Womens Section.

The British Legion was formed by the amalgamation of four other rather diverse associations: The National Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers; The British National Federation of Discharged and Demobilized Sailors and Soldiers; The Comrades of the Great War, and The Officers Association.

Here in Shropshire the Royal British Legion plays a very active role in our communities. County President Sir Charles Soame Bt. wants to raise public awareness of what the Legion does in Shropshire and to encourage more people to get involved with the welfare and membership activities. S
ir Charles says the Legion in Shropshire is about caring and campaigning for both serving and ex-Service men and women. Public profile events such as The County Show, Shrewsbury Flower Show,fetes and fairs, Armed Forces Day, open evenings, civic services, the High Sheriffs Service, and of course Remembrance Day itself, all have a strong British Legion connection, in towns and villages throughout the county.

Each year in November, some 30,000 Legion volunteers take to the streets, shopping centres and supermarkets across the nation with scarlet poppies and collecting boxes, raising millions of pounds for the Poppy Appeal.

The money raised at this time, and from numerous other fundraising activities throughout the year, goes to providing help and support to serving and ex-Service personnel and their dependants. Ian Hulme the County Treasurer reports that last years Poppy Appeal in Shropshire raised a total of 349,602, an eight per cent increase on the previous year.

Who are these poppy people? County Chairman, David Moss, says they are all volunteers and the Legion urgently needs to recruit more people, as many of their current volunteers are having to retire from active duty because of infirmity and old age.

If you could give just a few hours this year then please make contact now with the County Manager, David Thomas who says: Without volunteer collectors out there on the streets, this great cause, that helps thousands of ex-Service men and women every year, would grind to a halt.

The County Welfare Officer is Sally Thomas. If you are serving, have served or are the dependant or carer of someone who has served in the United Kingdom Armed Forces, then you could be eligible for assistance. The Welfare Service can offer financial aid in cases of urgent crisis; help homeless ex-Service people get back on their feet; advise on compensation claims; offer career advice for those looking for employment after leaving the forces; arrange home or hospital visits and much, much more. Often people need to know about war pensions,
benefits and money matters; possibly someone needs a loan for urgent property repairs; perhaps a war widow may need help with small repairs at home; it could simply be a visitor offering emotional support at a time of isolation or crisis. The Royal British Legion in Shropshire is always on call.
Poppy Homes around the country provide both short and long-term care for ex-Service people and their dependants. Poppy Breaks are available for those who need a short break or holiday in some traditional seaside resorts. Then there is Poppy Travel which specialises in Remembrance and Battlefield tours worldwide, each a relaxing and informative holiday, with a deep underlying meaning Membership of the Royal British Legion is available to all adults, not just members, or ex-members, of the Armed Forces. There are branches throughout Shropshire. Apply to The County Secretary, Nigel Pearson.

RBL County Patron Anne Gee

During my term as High Sheriff of Shropshire, I had considerable contact with the Royal British Legion and was most impressed by the enormous amount of welfare work carried out and the voluntary efforts to both maintain branch networks and bring in charitable funds on which the whole organisation depends.

When I was approached about the office of County Patron I had no hesitation whatsoever in accepting the invitation and opportunity it presented of becoming involved and promoting its good works throughout Shropshire. I never fail to be impressed by the selfless manner in which volunteers and their families keep up their efforts year after year.
For the majority of members of the general public, the Royal British Legion means poppies on Remembrance Sunday. The reality is so much more: a tremendous welfare operation making a huge difference to our Service men, women and their families, three hundred and sixty five days a year, every year.

We will remember them

There are 72 names of men from the old parish of Ditherington on the war memorial which stands in the grounds of what was once St Michaels Church and is now the Masonic Hall for Lodges in Shrewsbury.

Men of all ranks who selflessly gave their lives for King and Country in the First World War are commemorated on the memorial, which was originally unveiled on the 29th July 1921, after two years of fundraising.

Almost 90 years later a committee was formed to repair and clean the memorial which had fallen into disrepair and was looking very unkempt and forlorn. The aim has been for the people of Ditherington to be made aware of the great sacrifice local boys gave for our freedom, and for the memorial to be maintained for generations to come.

I was greatly moved to see, and meet, so many families who still live in Ditherington area of Shrewsbury who lost family members and wanted to pay their deep respects to them at this service of re-dedication. The Pritchard, Clift, Draycott and James families each lost two or three sons in The Great War and their sacrifice must never be forgotten.

I learned from Andrew Pritchard a great nephew, the story of William Henry Pritchard and his wife Mary Ann Pritchard, who lived at The Old Bird in Hand in St Michaels Terrace, St Michaels Street, Ditherington. The Pritchard family lost three sons: Frank aged 20, on 23rd October 1914, Andrew aged 30 on 17th October 1916 and Harold aged 22 on the 29th October in the same year. They are all are buried on foreign soil, far away from those who treasured and loved them in Shrewsbury.

Andrew, whose grandfather was brother of those three brave Salopians, and his family, were present to pay their profound respects and to silently remember.

I met Philip Morris, who told me in 1999 he was researching soldiers from the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry, when he discovered a name missing from the Official War Register. This was Pte. William Harris, the third son of Mrs Harris of Bodkin Row, Ditherington. He died in active service. Philip was able to prove through documentation and evidence that this young man died at the Battle of Hooge and some 90 years later his name was added to the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres, Belgium.

Philip was then inspired to research and document all of the 72 names commemorated on the St Michaels Memorial. It has taken him 10 years of painstaking research, with many trips to France and Belgium, photographing their names on gravestones and memorials. This has now been properly recorded into archive documentation, but his quest goes on. There are still some of the soldiers to be researched, but Philip has pledged to find them all, and one has to admire this young man who is so determined to honour the young men of Ditherington who fought in the Great War.

There were more than 200 people present for the very moving service of re-dedication of the memorial, including The Vice Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire Col. Edmund Thewles; the Royal British Legion Patron Anne Gee, and their President Sir Charles Soame; Maj. Barry Nicholls, and Wing Commander Brett Nicholls, with Philip Niblock officiating.

The service had a certain poignancy for me, as I am named after my late fathers first cousin who was killed on the day before Armistice Day in the Second World War. Hymns were sung, prayers were recited and the memorial re-dedicated. The Last Post sounded and we kept the two minutes silence, followed by reveille, and the laying of scarlet poppy wreaths, symbolic of bloodshed. My mind drifted from this parochial domestic scene, to war-torn Afghanistan, where our young men are still being slaughtered. May God bless the fallen in all conflicts, and the future bring us to a truer understanding of the inhumanity of war.

As I walked away, I thought of that mother who had lost three sons and hoped that she too rests with them, in eternal peace.

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