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Commemorating the Great War at Royal Victoria Country Park

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Soldiers who laid down their lives for their country during World War I were remembered at Royal Victoria Country Park, Netley at the weekend (Sunday 27 July).

A day of commemorations was held at the park to mark 100 years since the first shots were fired in preparation for the invasion of Serbia by the Austro-Hungarians, the event that led to the outbreak of war.

A wreath of poppies to remember those who died in World War I was laid by the Chairman of Hampshire County Council, Councillor Colin Davidovitz, in a ceremony at the Cenotaph in the war cemetery.

Councillor Davidovitz and Councillor Peter Edgar, Executive Member for Education, then unveiled a new poppy sculpture in front of the park's iconic chapel, the last remaining part of the British Army's first purpose- built hospital, which played such a vital role in caring for and rehabilitating the wounded from the Great War.

Standing 7ft high and made of galvanized steel, the sculpture was created by local designer and blacksmith, Colin Phillips. Poems and poppies created by local schools and children with parents in the Armed Forces are on display in the chapel.

Hampshire played a critical role in the First World War, as the major embarkation point for millions of soldiers heading off to mainland Europe and further afield to join the conflict.

Cllr Davidovitz said: "This stunning artwork will be a poignant, permanent reminder of the sacrifices so many young made for their country and the hugely important role Royal Victoria Hospital played during World War I. It is right to commemorate the sacrifices that were made by so many service people. In so doing we should also consider the responsibility we have to remember not only those whose sacrifices they made on our behalf, but also for their families whose lives were so badly affected either by the loss of loved ones or the disabilities they suffered."

Cllr Edgar said: "Thousands of British and British Empire sick and wounded soldiers from the First World War were cared for here at the site of the Royal Victoria Military Hospital. It is very fitting, therefore, that the last remaining part of the hospital main building should have in front of it a lasting reminder of the First World War. My congratulations to Colin Phillips, the designer and creator of the sculpture, and thanks to all those who have contributed financially and worked so hard to develop an addition to the park that will forever remind visitors of the care that was shown at Netley to those suffering from the horrors of war. It has already motivated local service family children to write creatively and make poppies. This is only the beginning as I am sure this sculpture will be an excellent focus for historical educational visits in the future."

Colin Phillips, based in Ashurst in the New Forest, has been a blacksmith for 30 years. His bespoke pieces include sculptures in the Gold Award winning Hillier Gardens entry at the Chelsea Flower show this year and a large galvanized steel sculpture made in the shape of a diamond vase with six tulips, to represent each decade of the Queen's reign, in Fair Oak, Eastleigh.

He said: "For this project, I thought what was needed was a big simple poppy sculpture with a flash of colour. I wanted to replicate the Royal British Legion poppy, but not copy it completely. The poppy took about a month to make using traditional blacksmith techniques and tools and the structure is galvanized so it will never rust. What I love to do with my work is to change the landscape and get people talking. I hope people will like this poppy structure at Royal Victoria Country Park and see it as a fitting tribute to remember all those soldiers and staff who worked at the hospital on this site."

From 1863 until 1966, the site of Royal Victoria Country Park was home to the Royal Victoria Hospital. It was more than a quarter of a mile long and the British Army's first purpose-built hospital which devoted more than 100 years of service to caring for sick and wounded soldiers from across the world. Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone herself on 19 May 1856 and visited the site over 20 times in her lifetime. The hospital came into its own during the First World War, expanding vastly to cope with the ever-increasing demands of one of our country's darkest periods in history.

The Army demolished most of the building in 1966 except the former Chapel to the hospital.

The site was acquired by Hampshire County Council and in 1980 Royal Victoria Country Park was opened to the public.

On Monday August 4 the Chairman of Hampshire County Council will be hosting a Hampshire Commemorates exhibition in the Great Hall in Winchester showcasing historic materials from Hampshire County Council and other partners to mark the centenary of WWI. The event is free for all visitors and will provide a taster of some of the exhibitions and information available around the county and will run from 10am-5pm.

For more information please see the press release about this event.

Among the County Council's various preparations to mark this historic milestone are a number of key projects. These include the '1914' Commemorative Programme, a Hampshire Solent arts, museums and heritage partnership, supported by Arts Council England.

Poppies will be planted at some of Hampshire County Council's Country Parks and other locations, including Manor Farm Country Park in Bursledon, Royal Victoria Country Park in Netley and Milestones Museum in Basingstoke.

This wider commemorative programme across cultural venues will continue during the 1914-18 period, and the County Council is working with the National Museum of the Royal Navy to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign in 2015 and bring back to life the historic HMS M33 which served there.

Other highlights will include the Artists Rifles and Soldiers Journey exhibitions, which will be touring around Hampshire County Council venues, bringing to life real stories from the front line.

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Commemorating the Great War at Royal Victoria Country Park

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