A FEW weeks ago I attended a very interesting talk arranged by the Booker Local History Group on the early history of the Memorial Hall in the village. This was given by Keith Francis. After the talk I asked Keith if I could share this with Bucks Free Press readers, he kindly agreed.

The first part of the article appeared in the Nostalgia page on July 26.

We related then how in January 1919 a prominent Booker resident, Tom Lacey Morris from Barmoor Farm in the village, chaired a meeting which resolved to provide a Memorial Hall to commemorate those Booker men who were killed in the Great War of 1914 -18. A committee was formed to follow this through, with a Local Government official Roland Herring as the secretary. Through the resourcefulness of Morris and Herring the purchase of an Army-surplus hut from the American Red Cross in Liverpool was arranged, but all was not straightforward.

Being unaware of what lay ahead, on the Friday following the receipt of a confirmation letter Rowland Herring met local landowner from Hughenden Manor Sir Francis Dashwood on Booker Common.

Sir Francis, who had served in the war had seen similar huts in France said “I believe they were just thing”. He offered to gift a piece of land by the cricket pitch on the Common, on condition its current tenant, Henry Crook, voluntarily agreed to give it up. Herring wasted no time and approached Henry that afternoon to ask if he would receive a deputation from the Hall Committee. “I cannot see my way clear to do so” was Henry’s reply. Roland Herring, not being a man to give up easily, and with the help of Henry Crook’s daughter, secured a deal that afternoon.

This was agreed and signed the following day. The agreement was relatively straight forward, other than a clause where the Hall Committee agreed to list Henry’s son on the war role of honour plaque. Not necessarily a problem other than that Henry’s son never went to, or died as a result of, the war.

At this stage the Committee believed all was ready to go. Just fourteen days earlier it had had the vague idea of a war memorial.

Since then, it had decided on a Memorial Hall rather than a stone monument, found and ordered a building, secured initial funding, obtained the land for the project and agreed the trustees. Even against today’s standards of instant and multi communication this is amazing feat of organisation management.

By June 30, Tom Morris’s men had transported the hut from West Wycombe Station by horse and carts, enabling the shell of the hall to be erected just in time for the Peace Day celebrations on Booker Common.

At around this time the Committee received a threat to “fire the hall” and disrupt related activities. It is not clear who this was, but the Committee took the threat very seriously. The minutes mention a father who was upset because in his view the Committee had not given his soldier boys the same respect as others. Certainly, there are signs that one of the roll of honour plaques may have been adapted after the sign writer had started work.

Attention now turned to fitting out the Hall. An entrance porch with toilets was built, the roll of honour plaques, not including Henry Crook’s son, were placed each side of the doors leading into the hall. Above these, on a shelf, was placed a surprising war memento – a German machine gun ! A major issue was heating and lighting. Tom Morris and the Committee all agreed that electricity would be best. However, in those days many considered electricity to be a bit of a mystery. Tom decided to ask an electrical expert friend for advice. When the electrical friend reported back, he suggested electricity would not be the best thing for lighting. His recommendation was a petrol gas system. The Committee decided on an Imperial system which eighteen months later was considered a failure, at least with respect to heating.

This has been a short summary of the birth of Booker Hall which has only lightly touched on the story in the minute book and other related research into the 1919 Hall. Over the next few decades the villagers were to build a reputation for “punching well above their weight”, especially the Booker Shows of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. However that is in another minute book recovered in the cardboard boxes, and another story. Even so, Booker’s reputation for excelling as a village all seemed to have started about this time, if this quote from Bucks Free Press when reporting on the Peace Celebrations is to be believed:

“the inhabitants of the pretty little village indulged in festivities of a kind that fairly beat towns in the immediate district. One thing to be noticed at Booker is that the inhabitants do not do things by halves”.

As long as Booker retains its village identity and independence from the suburbs of High Wycombe town we may well see this spirited return.