Three Henley men were awarded Town Medals on Thursday for their outstanding contributions to the community. On the evening of April 19th, family and friends gathered at the Town Hall to celebrate the achievements of Dick Charlton, John Green and Alfie Hay.
Henley Mayor Kellie Hinton opened the ceremony by remarking that many people contribute to making Henley the town that it is, but some really go above and beyond. Richard Charlton was the first to receive his medal after an introduction by Councillor Ken Arlett. Richard (Dick) was born just off the Wargrave Road, and many know him from his integral feature in the annual Remembrance Day service. Ken, whose uncles fought alongside Dick in WWII, told the incredible story of his many life experiences.
97 year old Dick joined the Territorial Army when he was 18. In 1939, he was called to join the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry as the country lay on the edge of war. He was soon sent to the freezing port of Le Havre, and travelled with his company towards Belgium. It wasn’t long before the soldiers found themselves on the front line. Swarmed by German tanks, the troops were forced to retreat back to Cassel, where they were surrounded by German soldiers. On 29th May, 1940, Dick was taken as a prisoner of war.
Dick and other prisoners were taken to Lamsdorf, on the German/Polish border, where they were to remain for 4 years. Each was given a number to identify them, which Dick can still remember. Heads shaved, clothes taken, and even names made obsolete, they were stripped of their identity. It wasn’t until 7th January 1945 that Dick saw freedom, after being liberated by the Americans. He faced a four month march to Brussels before he could be flown back to the UK for 5 weeks’ leave. As the war continued to rage, Dick prepared to return to his duty. He now claims that the Atom Bomb dropped on Japan most likely saved his life.
Some of Dick’s achievements since have included joining the Harpsden British Legion (and being presented with an award for his 70 years’ service), making pilgrimages to Dunkirk with the Dunkirk Veterans, and winning the Oxford Senior Cup with Henley Town Football Club in 1947. He married Dorris in 1961, and they are still happily married after 57 years — and two daughters and grandchildren later!
The second Henley resident to be honoured with a Town Medal was John Green, after an introduction from Mayor Kellie Hinton. Many know John as the Chairman of the Royal British Legion Henley-on-Thames and Peppard Branch. Much like Dick Charlton, John has been a prized member of the armed forces, and has continued to serve the country and his fellow soldiers throughout his life. In 1953, aged 17, John began his National Service and joined the Sherwood Foresters. During his three years of service, he became a Lieutenant. John then moved to Henley after leaving the army, as he spent most of his career as a General Manager for Gillette, and wanted to be close to their Isleworth offices.
John has been part of the Royal British Legion for over 30 years. The RBL provides practical, emotional and financial support to members of the British Armed Forces, both past and present, and their families. John has embarked on a number of fundraising drives for the association, such as undertaking a charitable walk in August 2014 in memory of his father, William Leslie Green (also a soldier). John also walked 200km over 4 days in August 2016 at age 81 for the Nijmegen Marches. Of course, many people will know John from Remembrance Day services, and his integral role in the RBL poppy appeal. In his acceptance speech, John said how very proud he was to share the event with Dick Charlton, and how much he admired his contribution to the town and his country.
The third and final Henley local to be honoured was Alfie Hay. Alfie was the headmaster of Trinity Primary School when Councillor Kellie Hinton attended – so it seemed only fitting that she should present him with his medal! Introducing her old headmaster, Kellie’s emotions were apparent as she recalled Alfie’s influence on his many young students, herself included. Alfie also remarked in his acceptance speech how unique it was to have an award given to him by one of his former pupils. In addition to the huge positive impact he had on his many students at Trinity, Alfie was also a founder of the Henley Youth Festival, which has just celebrated its 25th year. Since its establishment, the Henley Youth Festival has seen thousands of children explore and enjoy the diversity of the arts, from painting to singing, poetry to film, tap to jazz — the list is endless! It goes without saying that Alfie Hay has had a monumental effect on the lives of the children in Henley-on-Thames.
Congratulations to the three well deserving winners on their Town Medals.