Sunday, 11 November 2012

Finchley's fallen: a time to remember

Only a few weeks ago, a new hospital opened here in Finchley: a building to replace Finchley Memorial Hospital, founded in 1908, and then renamed in 1922 in tribute to those who lost their lives in the Great War. 

The new hospital was planned and funded before the present assault on our NHS was launched, and is built on vacant land next to the original  buildings. 

Mrs Angry has had the misfortune to have to visit the new hospital twice in the last week or so: it is undoubtedly a fabulous new building, but appears to be largely underused: on both visits there were more members of staff than patients, although patients appeared to be kept waiting as long as before. It would seem likely that this new venue will be something of a white elephant, a brand spanking new structure struggling to provide an adequate level of service in the harsh new commercialised reality of the coalition government's NHS plans.

As you make your way up the interminably long and inaccessible entrance route to the new centre, you pass by the sad relic of the old hospital, its Edwardian structure boarded up, ready, as is inevitable in Broken Barnet, to be demolished and the site sold to property speculators.

It is a terrible thing, to see so much of the local history and heritage of this borough so little regarded: the Barnet Workhouse demolished, our Church Farmhouse ransacked, closed, put up for sale, the Barnet Museum threatened with the same fate, Friern Barnet Library, the library that refused to lie down and die, scheduled to be flogged off by our shameless Tory council for sale to the highest bidder. All significant buildings, redolent with social and local historical associations: and now we will lose another one.

Today of all days we ought to stop and think about what we are losing in this latest example: just look at the name: Finchley Memorial. Rather shockingly, perhaps, there appears to be no real Finchley Memorial, with the names of those who lost their lives in the two world wars. All we have is this tribute, lovingly maintained, outside the United Services Club in North Finchley: and even this memorial is not listed in any detail on the Imperial War Museum database.

No names, just a mention of the men of Finchley: no women, sadly. 

Take a look at this very moving montage, here compiled by one Damian McBride (yes, that Damian Mc Bride) old boy and sometime archivist of Finchley Catholic High School, formerly Finchley Grammar School, attended variously by Mrs Angry's brother, son, and now daughter. This was played to current pupils at their Remembrance service this week.

Twenty nine old boys and one teacher lost, from one school, in the second world war. How many more were there, in all of what was then the borough of Finchley? How many more in the first world war? 

When Finchley Memorial Hospital was renamed, in 1922, the ceremony was marked by the attendance of General Sir Ian Hamilton, who was, until recalled from duty, the former Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force during the Gallipoli campaign, and seems to have made a consequent career of unveiling memorials to those who lost their lives as a result of the insanity and incompetence of his fellow officers and architects of war. Perhaps that comment is unfair: perhaps not.

When he came to Finchley, Hamilton made a speech 'on wartime grief, and retention of the British fighting spirit despite the war'.

Some of that British fighting spirit, General, has remained here in Broken Barnet.

And when, eventually, our Memorial Hospital is knocked down, and the site sold to developers, it would seem appropriate that we demand some recompense, and that from the profits of this latest act of cultural and historical vandalism funds might be diverted to the establishment of a proper act of remembrance to Finchley's fallen, men and women, and a lasting memorial that will honour the memory of all those who gave their lives for their fellow citizens. 

*The photograph replacing the usual Broken Barnet heading today is Mrs Angry's grandfather, Tom Nicholson, a bombardier in the 90th Brigade, RFA, who somehow survived the trenches, physically, but broken in every other way. 

As children we used to marvel at the pieces of shrapnel still visible in the flesh of our grandad's hand: the trauma of surviving such experiences is less visible, of course, but profound, and one that does not diminish with age.


Anonymous said...

Completely disagree with your comments on the new FMH. It is a fantastic facility, and we are so lucky to have it in Finchley.
1) The old building was a dump - I felt so sorry for the patients who had to be inpatients there. Should have closed years ago. The new building is well designed, the wards are first rate, and there is amazing new equipment for patients.
2) Almost all of the old buildings had NO architectural merit. There was one small victorian house which will be sad to lose, but the rest were 1960's ugliness.So happy to see them go.
3) The demolished buildings will be replaced by parkland and soccer fields.Great news for kids in the area.
4) It isnt a white elephant at all! Its already busy.

I do agree the walk from the road is a bit far. We should be grateful to have this in our area!

Mrs Angry said...

I think you misunderstood my point, Anon: yes, it is a fabulous looking building, but on both my fairly lengthy visits it was clear that much of the building is empty, and I fear that there will simply not be the funding to use this resource to the best advantage. Not much point having a swanky new building if access to the services it is supposed to offer becomes more and more restricted which, I am in a position to tell you, is what is happening in Barnet now. Even for a blood test I had to wait six days for an appointment: not good enough, in my view. As for the old buildings, yes some of the additional buildings were awful, but that is the fault of poor health care provision and funding: no one will be sad to see them disappear but the original Edwardian building should be preserved. I also believe that right of way should have been reserved across the old site in order to avoid the terrible problem of the access to the new hospital: it's a bloody long walk if you are elderly, incapacitated or just not feeling well: not everyone drives to appointments.

I hope that you are right that no development will take place on the old site, and that the public will have free access to the grounds. I doubt that very much, somehow.