“The weekend of 10th-11th November 2018 was very significant and moving, as we remembered the 140 men of the town and surrounding villages who lost their lives in the service of their country 100 years ago. I was very touched by the respectful and enthusiastic support of the community to the events on both days.

As President of the Shepton Mallet Branch of The Royal British Legion, I was delighted two years ago when the Town Council committed £10,000 for a suitable commemoration of the Centenary of the end of World War 1. I was also very pleased to be asked to join the organising group, chaired by Councillor Jeannette Marsh, whom I had worked with during the planning and execution of the ‘Never Forget’ commemoration of the start of that war four years ago. We had our first meeting in November 2016 and it was obvious from the start that we had a great leader and a strong team, including Councillor Deborah Towner, Andy Ransom (Chairman of the RBL Branch), the Reverend Jonathan Hunter Dunn (the Rector) and Mike Perry (one of the unsung heroes of the Town), ably supported by successive Town Clerks and the cheerful and willing team in the Town Council Office: Paula Robertson and Abbie Riggs.

Despite lashing rain in the morning, there was a strong turnout of several hundred in the afternoon of Saturday the 11th, which saw the dedication of the Memorial oak tree presented by Tesco, thanks to Councillor Towner. This was followed by a spirited display by the Devon and Somerset Air Training Corps Wing Band and the arrival of H.M. Lord-Lieutenant, Mrs Annie Maw, who was greeted by a superb fanfare by the Buglers Association of the Light Division and The Rifles and met by the Chairman of the Town Council and the Vice-Chairman of Mendip District Council, as well as our local MP. A Memorial park bench was then presented to the town by the RBL Branch through crowd-funding. The bench depicts vivid scenes from that War and Andy Ransom deliberately selected a South-facing spot close to the play area, in the hope that parents and their children will be reminded of the sacrifice of our forebears of a hundred years ago, particularly “at the going down of the sun and in the morning”.

This was followed by a very moving and beautifully-performed routine – ‘Lest We Forget’ – by the children of the Chapel Dance Studio, choreographed and directed by Emma Hill. No-one would have realised that the routine had been rearranged and rehearsed the night before, to cope with the wet grass. Afternoon tea was then provided for all by the Town Council, served by volunteers from the Council and from the Royal British Legion, ably supervised by James Morris of the RBL and staff from Denelas Bakery. Children of St. Paul’s School also provided 200 delicious ‘poppy cakes’. Candyfloss was provided free by Kirsty McKinley Barry and Susan Smith generously face-painted poppies, including the Lord-Lieutenant! Both collected donations to the Poppy Appeal in lieu of charging.

The crowd was entertained by the excellent Midsomer Norton & and Radstock Silver Band, under their Musical Director, Joanne Sykes, who is from Shepton. They had stepped in at very short notice when the RN Volunteer Band from Yeovilton pulled out. Throughout the event, strong support was provided by the immaculate Air Cadets of Shepton Mallet’s own 1182 Squadron, the Hockey Club, who ran the bar, and a host of volunteers corralled by Mike Perry, who personally did the work of five men in the months leading up to the event and on the day.

We were also honoured to have had the presence of the ‘Poppy of Honour’, an 8-foot steel and glass poppy-shaped sculpture, present throughout the day. It contains 1,117,635 individual poppies, each bearing the name of a British and Commonwealth soldier, sailor or airman who lost their lives in the War, including the date they were killed or declared Missing in Action, hand-written by 250,000 international volunteers. The commemoration also remembers the 800 women killed, and the 306 soldiers who were shot at dawn, but who have now been granted a Royal Pardon.

Throughout the afternoon we had the Living History Group, led by Tim Bickerdice, who were dressed in in WW1 soldiers’ and nurses’ uniforms. They acted as an ‘Honour Guard’ at the tree and the bench and then circulated informally amongst the crowd, arousing much interest from adults and children alike.

As for the Centenary Remembrance Parade and Service on Sunday 11th November, it was incredibly moving, with by far the largest number of spectators I have seen here in over 30 years. Some estimated it as approaching 1,000. Our own Town Band, led by Martin Lovell, played throughout. Following the traditional service, wreath-laying and two-minute Silence, many of the crowd followed the procession to the Parish Church, where a packed Service of Commemoration was led by the Rector.

The Bishop of Bath and Wells, The Right Reverend Peter Hancock, who was also present at the Cenotaph, preached the sermon. Refreshments were provided by Peppers on behalf of the Town Council after the service and also by the RBL Branch and Denelas in The Club.

As the town joined in commemorating the tragic events of the so-called ‘Great War’, I felt very proud to be a citizen of Shepton Mallet.

Major General Ray Pett

Photo Credits;
Major General Ray Pett
Andy Ransom
Councillor Jeannette Marsh