In the innermost heart of his own land

Parish councils are interesting voluntary gatherings of fellow citizens, who have real authority over those of us unfortunate enough to live in a parished area of the county.  They can raise money on our Council Tax bills -  known as the parish precept.  There are more than three hundred parish councils, town councils and parish meetings in the county. In Abingdon, we have three levels of local government with authority over those of us who work or live in the town: Oxfordshire county, Vale of White Horse district and Abingdon Town Council - a parish council, in all but name.   

If it wants to, any parish council with a chairman can vote to turn itself into a town, with a Mayor.   Here in Abingdon, the position of mayor comes with accoutrements including a chain of office, a lace collar and a green fur lined robe. Not only this, there are badges for everyone with a position of responsibility and municipal robes, for all councillors, which they wearm even for regular council meetings. 

Amidst all of this municipal pomp and circumstance and three different levels of local government all with their own bureaucracies, it would be easy enough to dismiss local government as officious and over bearing.  From time to time, however they will do something corporately which is worthwhile, apposite and speaks with dignity, of the moment. 

A century ago, many Abingdonians joined the Royal Berkshire Regiment and fought in the First World War, so it was entirely appropriate that a ceremony take place at 0700 on 01 July, on The Square in Abingdon, the former county town of Berkshire, to mark the outbreak of the battle of the Somme. 

Led by the Mayor and involving about fifteen souls: a British Army Padre, two buglers, five sergeant-majors from 3 Logistic Support Regiment, based at Dalton Barracks, at Shippon, near Abingdon and one or two local people.  There was a rendition of The Last Post on the bugles, a two minutes silence and a Reveille, followed by an exhortation from the Mayor and a blessing from the Padre – "God grant to the living, grace; to the departed, rest..." 

These days, much of my life is spent waiting in my taxi on The Night Rank, queueing around this triangular space in the middle of Abingdon called The Square.  In the middle of The Square is the War Memorial, built by public subscription.  One of the names on that memorial I have looked at many times, because of where it is positioned, is Albert Oakley, who lived on Ock Street. 

Albert died at the Somme on the first day, 01 July 1916, aged twenty-two. He has no known grave. But he is remembered at Thiepval cemetery on the Somme and here “in the innermost heart of his own land” as the war poet Binyon puts it - in Abingdon, from whence he came. As last Friday, were all of those who fought in the battle. 

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 06 July 2016

Colin's guest blog post on the Abingdon Blog