Animals get central role at war centenary commemoration

A war office purchasing party inspects a horse in Chipping Norton in 1914. Picture: Oxfordshire County Council, Oxfordshire History Centre

A war office purchasing party inspects a horse in Chipping Norton in 1914. Picture: Oxfordshire County Council, Oxfordshire History Centre

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EVENTS in Witney to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War will commemorate the role of animals in the conflict.

Horses, dogs and pigeons will feature in a service at Church Green on Sunday, at 5.45pm.

Witney Town Council and the Royal British Legion’s Witney branch have organised the outdoor service, which will include readings and blessings, followed by a civic service at St Mary’s Church at 6pm.

Town councillor Chrissie Curry said: “We did not want to forget the part that animals played.

“More of them were used and lost in the war than men, because they were a vital part of the effort.

“The country practically ran out of shire horses and there are cases of people sending their pets to the front line. There was an idea that if daddy went to the war, they would send Fido to do his bit as well.”

And St Mary’s Church will be open from 8pm to 11pm on Monday, the 100th anniversary of Britain’s declaration of war on Germany, for a candlelit vigil.

thisisoxfordshire: Chrissie Curry

Chrissie Curry

As part of the commemorations, Churches Together in Witney will plant eight oak trees at The Leys, while the town council will also plant an oak before 2018.

Ms Curry said the war memorial in Newland and a commemorative plaque at The Leys, marking its role as a memorial to the town’s fallen, would be given a facelift as part of the town’s efforts to mark the conflict.

She added: “These events will strike a chord with people, because a lot actually remember their grandparents talking about the First World War. The younger generations should not be allowed to forget about the sacrifices that were made.

“Those who made the sacrifice shall not be forgotten, and it’s not just the First World War, but everybody that has been lost.”

In November, the council will send poppies with a message of friendship and goodwill to its twin towns of Unterhaching, near Munich, in Germany, and Le Touquet, on the French coast, where a Red Cross hospital treated wounded British soldiers from October 1914 until July 1918.

David Harvey, the West Oxfordshire district councillor for Witney South ward, said: “It’s important for people to come together and share in our common heritage.

“It’s also important for all generations to be able to learn from history, as the keys to the future are very much in understanding the past.”

  • Charlbury's commemorations of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War will begin on Saturday with the creation of a community collage at the fire station, from 11am-4pm, made up of photographs of poppies planted earlier this year in a campaign led by the town’s Royal British Legion branch.

On Sunday, the museum’s exhibition about Charlbury’s role in the war will be open from 2.40pm-4.30pm and RBL members will be selling tea and cakes in the Corner House next door.

From 6pm, a vigil, including readings of war poetry and singing led by community choirs, takes place at the railway station, where 60 yards of poppies have been planted along the Oxford-bound platform, with markers bearing the names of battlefields.

  • In Chipping Norton, a commemoration, organised by the town's Royal British Legion branch and the town council, will take place on the steps of the town hall on Sunday at 10.30am.

It will include music from the First World War, prayers and poetry read by the actor Robert Hardy, including his favourite Wilfred Owen poem, Spring Offensive. After the service, RBL members and councillors will walk to the war memorial, in London Road, for a floral tribute to be laid.

Inside the town hall there will be an exhibition of paintings from Chipping Norton School, a display of medals and other artefacts, posters telling the stories of some of the soldiers from the town, letters from the front and  photos of soldiers who served.

  • Plaques will be placed alongside eight trees in Carterton Community Centre’s grounds on Monday to commemorate local men who died in the Great War. The event will last from 10.45am to 11am. And a civic service and candlelit vigil will be held at the war memorial outside the town hall, in Alvescot Road, from 7.30pm, followed by refreshments in the Town Hall.
  • The war memorial in Shipton-under-Wychwood will be rededicated in a service at 7.15pm on Monday, followed by a vigil at St Mary the Virgin Church from 7.30pm. And from 7.30pm on Monday, a vigil of music, reading and prayers will be held at the Church of St Simon and St Jude, in Milton-under-Wychwood.
  • A candlelit vigil to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the war, with readings, hymns and prayers, will be held in the churchyard at St Kenelm’s Church in Minster Lovell from 8pm on Monday.

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