Robin Chambers, coordinator of the project “Modbury Remembers – Bringing Their Names to Life“, talks about this initiative and how the care his mother received at our Surbiton Home prompted him to want to support us. We were delighted to receive a donation of £525 and hear about the success of the project, which helped people understand the sacrifice made by so many for their country.
During my career in the Royal Air Force, I was mindful of The Royal Star & Garter Homes and its iconic home at Richmond, but I didn’t appreciate how the charity had been transformed with the creation of the new homes.
For two years, I was able to experience first-hand the renowned charity’s warm and friendly welcome and witness the outstanding care and support given to residents when my mother, Jean, lived at the Surbiton Home from February 2015 to April 2017.
As I lived in South Devon, it was always a long trek up and down the A303 to visit, but I always felt that Jean could be in no better place given the difficulties she faced in her final years. She really enjoyed being pampered, and the physical therapy and varied entertainment programme provided a real stimulus, which re-ignited her sense of humour. Consequently, seeing the huge difference to her life, I have always been keen to find opportunities to support the charity by raising some funds.
Over the last 4 years I have been involved with a number of local and national events commemorating WW1, including the honour of pushing Jean past the Cenotaph at Armistice in 2016 as part of The Royal Star & Garter Homes team. It was one of the many things she achieved while at Surbiton; she felt she was one of the lucky ones in that her father had survived the whole of WW1 at the front and her husband had also beaten the odds as a pilot in WW2.
I’ve always felt Remembrance is about individuals rather than numbers. On a cold and windy Remembrance Sunday in 2015 in my hometown of Modbury, a small market town in South Devon, I listened to the school children struggling to read out some of the old-fashioned names on the memorial. It was apparent that they didn’t know who they were, that they went to the same school and may even have lived in the same house.
213 of the 575 men who lived in Modbury served during the war and 31 did not return. Although there was a deep sense of gratitude for the sacrifice they made, many standing there at the 11th hour of a cold November morning would struggle to recall those Modbury men as they faded into the mists of time. Therefore, we embarked on a project to bring their names to life.
In reconnecting with a lost generation, we spent many hours researching the names and created a website to record the findings. We then produced an exhibition in October 2018 that covered family background, where they lived, served, fell and are buried, and captured Modbury life in the 1900s, showing the impact of war on a rural community. Local artists submitted some very appealing pictures for an art exhibition ‘Beyond the Trench’ that highlighted the growing role of women at work and in society. Modbury School Year 6 art class also submitted several engaging pictures.
The exhibition provided an opportunity for visitors to donate towards two military charities that provided assistance in WW1 and continue to help the armed forces and their families to this day: SSAFA and The Royal Star and Garter Homes.
Outside there was a unique exhibit, ‘Lost Lives’, which was a simple, but challenging installation that gave a graphic sense of the large numbers killed in both wars and generated powerful emotions. One shrouded figure, hand stitched for the Shrouds of the Somme Exhibitions in 2016 and 2018, was laid out to represent each of the 52 months of the First World War and recorded on a small plaque the number lost each month.
A larger version of this exhibit that covered the fallen for each of the 1,561 days of the war was displayed at the Thiepval memorial and alongside the Shrouds exhibition in London in November 2018. The daily record highlighted the scale of the conflict and enabled people to connect with individual dates, particular battles or be mesmerized by the enormity of the losses each day of the war.
Harry Patch, the last fighting Tommy who died in 2009, said that ‘the best memorial for the likes of me would be to look after the soldiers who are still fighting for their country now and, equally importantly, their families.’ Although my work caused people to stop and reflect that the men were not just statistics, but people just like we are, with the same hopes, dreams, and impending fears, it is the proactive work of The Royal Star & Garter Homes and other service charities that fulfil Harry Patch’s hopes and create a more lasting memorial.
It has been an honour to be associated with the many events and to see first-hand the outstanding work of The Royal Star & Garter Homes, the compassion and support of the staff and their dedication to the residents.