The Centenary Fields programme was launched in 2014 by Fields in Trust President HRH The Duke of Cambridge. In partnership with The Royal British Legion, the programme protected parks and green spaces in perpetuity to honour the memory of the millions who gave their lives in World War I.
When Mr & Mrs Burnett decided to place the 14 acres of Rye Meadows under the auspices of Fields in Trust it was to ensure the protection of these fields from future development in perpetuity. As part of their legacy to Rye Meadows it was decided to set aside one field as a Centenary Field to honour and remember those residents of Ashtead who perished in the First World War.
Once this had been set in motion it was decided to hold a commemoration ceremony at which all the people, businesses and organisations who sponsored Rye Meadows were to be present. The date was set for 24th May 2017 but before then we planned to build a walkway across the Centenary Field so visitors could walk to the pond area at all times of the year – dry and flood – and sit in peace and quiet watching the birds and the wildlife explore the area. Thanks to a generous grant from Thames Water, we were able to employ the Lower Mole Partnership to construct the walkway, and this was completed in April, just in time for the ceremony.
As part of the commemoration celebration one of the Rye Meadows volunteers, Allan Mornement, together with help from the Surrey Infantry Museum, researched all those soldiers and sailors from Ashtead who lost their lives. He then wrote a short script for each one and enrolled the assistance of local schoolchildren to read the passage. The script was read as though the reader was the wife, mother or brother of the deceased. With the kind assistance of the Sound Department at City of London Freemen’s School these recordings were edited together to make one audio recording.
On the day of the ceremony, as well as visiting dignitaries and over two hundred local residents, we hosted Colonel (Retired) Patrick Crowley, MA, CIPR, Imogen Middleton from the Surrey History Centre, representatives from the Surrey Infantry Museum and Deputy Lieutenant of Surrey, Hugh Riley JP DL . A film demonstrating the conditions in which the troops operated during the conflict prepared by the Surrey History Centre.
The service of commemoration was led by Reverend Richard Jones, Rector of St.Giles and St. George’s, Ashtead.
We were most grateful to Pete Williams Entertainment Services for his assistance with the sound system, and to Four Gables Group for the supply of tea, coffee, water and delicious chocolate brownies. Pete Williams recording of the event interlaced with archive footage from the First World.