Back in 2011 the iron cross which stood atop the St Christopher’s flagpole had to be removed as the wood was completely rotten. Robert Fox and I decided in 2012 that the remains of the pole, which had already got the nickname of “the broken tooth”, needed urgent attention. With some degree of trepidation we clambered up a ladder to have a look. Fortunately, in one of my waking moments at around 4 a.m. one morning, I had decided that the top section was beyond repair and the next morning I rang a very kind and generous tree surgeon who came with us and after looking at us with our legs turning to jelly as we tottered about on top of the ladder his eyes rolled heavenwards and with an “oh all right I’ll do it” he raced down the tower and returned five minutes later with a chain saw and within minutes he had lopped off the top five feet and lowered it gently to the floor of the tower. With the help of his harness, Robert and I spent the next few weeks gouging out the rot and filling it with fibreglass and wire mesh and applying thick coats of weatherproof paint and the rotting stick gradually turned into a gleaming white pole. With Robert’s multiple skills – I am convinced that he has enough tools in his shed to build a nuclear submarine – we were able to fit a new halyard so that in the summer of 2012 we hoisted a flag again and so the St George’s flag (and the Union Jack on Remembrance days and the Queen’s birthday) flew once again over the delighted inhabitants of Haslemere.
Sadly only four years later the pole was again in dire need of attention and, once again, Robert and I scaled the heights and repaired what was left of it but realised with heavy hearts that the flagpole’s days were numbered and no amount of sanding, filling and painting could bring it back to life.
The Beginning of the Project
And as if from Heaven, along came Ken Griffiths with all his energy and knowledge and experience and understanding of fundraising and in a matter of weeks we had applied for several grants and have already raised £ 3,000 and are expecting more in the very near future.
So now the dream of a new pole is rapidly becoming a reality.
The proposal is, in 2018, to restore the flagpole on top of St Christopher’s Church to commemorate the 100 years since the end of the Great War and create an ongoing tribute to those men and women from Haslemere and the surrounding district who have given their lives in the service of their country in that terrible conflict and all other conflicts that followed, fighting for freedom and democracy in all parts of the world.
Replacing the Flagpole
To maximise the impact and to involve the whole community, the proposal is to have the flagpole made within the next few weeks. It will come from the saw mill, already cut, from a Douglas Fir tree, and be of the exact dimensions as the original (35 foot tall and 14 inches square at the base). The flagpole will be stored in the church grounds on trestles and under temporary cover to keep it dry. It will then be left to season for three to four months, before being fully prepared for installation. To involve the wider community, we will be asking them to be involved in the sanding / painting / preparation of the pole when it is on the ground. i.e. the cross / halyard etc would be put on to the pole, probably in the late summer/autumn of 2017, prior to it being erected by crane.
The Memorial to those who made the ultimate Sacrifice
The restoration of the flagpole, although the centre of the commemoration of 100 years since the end of the Great War in Haslemere, it would just be the start of the overall project. In the autumn / winter of this year – 2017, we would ask all local organisations / schools to make cloth poppies which would be draped from the tower to the grounds of the church (and here we are talking about cloth poppies in the thousands and not the hundreds) in a way similar to what happened at the Tower Of London a couple of years ago. These poppies would be put in place from the summer of 2018 and real poppies would be planted on St Christopher’s Green so that the message of commemoration would not only be symbolised in the churchyard and down the church but also on the green to symbolise the involvement of the whole community.
We will also try to identify relatives of those men and women from Haslemere who died and, if possible, gain additional information about their ancestor’s lives. The focus that this anniversary provides probably makes this the last time that this will be feasible. We will work closely with the Museum on this and details identified will be published in the local press and in documents to be left in Haslemere Museum.
The church working with the local community
We will also ask local schools / organisations to research the details about those men and women whose names not only appear on the War Memorial in the Town Centre, but also at St Stephen’s Church in Shottermill and other surrounding villages. We realise that much of this work was done by the Museum in 2014, but the idea will be to revisit this work and see if any gaps in the information can be filled. It also involves the next generation of Haslemere children understanding the sacrifices made.
A memorial and record of the benefactors
Lastly, within the Church we would place a memorial to commemorate the restoration of the flagpole in 2018, the centenary year of the end of the Great War. There would also be a book, into which would be written, in appropriate type script, the names of all the Trusts, organisations and individuals who donated money to enable this project to be delivered.
Benefits to the community
Therefore the benefits for Haslemere are that this is a community project in which all local schools, organisations and residents will be involved, not only delivering a lasting memorial in the flagpole, but also understanding the significance of the sacrifice of the people whose names appear on the war memorials around the town and local villages.
We have already raised nearly £3,000 in grants out of a total of £ 12,000 (which includes the costs of the pole, installation, reproofing of the tower floor and the cost of materials for the poppies, netting and other materials required and ongoing maintenance). We are optimistic that we will secure another grant in the next few weeks and that will enable us to order the Flagpole and then the seasoning and curing process can begin and we are then well on our way to fulfilling our ambitions to make the flagpole and the poppies a fitting tribute to those heroes of the last 100 years. However, we will need to raise at least £5,000 from the congregation of St Christopher’s and all the communities and businesses in and around Haslemere in order to be able to complete the project and so we will be holding a number of fundraising events over the next few months and writing to various local organisations and individual residents to ask them to help us to complete the project. Please help us to make this project the fine memorial that it surely will be and to be able to see the flagpole, the flag and the cross from many parts of the town of Haslemere.
Chair of Fabrics and Maintenance Committee, Haslemere PCC