HISTORY OF HARLING MEMORIAL GROUND
We fondly call it “The Rec' ” but, as as you know, it's full title is 'The Memorial Recreation Ground' –indicating that its existence has a deeper significance, as indeed it has. So, why is it a “Memorial” and what or who does it serve to remember? The story of how the land became gifted to the people of East Harling for their enjoyment and recreation, deserves to be re-told. It is a story of shock, disbelief, bereavement, generosity and hope.
If you enter The Rec' via the West Harling Road, you will see two stone memorial plaques, one on each of the brick pillars that support the Iron Gate. Upon the left hand plaque is carved “Harling Memorial Recreation Field. 1939—1945” and upon the other, “Opened 5th September 1948”. This simple, humble inscription underplays the hidden story behind its foundation soon after the war ended.
John and Louisa Hall lived in River View, East Harling and were local landowners which included a nine acre field opposite the Church. Mr and Mrs Hall had a son, Charles Wilkinson Hall who was married to a young lady named Irene. During the war Charles served in the Royal Navy as a telegraph operator on board HMS CURACAO, a light cruiser operating in the Atlantic as an escort to troopship convoys approaching home waters. On 2nd October 1942, HMS Curacao was rendezvousing with a large liner 40 miles off the north coast of Ireland that was bringing 15,000 American troops to Britain to join the Allied forces in Europe. Both the large liner and HMS Curacao were following the usual high-speed zig-zagging procedures to avoid U boats when the huge liner hit the Curacao amidships at right angles, slicing her in half. HMS Curacao sank within 5 minutes. Of the 439 crew, 338 were drowned, one of whom was Charles Wilkinson Hall.
The name of the troopship-liner was The Queen Mary!
All troopships were under strict orders not to stop for survivors under any circumstances
'---even if people in the water were waving'. The Queen Mary, with only relatively minor damage, continued her journey at reduced speed. The few survivors of the collision were picked up later by other naval ships in the convoy. The horror of this disaster was witnessed by many of the 15,000 American troops leaning over the rails of the Queen Mary looking for signs of enemy submarines and their shock must have been beyond our imagination, but nothing compared to the shock felt by the families of the dead and missing when they were informed. Mr and Mrs Hall and Irene Hall would have received the feared telegrams by the next day informing them of the death of son and husband. After the war, the nine acre field opposite the church, owned by the Hall family, was gifted by them to the people of East Harling and dedicated as a war memorial, but the inspiration for this act of generosity was undoubtedly the personal loss of their loved one Charles Wilkinson Hall---and that horrific tragedy at sea in October 1942.
The field is held in Trust by Harling Recreation Ground Trust who manage and maintain the grounds, going right down to the riverside, that encompasses East Harling Bowls Club and East Harling Youth Centre, opposite the Church.
In 2014 it was awarded QEII Field status, which protects it under the Fields in Trust scheme from ever being anything other than a recreation ground.
The Ground was given charity status on the 7th April 1981. The conveyance was dated 22nd August 1947 and the Scheme dated 9th January 1997, it concerns the following land:
421 square metres or thereabouts with the buildings Thereon known as The Pavilion
Land containing 3.892 hectares or thereabouts being part of the land numbered 233 on the OS map (1905 2nd edition)
Today there are seven acres of well-maintained grass playing areas, some floodlit, backed up by modern energy-efficient changing rooms, which were fully refurbished in 2013.
In August 2018 two brand new tennis courts were opened along with the potential for more sports going forward.
A skate park area, outdoor gym and children’s play area also sit within the grounds of the Recreation Ground making this whole area fully inclusive for all.
Standing over the ground is the village Sports & Social Club, which supports sporting, recreational and social activities in the village and surrounding areas.
It has become the centre of the community, providing a venue for meetings and social events, and facilities for sport. It is very much a family orientated organisation. Built as a self-help project with funds raised locally, the Club was opened by Keith Skipper in October 1983. In 1994, with funding mainly through Greene King, the building was extended, effectively doubling its size.
If you are interested in booking the Recreation Ground for a sporting or social activity please email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org
East Harling Youth Centre: email@example.com
Harling Recreation Bowls Club: 01953 718715
Harling Recreation Ground is a registered charity - no. 282019
With thanks David Bailey and to Ann Partridge who supplied details of the HMS Curacao/Queen Mary collision and the Hall family. Ann will be covering in much more detail the lives of all those remembered on the East Harling War Memorial in her second book on this subject, due to be published at the end of this year.