In the latest in our new series of regular blogs, Fields in Trust Head of Programmes Angela Lewis recounts her Grandfather's story during World War I and discusses the work being done by Fields in Trust's Centenary Fields programme.
For me personally, Remembrance Day is a time to remember my Grandfather and a time to reflect on his experience of the horror of World War I on the Western Front. His story, which is backed up by contemporary accounts, includes details of the day he was captured. His regiment had been under fire for most of the day with only a couple of lulls of about 15 minutes each.
"The barrage recommenced and after some minutes of an experience I should not like to have to repeat, I took refuge in a nearby dugout. The first we knew of their [the Germans'] close proximity were two grenades chucked in the dugout in quick succession. I was wounded by the first and emptied my magazines at the soldier who appeared in the opening... I managed to dodge the second grenade and was bandaging up a wounded fellow when we were hailed by the Germans outside who demanded our surrender... Two battalions (1st Northamptonshire and 2nd King's Royal Rifle Corps) were notified as missing that day and those that were not killed in the bombardment or the melee suffered the same ignominious fate as myself."
I feel an enormous sense of pride that Grandad contributed to the fight for our freedom today, and I am thankful to him and the millions of other young men who fought in the conflict, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice. And although it is important that we remember servicemen and women who have given their lives in all conflicts, it is World War I that is a particular focus of my working life as well.
Fields in Trust have been protecting valued green space for more than ninety years and are currently working with landowners across the UK to protect parks, playing fields and gardens to commemorate the Centenary of World War I.
Centenary Fields, in partnership with The Royal British Legion, aims to protect 500 such spaces across the country by November 2018, the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice. Some Centenary Fields are parks with striking war memorials, such the War Memorial Park in Coventry where our President, His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge, launched the Programme in July 2014.
But there are a host of other less high profile Centenary Fields across the country without a physical war memorial, which nevertheless have a significant link to World War I. For example, Bentra Golf Course in Antrim was the first Centenary Field in Northern Ireland, and is so far the only golf course to be protected with Fields in Trust. It was home to the first military aviation facility in Ireland (Whitehead Aerodrome) during World War I from 1915 to 1917.
And The Batters in Corsham, Wiltshire, where the Centenary Fields plaque was unveiled on Remembrance Day this year, is now a wildlife area but in 1915 was used by the Scots Guards for trench-digging and shooting practice before they went to the Front. The Guards were based in Corsham at the invite of Lord Methuen, their Colonel-in-Chief and the owner of Corsham Court. A newspaper in June 1915 reported that the Scots Guards have 'transformed The Batters near the railway line into a miniature Front with trenches, dugouts, redoubts, etc, and carried out many interesting night attacks'.
Centenary Fields such as these are playing an important role in the uncovering the war-time heritage of an area and enabling people to find out more about what their locality was like during World War I.
And then there are Centenary Fields where the park itself is the memorial, such as Kensington Memorial Park, where in the lead up to Remembrance Day HRH The Duke of Cambridge planted poppy seeds with local schoolchildren and spoke to young footballers and children enjoying the playground.
Last, but not least, there are Centenary Fields in towns where there is neither an outdoor memorial nor any spaces with known significance to World War I, where the local authority has created a new space for Remembrance. An example is Coronation Gardens, an attractive open space situated in Lenzie, East Dunbartonshire. The Gardens have sculptures to commemorate the war, a poppy meadow and offer visitors a peaceful area for quiet reflection.
We hope that many other local authorities and town and parish councils will join the Programme over the next two years as we move towards the commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice. As His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge said at Kensington Memorial Park, "I urge others to support this important cause and protect these living spaces of remembrance for generations to come." And the Programme is open to sports clubs too, which one of my colleagues blogged about earlier this year.
I can't think of a better way to remember the fallen of World War I than to protect a green space in perpetuity for our children and our children's children to be able to experience the sheer joy that comes from being outside in the open air - and I like to think that Grandad would have approved too.
Angela Lewis is Fields in Trust Head of Programmes and Development Manager for Central England. Se can be contacted by any of the below means.
t: 020 7427 2111
Angela Lewis is Fields in Trust’s Head of Programmes and has a Development Manager role covering the East and West Midlands, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. She joined Fields in Trust in 2011 with a focus on the QEII Fields Challenge and now leads the organisation’s work on the Centenary Fields programme. Angela has always worked in sport and leisure for a variety of organisations at national, regional and local level including Sport England and London Borough of Richmond.
Pictured above from top to bottom are:
- Poppies at Mansfield Road Recreation Ground Memorial Gardens in Nottinghamshire, protected as part of the Centenary Fields programme
- The unveiling of a Centenary Fields plaque by Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough, Councillor Audrey Wales MBE, at Bentra Golf Course
- HRH The Duke of Cambridge plants poppies with children from St Charles Catholic Primary School at Kensington Memorial Park
- Fields in Trust Head of Programmes, Angela Lewis, joins colleagues and Fields in Trust Scotland Trustees at the dedication of Coronation Gardens in Lenzie, East Dunbartonshire