The Godmanchester Stirling Memorial Stone
The idea of a memorial stone came to mind quite early on, it seemed a natural progression from the research I'd carried out and would mean that 'their' story would live on for a very long time. I also thought it would provide a link between the town and the RAF, during WW2 three major buildings in the town were 'seconded' by the RAF, two of which provide billets for airmen and officers. Whilst the other, Farm Hall, became an SIS establishment. Two problems then honed into view, firstly where to get the stone from, and secondly, how to go about siting it and getting the appropriate permission.
For me the stone had to 'connect' with the story, and not be just some random rock. I remembered that the City of Stirling was built on a high rocky outcrop, and clearly that outcrop had to be hard wearing as it had a Castle standing on it. Some in depth Googling later and I had discovered that the rocky outcrop was quartz dolerite, type of granite, and was extremely hard. More importantly it is ideal for road laying and Memorials! Another Google search lead me to Tillicoultry Quarries, could they provide such a rock? An email quickly came back from John Hadnum to say they would be delighted to donate a rock if I could come and select one, as we were going to Scotland anyway that summer it fitted perfectly.
I duly arrived one dull summer morning, I presented John with a veteran signed print of the Lancaster flypast in 2014 as a thank you and donned the Hi-Vis jacket and helmet. A man has to be ready for anything in a quarry! My supervisor then drove me around the quarry, and what a quarry it was! Hundreds of acres of rocks, of all shapes and sizes, I thought it would be an easy task but it was far from it. Having visited a few rock piles I think my guide was beginning to lose patience, we then happened across a good spread of well shaped rocks. And there was one rock, quite rectangular, with a lovely shape to it, rather like an alpine peak. THAT ONE WILL DO, and the digger was summoned to release it from the others.
John offered to look after the rock, as well as contacting a Cut and Polishing Company nearby that could cut a face on the rock to take the plaque. Tradstocks did this free of charge. Whilst that was being arranged he offered to have his men power wash it, and load it onto a pallet ready for the next part of its journey.
Now came the really hard part, getting a 2.8 ton rock from Stirling to Godmanchester. This, I thought, would be where some of the Godmanchester Stirling Fund money would need to be used. I checked out the British Road Haulage Association website and saw they supported 'Help for Heroes', contacting their personnel department I asked if they could put the word out on the off chance that someone would step up. Within days I was contacted by Stuart Callans of STC Transport based in Hamilton. He said it was no problem, happy to do anything to help honour those who gave their lives for our freedom. What a wonderful gesture, and what a weight off my mind!
The memorial stone landed at Rectory Farm, Godmanchester a couple of months prior to the designated date. Ironic as this Farm was close to the crash site of all those years ago. Ian then arranged for the memorial stone to be delivered to the Cow Lane site one Hot Summer morning. The site had been prepared by Stephen and Karly Hurst of A&K Builders, a highly supportive local company, who were also on hand to help place the stone and ensure it was upright and secure.
The second problem was how to get permission, but my colleague at The Porch Museum, David Stokes, knew who to contact and soon permission was granted by the Highways Agency, subject to some fairly basic rules and regulations.
Then came the time to manipulate the 2.8 ton monster into position, this took some considerable time and required their expert knowledge to be able to place it just right, using pieces of timber to wedge it.
After a good few hours the job was done, have to admit to being a bystander for most of this exercise, leaving it to the experts to do their bit. Although the Rectory Farm dogs kept a very watchful eye on us all morning. My important bit was to supply some cold beers at the right moment!
Now the area around the memorial stone needed to be worked on, the ground had been pretty much been churned up, it had rubbish on it as well as some untamed undergrowth. So I tidied it all up over the coming weeks, removing dead wood, old branches and generally smartening it all up. I seeded the area liberally with grass seed, and went down twice a day to water it, and thankfully it all came through. Although coming back from Cyprus I discovered that the council mowers had been round and left a deep gouge in the newly grown grass. And with only two weeks to go! Nothing else for it, another bag or two of grass seed and twice daily watering, luckily it recovered. The area directly surrounding the memorial stone was turfed to ensure it looked as perfect as possible.
The stone was ready for its big day, except for the plaques. These had been on order for some time and I was getting very concerned about the lack of progress. They emailed me to say they were having a problem with the inscriptions and font size and they would do the best to get it to me before the Saturday. As you can imagine my response is not printable, needless to say I told them there was no 'might' about it. We have families travelling for across the UK and the USA, plus Senior RAF Officers, our Mayor and Vicar, plus ITV Anglia. 'Might' is not an option, thankfully the plaques arrived on the Thursday before the service on the Saturday. Even so I took the precaution of contacting a friend, Stephen Spencer (who works for Prontoprint) to have a board printed which could be put onto the stone in an emergency. Fortunately it wasn't needed. Myself, Byron Bramwell and Kingsley Lawrence went down to fix the plaques to the stone on the Thursday, keeping everything crossed that when the straps were removed two days later the plaques would stay put. Thankfully they DID! Byrom and Kingsley went down early on the Saturday to check the area and Kingsley laid some artificial turf to cover the kerbside and finish it all off.
And so ends a remarkable journey for a memorial stone, one that will still be there for future generations to read about and remember.
I'm incredibly grateful to all those who helped make this happen, without these wonderful people and their support it would have never have been done in time. Even our local Jewsons donated the materials (concrete etc) so that the whole project was virtually cost free. I was very moved by the generosity of so many people who all wanted to 'do their bit'.
And here are a selection of photographs taken over the past year or so. Left : Its first Remembrance Day, 11th November 2017 and wonderful wintery scene
Left: The 76th Anniversary of the crash on the 11th April 2018 and Right: Spring 2018
Left: The Red Tulips make their first appearance having been planted back in Autumn 2017
For those who wish to visit the memorial to pay their respects here is a map showing Cow Lane, Godmanchester. There is a slight correction with regard to the arrow. The memorial is on the right (not left) and is a little closer to Cambridge Road. Having said that you can't miss it! It's a 2.8 ton lump of granite.