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Local Heroes - Your streets were their streets Local Heroes - Your streets were their streets

The names of 197 local men who lost their lives in World War I are
inscribed on the bells of the Memorial Community Church in Plaistow. They are our local heroes

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Rededication of the bells, 19 November 2011

Photo: David Levenson/Heritage Lottery Fund

The Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, was delighted to learn that the bells of Memorial Community Church, Plaistow, which are a memorial to 200 men from the church and local area who died serving in the First World War, are cast with the largest number of names of any set of bells in the world. Hopefully he will encourage visitors to this Olympic borough to see  – and hear – this remarkable war memorial in 2012.

The rededication of the bells as a war memorial took place on Saturday 19 November following the restoration of the bells, which were installed in 1925, to their former glory. This event also marked the completion of the £250,000 project to repair the roof and brickwork of the bell tower so rain no longer comes in.

Photo: David Levenson/Heritage Lottery Fund

There is an exhibition at ground level, largely created by young people from the Swift youth club next door.Well over 100 people took part in the rededication including the Representative Deputy Lieutenant for the borough of Newham, local councillors, the Royal British Legion, the Western Front Association, men from G Company 7 Rifles (the local Territorial Army), representatives of funders, Kaizen primary School and the descendants of several  of the men commemorated on the bells, who only recently learned of the existence of this memorial.

Two grandchildren of Private William Belcher, plus three other generations of the family, were among  the guests and laid a wreath in his memory after the service, when the British Legion led wreath-laying and two minutes silence. This took place by the plaque which bears the dedication of the bells and where wreaths were laid in 1925 at the original dedication service.

William Belcher’s  great-grandson Paul McAllister said, “we had a truly memorable, and very emotional, day, and felt privileged to have been able to be there”.

Photo: David Levenson/Heritage Lottery Fund

Many people went to see the bells – thanks to a new HLF-funded handrail to make the belfry safe, and spotlights to illuminate the names on the bells – and others, who couldn’t climb the stairs, took a ‘virtual tour’. Visitors were very impressed with the young people who showed them around, and the four newly-trained young men who rang the bells for the occasion. Nearly everyone stayed for home-made cake or a lunch of Caribbean food cooked by members of the church, and young and old also enjoyed  crafts and an organ recital during the afternoon .

Funding came from Heritage Lottery Fund, the Pilgrim Trust, War Memorials Trust, Heritage of London Trust, Sharpe Trust and Essex branch of the Western Front Association as well as many individuals who donated or took part in sponsored events.

Lyn Brown, MP for West Ham, said “This dedication commemorates local men, who died in the First World War.  They walked the same streets we do.  They prayed, or not, as we do.  Their families loved them, as we love those dear to us… ….We face to-day many of the same challenges Newham people overcame in the past.  Every time the new peal rings out, let it be a reminder of what ordinary people can achieve, when they congregate in harmony and co-operation.”

The event was made more pleasant by the church’s new heating installed in the last two months with a grant from the Big Lottery Fund, as the building is used in the week for a range of activities that support vulnerable people in one of London’s poorest boroughs. New toilets and improved disabled access are planned for January and the appeal for phase 3 of high-level repairs to the front of the church in 2013 has just been launched.