19/07/2008

Unsung heroes

Posted in Armed Services, Heritage, Life, Volunteers, Young people at 11:47 pm by henrysgauntlet

Actually I very much dislike the way the term “hero” is applied these days to any semi-famous sportsman or television personality, but I find myself needing to use it today.   And to use it to flag up those small groups of people in Grays, and all round Thurrock, who contribute so much to the preservation of our heritage, to the life of our neighbourhood, and to keeping all the voluntary organizations going.

Coalhouse Fort East Tilbury

Coalhouse Fort East Tilbury

A story this week about Coalhouse Fort at East Tilbury mentions the Coalhouse Fort Project, a conservation group which has been granted the lease of the Fort.   This small group of enthusiasts has worked hard to repair and refurbish some parts of the buildings, to set up museums about aviation, about the history of the fort, about the home front during the war, and recently a new naval museum.   They slave away in conditions of discomfort and cold, to make an attraction which is then opened to the public during certain holiday weekends.

Very similar is The Garrison Museum at Purfleet.    There an unprepossessing building, once an armament store, houses an amazing collection.    Before I first went there I thought it was just a small effort, but the building assumes Tardis proportions inside, and there you will find a fantastic collection of military artefacts from all three services, together with a special section on Purfleet, a collection of civilian antiquities, and it is the museum of the former Hornchurch RAF station.    There’s even an example of the Barnes Wallis “bouncing bomb” made famous by the 617 Squadron Dam Busters Raid.   And they put on frequent exhibitions and events.   All of this is done by a small group of volunteers, who repair, maintain and re-arrange the building, stage the exhibitions, catalogue the vast collection not on display which has to be housed in people’s garages and sheds, run the tea bar, and provide a wonderful facility for students, local residents and those from further afield.

I come into contact quite regularly with those marvellous people who run the cadet forces of the three services.   Probably the public thinks they are paid members of the military, but almost all of them are volunteers giving up their time and money to help provide exciting experiences for the cadets, and to turn them into the courteous and well-behaved young people we see when they are on parade.   Even more good and willing people give up their time after a day’s work to act as leaders for scouts and cubs, guides and brownies, girls’ and boys’ brigades, and the other groups working with children and teenagers.

Finally, I have had the privilege in recent weeks of speaking at a number of clubs around Thurrock for the elderly.   These splendid people are still greatly interested in what is going on around them, and the leaders provide them with a programme, in some cases for weekly meetings.   What a wonderful job they are doing.   It’s hard work finding speakers, arranging quizzes and outings, etc, for every week of the year.   And then making sure that everyone has a good time, is provided with a cup of tea, and has someone to talk to.

So these individuals and groups of volunteers mentioned above, and others similar far too many to mention here, are my local heroes.   Good luck to them all.    At the moment there don’t seem to be too many younger people coming along to follow them when they have to stand down, but let’s hope that “cometh the hour, cometh the means”.

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