After many years of helping ex RAF veterans from 152 (Hyderabad) Squadron and a failed attempt to get a memorial for the 75th anniversary of The Battle of Britain (let's just say Weymouth and Portland Council as it was then were not very helpful and not really interested in the idea) I have fulfilled my promise to one of the boys to get a Battle of Britain Memorial in the South West of England.
So, with this being the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, in early January 2020, I decided to have another go. I had noticed a large stone plinth flanked by two stone seats which looked like wings, like in the RAF wings, situated near the Weymouth Jubilee clock, which is situated right on the Esplanade looking out across the bay. It had a couple of display boards showing coastal life, fish, birds, etc. Believe me, it had seen better days, just left to get worse. It was about 5ft x 5ft and sloped down at the front. My idea was to get the stone polished and attach plaques around the two sides, one at the front with one on top. I made some enquiries into who was responsible for it, and found out that the area was looked after by the Beach Management. I contacted the relevant person and was told "sorry it's been earmarked for an art exhibition in 2021". Oh well, back to the drawing board then.
But things changed when a strange twist of events happened. Last year I was working at Haven Seaview Holiday Park and was hoping to return the following season - 2020, but that never happened. At this time I was working as a retail security officer in Tesco stores in the Dorset area. I really enjoyed working at the holiday park and was gutted not to return, so I started looking for something else. I saw that Waterside Holiday Park were looking for Door supervisors and I had recently obtained my Door supervisor license, so I applied. After a couple of weeks, I received no reply. Then I noticed in the local paper that they were having an open day. I was in two minds about going after receiving no response. I went down, and thankfully I was offered a job for the coming season. I started work in February 2020. The park was not open to owners or guests, so I was doing nightshifts until the park opened in March. Soon after that, the park was closed due to the Covid outbreak, which as you know, affected the whole of the UK and most of the world.
So I was back on nights again, but was grateful to still be working in the current situation and others being put on furlough. Part of our duties were to patrol the Beachside cafe area due to a large number of homeless people being moved out of Weymouth to the Riviera Hotel. This is when I noticed a bit of land. As I stood there, I could see the Island of Portland all lit up in the distance, and I thought to myself what a lovely place for a memorial. I carried on my patrol with my brain working overtime - I wonder who owns the land?. I finished my shift and headed off home to bed. The following night on the way to work, I stopped on the hill overlooking the area, took out my notebook, and started to sketch something out. I'm no artist, just a rough sketch, and continued on to work. Later that evening I was patrolling the area still thinking about the memorial when I noticed in the car park, a notice by the ticket machine and it mentioned the name Davenport Ltd. So I Google the name and found out that the owner was Jon Davenport, and found a contact number and email for him. I thought it best to email. I set about composing my email. I must admit by the time l finished it was like an essay, but I just wanted to let him know a bit about myself and my idea. So I sent it off not really expecting a reply, but like my Nan always used to say "if you don't ask, you don't get". The Beachside cafe was closed like a lot of business in the area, and I'm sure Jon had more important things on his mind which I totally understood. But, to my surprise, I received a reply saying thank you for the very long email and he liked the idea, and maybe we could meet up when things got back to some kind of normal and discuss it. I replied saying thanks for the reply and apologised for the long email, and I looked forward to hearing from him in the near future.
About a month passed, we were now into May and the Covid 19 situation had not changed much, everywhere was still on lockdown, I remember starting my day shift, we were now working days and nights and still keeping an eye on the Beachside cafe. As I wandered past the cafe, a guy walked out of one of the doors, so I asked him who he was. He replied, "I'm Jon, I'm the owner". He seemed a bit taken back by my question, so I thought to myself maybe this isn't a good time to mention who I am and about my email to him a month earlier. I was just about to walk away when I stopped and thought sod it, I've got nothing to lose. I introduced myself to Jon and said I was the guy who sent him the email about the Memorial. Jon replied oh yes the really long one! I laughed and we got chatting. He was really interested in the idea. I asked him what was his land he said most of it, so where do you want to put it I knew where I wanted it, and to my surprise, Jon agreed. I have to be honest, I was taken back by this because I'm so used to hearing "No sorry not interested", or "can't help", it really didn't sink in at the time what had just happened. I thanked Jon and said I would be in touch again soon.
It's really hard to explain how I was feeling. On one hand over the moon, and the other, how the hell do I pay for this I started looking at getting it done in Portland stoneas one piece but scrapped the idea due to the price. Let's just say it wasn't cheap. So I looked into having it built out of dressed Portland stone and set about putting a few designs down on paper and seeing what would work. I had already started working on the design for the plaques when I had the idea for the stone plinth. I knew I wanted three for the Roll of Honour and one for the top, and that because of all the names I needed to put on them - 544 - they had to be very large. I was still working on the original sizes of the plinth, so I contacted a few companies for prices, because of the position of the Memorial I had to use stainless steel, and because of the amount of detail I required it wasn't going to be cheap, but I now had some idea of the kind of money I was going to need for this part of the project.
I then set about finding a local builder. I made a few enquiries with local building companies, but due to lockdown still being in place, most of my enquiries fell on deaf ears. I did find one but it didn't work out. I searched My Builder and found a local guy called Carl. His reviews and feedback were 100%, so I sent him an email asking if he would be interested in the project of building the Memorial. I had made rough plans with the plaques on it. I had to build the Memorial around the plaques, not the other way around, I never do things straight forward!
I received a reply from Carl a few days later and we agreed to meet one morning. In the meantime, I had been working on different designs for the Memorial, it changed shape and height a few times. I remember asking Jon for a small piece of land about 5ft x 5ft, it was only meant to be a small Memorial, but going on the size of the plaques I had designed, it was going to be a lot bigger than that. I informed Jon about a new design and size which to my surprise he was quite happy with. I met up with Carl and explained about the crowdfunding appeal and showed him the design and we talked about the possibility of making it a bigger area. Carl seemed very interested and very keen to undertake the project and he said he would work out a price and get back to me
I've used crowdfunding appeals before without much success, but I thought a Battle of Britain Memorial appeal would work so I came up with 'Sponsor a Hero'. The idea was for people to sponsor the name of one of the pilots who would be listed on the Memorial, 544 in total, and in return, they would get a certificate which I designed as a small thank you. I was helped in promoting this idea by Dilip Sarkar MBE who had agreed to help out, but after a while and things not really going to plan - the local TV news jumping the gun, and letting the cat out of the bag before the set date to start the appeal - let's just say I was now on my own. I launched the appeal and got some coverage from the local newspaper.
I received a call from Carl with a quote for the work. He explained that he really wanted to help me with the Memorial along with his partner Lee, and would be happy to charge me for materials only, and was happy to wait for payment. I said to Carl "What if I don't get all the funds I needed to pay for it" he said, "Just pay us when you can". Now that's something you don't hear these days. So a week later Lee started work - the 27th of June, and by the 3rd of July, I could actually see my design start to take shape. By the 8th I could see the real size of it. From what was just a drawing on a piece of paper, I watched it come to life and grow into something very special.
The appeal was very slow to take off and I could see by the amount I was trying to raise, I was getting nowhere close to it. I did manage to raise £1,400, a long way short of my original target of £8,000, but I can understand people's concerns about giving money to appeals, and the situation most people were in due to the current circumstances. After the appeal finished I did do another one hoping to raise a bit more which again fell very short of the target. This time I raised another £850, every penny counts, but it was now looking like I would be funding the rest myself. So I started working as many hours as I could because I was determined to pay for the work done by Lee. He had done such a fantastic job putting his heart and soul into it. He said it meant a lot doing it, and we should always remember our brave boys. Lee's Grandad served in the Navy during World War 2, so he was happy to help out.
The project was like having two jobs. I was contacting different companies all the time getting quotes for this and that. I was looking for something to finish the top of the Memorial off. Again I looked into having some kind of Portland stone slabs and then decided it would look better with black slate. I made a few enquiries into pricing, and I found a company based in Barnstaple in Devon, so I sent them an email asking for a quote. I received the quote a couple of days later for £650. This was for three pieces of Brazilian black slate and delivery, so I replied asking if they could give me a little discount, explaining what it was for. I received a reply back from Steve Pugsley the Managing Director of Ardosia Slate Company, asking if I would contact him which I did. It turned out that Steve had a passion for The Battle of Britain. We chatted for a while, and Steve said he would work out some kind of discount. I received an email a short while later, and I couldn't believe what I was reading. Steve said he would be happy to donate the slate if I paid for delivery.
In the meantime, I had made contact with Dave Wilson, a good friend of Carl's who owned an engineering company, and he had agreed to undertake the work on the plaques at no charge. After receiving the designs for the plaques he decided that he was not confident he could do it, so he sent it off to a company in Birmingham and covered the cost himself. I couldn't believe this is was all starting to come together and I was blown away by people's generosity because things like this don't normally happen to me. It seems every company I contacted wanted to help. MKM Building Supplies gave Lee a discount on the block paving, and I also managed to get a discount on a flag pole from Hampshire Flag Company, well I had to have a flagpole for the Memorial site. By the 24th of July, the Memorial was finished. Lee had added a small wall and pier with the leftover stone and we had put slate chippings down. The area was looking great. In only a short time, we had transferred a bit of waste ground into something special, with a very fitting Memorial for our brave boys who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
On the 24th of August, I received a phone call from Dave Wilson saying that the plaques had arrived, so I jumped in the car and went to collect them. It was the first time I'd actually met Dave in person, most of our communications had been by email or over the phone. I couldn't believe the quality and sheer size of them. I got a bit choked up, these were the things that were going to finish the Memorial. I really didn't know how to express my gratitude to Dave apart from saying "thank you" a thousand times, he said he was happy to help
I now had to choose a date for the unveiling which was not going to be easy due to the Government bringing in rules about social distancing and large groups of people in one place. So, I thought about different dates, maybe the 31st of October, the official date of the last day of the Battle of Britain. What about the 15th of September, Battle of Britain day. In the end, I decided on the 20th September and set about making arrangements and contacting different organizations like RAFA and The British Legion for flag bearers, but due to all the restrictions about social distancing, I wasn't getting much response. I attended the Annual Battle of Britain Ceremony in Weymouth. Usually, this was held at the church, but due to the restrictions, it was being held at the local Cenotaph, where I managed to sort out the flag bearers and the vicar for the unveiling. OK, maybe I was cutting it fine with only five days to go, but it worked out in the end.
In the week leading up to the unveiling I had put in solar lights and added a wooden bench just to finish the whole thing off, and the night before the unveiling the plaques had been put in place. I stood looking at what I had achieved along with the help of some very special people. A memorial built to honour the South West for the 80th Anniversary of The Battle of Britain, by the people of the South West.
The Big Day arrived, the unveiling took place, and the rest is history.
Thanks for reading my story - remember, if you want something so much, you can make it happen. Don't give up on your dreams.