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Milford Haven’s Memorials

If you look hard enough, there’s always a silver lining to any cloud.  I found that precious lining this week, when I watched Storm Gareth’s huge black clouds roll into Milford Haven.  For once, I had a ringside view from the apartment balcony and never felt a drop!

With my ‘bootometer’ remaining stuck at 4,329 miles I continue to be confined to Milford Haven. On my potterings around the place I’ve been struck by the town’s array of memorials. The first I encountered was close to our apartment: the Belgian Refugee Memorial, dating back to the first World War.

During WWI the UK was home to at least 250,000 Belgian refugees and convalescing wounded Belgian soldiers. While here, many refugees became involved in the war effort and in some instances Belgian ‘colonies’ were created where they all lived together. Dame Agatha Christie is reported to have based her fictitious detective character, Hercule Poirot, on a Belgian refugee she met in her home town of Torquay.

Milford Haven also played its part in hosting over 700 refugees from Ostend, together with the crews of 24 Belgian fishing boats and 2 steam trawlers.  The local fishing industry had already created century-old links with the West Flanders area of Belgium, so there was at least some common ground between the locals and incomers.  During their stay in the town, Milford had a Belgium primary school solely for the refugee children; this situation was not uncommon in other parts of the UK too.

The Belgian Refugee Memorial was presented to residents of Milford Haven by steam trawler owners and people of Ostend who had found a safe haven at Milford. Erected as a token of gratitude it reads ‘Erected by the steam trawler owners and people of Ostend who were resident in this town during the Great War 1914-1919, as a mark of gratitude to the British nation in general and to the people of Milford Haven in particular for the hospitality received here during the period of exile from Belgium.’

Nearby, a memorial overlooking the waterway commemorates those early Milford fishermen who brought wealth to the town.  On one side it reads ‘A tribute to our fishermen’ and on the other are the words ‘Thanks to them Milford Haven flourished.’  

In more recent times it has been the energy businesses of oil and gas that have dominated the local skyline and remain one of the area’s core industries.  A striking ‘Flame’ memorial sits overlooking the waterway, and when the evening sun is setting, we’ve noticed how the red/orange sky reflects on the Flame memorial.  It looks just like a burning flame (known as a Flare Stack) from an oil refinery chimney.  The memorial is also a tribute to four Pembroke Oil Refinery workers who died in a 2011 explosion.

Unsurprisingly, Milford Haven has a prominent War Memorial. Its presence is testament to the importance of Milford Haven and its neighbour, Pembroke Dock, during both World Wars. I was particularly struck by the sheer number of names suffixed by RNR inscribed on the memorial’s granite face; many of those named had been crew members of armed trawlers, minesweepers and other naval vessels.

I noticed a much more recent name and date had been added to the War Memorial’s base: Sgt Edward W Collins of the 2nd Parachute Regiment, who had been killed in September 2007 while serving with the SAS in Iraq.  He is also remembered in the nearby Memorial Gardens where a ‘poppy bench’ has been erected.  In those same gardens Milford Haven proudly remembers the town’s only Victoria Cross holder:  Hubert William "Stokey” Lewis VC (1 May 1896 - 22 February 1977) who was lucky enough to return home safely after his heroism.

While on the subject of war service, it would be remiss of me if I failed to mention members of the (then) Empire who came to assist Britain.  Close to the town’s War Memorial I came across a much smaller memorial on which the names of six Australians from the Royal Australian Air Force are listed.  Flying in a Wellington, they all lost their lives when it crashed in Milford Haven’s waterway in July 1942.

Less than two years later, the town and surrounding areas played its part in the preparations for the Normandy Landings on D-Day. Those veterans have not been forgotten – a Normandy Veteran Association plaque has been placed in a commanding position over the waterway. With this year marking D-Day’s 75th anniversary, I’ve no doubt wreaths will be laid here in June.

Not far from the NVA memorial I spotted an old naval mine, one of thousands that can be found in numerous seaside towns around the coastline of Britain.  This one is being used as a memorial to commemorate the workforce who had worked tirelessly in the local RN Mine Depot and also the crews of various HM fast minelayers that had used those mines manufactured at the Depot.

Towns are always keen to mark Royal visits, and Milford Haven is no different with its George IV listed memorial. Perhaps what I’d not expected was to see such a forlorn looking memorial marking the landing of George IV in September 1821. Originally erected on a warehouse near the steps where he landed, it was later moved to a bridge toll house, then moved once again when that bridge was demolished to make way for a new one. From the parts that I could read, I gathered His Majesty came for a visit, departed, but was forced to return to port because of awful weather. During his enforced stay in the town ‘thousands of his loyal subjects flocked to see him’; all of this was covered in an elaborate and fulsome description on an eight-foot high memorial tablet.  For such a visit today, a newspaper headline would probably do the job!  

My inactivity has continued, and although I thought I’d ‘slung my sling’, the Physio Team advised me otherwise.  At least it’s no longer a bed-mate and its use has been reduced for when I’m out and about.  I now understand the extent of the soft tissue damage to my shoulder and am limited to a few joint mobilisation exercises.  Strengthening comes later.  Therefore, in Naval parlance, I’m on ‘very light duties’ for the next few weeks with my Support Team doing all cleaning, linen changes, bag carrying and cooking. It’s not a bad life – for me!  

See Photo Album No 68 – Milford Haven’s Memorials