Friday, October 23, 2009

The War Horse Memorial

St Jude’s has what may have been the first of very few war memorials to horses.

According to the Parish Paper the idea for the memorial seems to have come from the first vicar, the Reverend Basil Bourchier who, as a forces chaplain in the Great War, had seen their suffering.

In 1926 he was offered a bronze of a war-horse moulded by Charles Lutyens (the late father of Sir Edwin Lutyens, the architect of the church) which had been exhibited at the Royal Academy. Largely, it seems, through contributions from the congregation the bronze was purchased and an accompanying plaque and wooden plinth commissioned. The memorial was unveiled on Easter Sunday (April 4) 1926 by Miss Frances Jeffcock during 'Festal Mattins' at 1130am and dedicated by the vicar. (Parish Papers 737, 739, 740).


Unfortunately the bronze itself was later stolen and so what we have today (on the wall by the main west door) is the original plaque and a new (1970) bronze relief of a war horse by Rosemary Proctor, daughter of William Maxwell Rennie, the third vicar.

This old photograph shows the original horse on its plinth (designed by Edwin Lutyens) with the plaque attached. The memorial is standing to the left of the St George's altar on the north transept wall. The icon, now at the entrance to the Lady Chapel, is on the left, with the candle stand, now at the back of the church, beneath it. The painting behind the altar has not been identified. The presence of the painting commemorating Michael Rennie in the City of Benares lifeboat helps date the photograph probably to the early 1950s.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

City of Benares

A painting by Walter Starmer in the lunette above St George's altar at St Jude’s, which represents the last few moments in the life Michael Rennie, the Vicar's son, who died of exhaustion after rescuing several evacuee children from the sinking City of Benares in 1940.

The SS City of Benares was a steam passenger ship. In 1940 it was being used as a refugee ship and was carrying 90 children from Great Britain to Canada as part of the wartime overseas evacuation. On the night of 17/18 September it was torpedoed by a German submarine and sunk in the early hours of 18 September 1940, with great loss of life. 83 of the children onboard were killed. The following is an article by one of those few children (now elderly adults) who survived.

I am one of the few children who survived the ordeal of the sinking of the City of Benares and have only just been told the story about the memorial in your church to Michael Rennie. I have also read the reports of his remarkable bravery trying to rescue many of the young children who were pitched into the sea when his lifeboat was launched into the rough seas and how he swam repeatedly to bring them back to the lifeboat before they were swept away but only for many to die later from exposure. He was a real hero.

There have been some very accurate and heart-searching books and articles written about the sinking of the City of Benares. In case some of your church members may wish to learn more about the tragedy I recommend they read the latest book called
'Miracles on the Water' by Tom Nagorski. The author visited and interviewed all of the remaining survivors and has produced this remarkable book, full of drama, but told with skill and compassion. There are full accounts of Michael Rennie.

After the War, when stories of some events were being investigated and being told for the first time, many of us surviving children of the Benares were brought together to tell our stories. It was these stories that now form to details of the books and even a documentary BBC film on the event. It also made us children realise how very lucky we are to have survived and had good lives since. We have always acknowledged this and in our research we discovered that a small church in Wembley was where so many of the children who did not survive came from. As a result of this it was agreed that we should hold our various Memorial Services at the Church of the Annunciation in South Kenton and where we all met up for a reunion. We held services for the 50th, 55th and 60th anniversaries but now our numbers are depleting due to age. There are now only very few of us left and we are now mostly over 80 but we all have a very strong bond and keep in touch with each other.

City Of Benares - Sequel

On 4 July 2009, a week or so after Mr Bech had telephoned me about the City of Benares, I was in the church doing the flowers and as the door was open, three visitors came in and started to walk around the church. When I went to talk to them I found to my delight and amazement, that one of the ladies, Christine Drury, was the niece of Michael Rennie’s fiancée, Miss Pamela Bankart. After Michael’s tragic death Miss Bankart joined the Friends Ambulance Unit in Calcutta and worked as a driver for the rest of the war. The Unit was formed by the Society of Friends and was manned by Friends, who are, of course, confirmed pacifists. The three ladies had heard about the memorial painting to Michael Rennie and the 83 children of the City of Benares and had come to look for it.

They were also amazed to hear about the recent contact with Mr Bech and City of Benares survivors and were equally impressed that the tragedy is remembered annually in St Jude’s.

Elinor Delaney

Michael Delaney recommends this social history of Britain between the two wars. It is a fascinating account of the changes in society at this time. The sinking of the City of Benares is mentioned in this book as a seminal event in the reformulation of the evacuation policy.
We danced all night: a social history of Britain between the wars by Martin PughI was so interested to hear that each year St. Jude's also hold prayers for Michael Rennie and for all those who perished with him as a result of the sinking of the City of Benares. It was a major event of the War and probably one of the worse single disasters concerning children. It is nice to know that memorials, like your painting, will always be a reminder to future generations of the tragedy of War.
Derek Bech (Aged 9 years old in 1940)

Published in Autumn 2009 edition of The Spire.

Click on scan to enlarge:

Pages from the St Jude's Gazette October 1940 and November 1942

Saturday, October 10, 2009

St Jude's Autumn Walk 10 October 2009

Come and bring your families, friends and dogs if you would like to discover green and secluded paths through North London’s parks and woodland in autumn sunshine. We hope that this six-mile sponsored walk, almost entirely away from roads, will raise as much as possible for the St Jude’s central heating appeal fund. We shall start at St Jude’s, Central Square, Hampstead Garden Suburb NW11 7AH, and finish at Manor House underground station on the Piccadilly Line.

The church of St Jude-on-the-Hill is a Grade I listed building. It is regarded as Lutyens’s masterpiece, but its size and age mean that maintenance costs are very high. Our small congregation now has to raise at least £130,000 to replace our antiquated central heating system.

Make a note of the date in your diaries now. If you do not wish to walk, please consider sponsoring one of the walkers or making a donation. Adult walkers are required to raise a minimum of £25 in sponsorship.

Start: St Jude-on-the-Hill, Central Square, London NW11 7AH
between 0915 and 10 am
Finish: Manor House underground station (Piccadilly Line)
Distance: 6 miles
Time: 2½ - 3 hours

The route

Cross Central Square and proceed down Erskine Hill. After a short while, turn right into Big Wood and walk through it. On leaving the wood, cross Oakwood Road into Northway Gardens, cross the brook and turn right. From now on until the end of the walk you will see signs marked Capital Ring.
[1] Follow the brook, cross Northway and continue along the brook until you reach Kingsley Way. Here turn right over the brook, then left past a barrier into Lyttelton Playing Fields. At a fork bear right, away from the brook. The track bends left past a playground and passes a pavilion and some tennis courts. Toilets here. After a bowling green, the path swings right. At this point, about 30 minutes from the start of the walk, look back for a fine view of the church and the other Lutyens buildings in Central Square.

Turn left and leave the park. Turn left into Norrice Lea past the Hampstead Garden Suburb synagogue and continue to Lyttelton Road. Cross at the lights, then turn right and immediately left into Vivian Way. Follow it round to the right. In 250 yards you reach a little green, where the road swings left to reach Deansway. Cross over and turn left, then in 80 yards turn right into Edmund’s Walk. At the top, by another little green, keep ahead along a narrow path to a T-junction, then turn right along The Causeway to East Finchley Station, about 40 minutes from the start of the walk.

Walk through the station, cross the main road at the lights, then turn right and in 20 yards left between concrete bollards before the bridge. Bear right into Cherry Tree Wood. Walk through this small park past an open-air café (recommended for a coffee stop). Toilets here. Proceed ahead along Fordington Road. At the junction with Woodside Avenue, cross and go up Lanchester Road opposite. In 50 yards, turn left up a steep tarmac path between fences. Enter Highgate Wood through an ornate metal gate with stags and rabbits (about one hour from St Jude’s).

Keep ahead on the path to an intersection with a granite drinking fountain. Here turn right to the next junction, then left at a Capital Ring sign. Just a few yards ahead at this point, off the route, there are a café and toilets: turn left at the café for Ladies and right for Gents. Follow the path past a small lodge to your left, bear right and continue downhill to Muswell Hill Road and another ornate metal gate. Cross the road at the lights and enter Queen’s Wood. This section includes some steep paths and can be avoided by following the instructions in italics below.

Go down the path to the Woodkeeper’s Lodge (an organic café with limited indoor seating). You may be able to get a coffee here if they are not catering for a big party. Fork right downhill, then at the bottom bear right and follow the path uphill. At the next path junction, keep ahead to Queen’s Wood Road and cross it to the next part of the wood. The path rises at first, then drops downhill, bearing left. At a low brick wall, turn right up a tarmac path to Priory Gardens and turn right again. You have now done over half of the walk.

The walk continues on a footpath between house numbers 63 and 65 Priory Gardens. You emerge at Shepherd’s Hill. Turn right to Archway Road, go down it for 50 yards and turn left into Holmesdale Road and left again at the next bend into the Parkland Walk. You will see a sign saying Finsbury Park 2¼ miles. You have about one more hour of walking to do.

To avoid Queen’s Wood: after crossing Muswell Hill Road, turn right along it for 400 yards to Archway Road, then turn left. Keep on down Archway Road past the junction with Shepherds’ Hill to rejoin the route and turn left into Holmesdale Road.

From now on, virtually no navigational skills are required. The Parkland Walk, created in 1984 from a disused railway, takes you through Highgate, Crouch End and Stroud Green, sometimes under roads and sometimes over them at near rooftop level. You pass the derelict platforms of what used to be Crouch End Station. After about 45 minutes you reach the end of the Parkland Walk and cross a footbridge to your left over the mainline railway into Finsbury Park.

Keep ahead, following the Capital Ring sign to Stoke Newington station, and in 50 yards turn left and then right past the café, with the boating lake on your left. Toilets here. Pass a playground bearing half right, then turn left into the McKenzie flower garden. Those who wish can stop here for a picnic lunch, sitting on the grass, if the weather permits. You have five more minutes of walking to do.

At a five-way path junction, take the path bearing right past a small stone memorial to a Polish heroine called Helena Fedorowicz. Continue to the next junction, then turn right to cross the service road. Leave the park through the main gate. An entrance (exit 6) to Manor House Station is around to the left.

[1] The Capital Ring by Colin Saunders. Aurum Press Ltd, London, 2006.