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Before Henley Mayor presented the town medal to Mike Willoughby, he said, “Three months ago, well over a thousand people gathered on Remembrance Sunday, in front of Henley Town Hall, to mark 100 years since the Armistice that brought World War 1 to an end. 312 soldiers from Henley and the surrounding villages had lost their lives in World War 1 and we know who they were, where they were from, what they did, where they were buried and we have photographs of many of them. The people of Henley today are able to remember and connect with those who lost their lives more than a century ago on such a personal level because of one man, Mike Willoughby.
It is thanks to Mike’s dedication that we were able to unveil a Memorial Plaque listing all 312 fallen soldiers next to Townlands Memorial Hospital. Mike spent many years researching those who gave their lives in World War 1 and His book, “Bringing them Home”, includes background information on each of the fallen and serves as perhaps the finest memorial we have. Thank you again on behalf of our town for your tremendous contribution.”
Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak and Reverend Duncan Carter spoke about Mike and his work. Reverend Carter said, “Mike’s interest in the First World War was inspired in 2005 when he was researching his own family history and discovered that his Granddad had a younger brother, John Arthur (Jack) King who had died on the Somme. In the course of his research he found that no one knew the stories behind those on the war memorial on which his Great Uncle was recorded. This personal interest quickly developed into concern for other men listed on other local memorials. I first met Mike when I found him in the church graveyard looking for a grave. From this a great friendship began and the first exhibition at Holy Trinity Church in 2012 saw the interest from many who visited and particularly the iconic and poignant map of where the local fallen had lived. Mike’s research and commitment to the memory of those who fell is quite exceptional and he has given substance to our acts of remembrance in the local community.”
After receiving the medal Mike said, “If it hadn’t been for Liz Hodgkin in 2012 when she saw the research and said ‘something needs to done about this’. I had no influence or clout, no standing but I was backed by Liz, Duncan
and Stefan. I’d also like to thank all the people here today who have all contributed towards the project – it wouldn’t have been the same without you. What Duncan failed to mention in his speech was, that after that first meeting, I ended up tidying up the churchyard, mowing the grass and straightening the gravestones! I’m now busy researching WW2, because when I thought it was coming to the end there was large hole in my life. I couldn’t stop and I don’t want to stop. Regardless of anything else, it has been an absolute privilege. Thank you, I still can’t believe it.”