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Friday, August 15, 2014

WWI cenotaph in Ibicuy gets a new life

Archbishop Gregory Venables, Tim Lough of the Royal British Legion, Ronnie Scott, Captain Andy Hancock and Dennis Crisp.
By Andrew Graham-Yooll
For the Herald

Memorial service held for 29 volunteers from Entre Ríos killed in First World War

For a few hours on a grey Sunday afternoon the town of Ibicuy, in the lower reaches of Entre Ríos, regained a glimpse of its old grandeur as one of the province’s main river ports and railway freight points. That was when Scottish pipers marched through the streets alongside Prefectura Naval officers, firemen and schoolchildren, World War veterans addressed the crowd and an Anglican archbishop led the memorial service for 29 volunteers from Entre Ríos who were killed in the First World War.

August 10 in Ibicuy and the community will be a memorable occasion. The high point of the afternoon happened when World War II veterans Ronnie Scott, now 97, and Dennis Crisp, 94, laid wreaths of Remembrance Day poppies at the cairn, built with the red from the river near what is left of a railway station named Holt (one of two stations in the town, the other named Ibicuy).

The cairn or cenotaph of stones piled to nearly thrice the height of a man, with a large cross above, was built in memory of the 29 officers and soldiers from farms, the railways and British-owned companies in Entre Ríos and who died in the First World War. It was built by Follett Holt, administrator of the Entre Ríos railways and local landowner, and father of Lieutenant Follett Hallet Holt whose name is on one of the three brass plaques nailed to the stones above a World War I English “Tommy’s” helmet.

The ceremony was a moving event led by the Ibicuy mayor, Fabián Murilla, and John Hunter, chairman of the Argentine British Community Council (ABCC). Anglican Archbishop Gregory Venables delivered the main religious and historical message. The British naval attaché, Captain Andy Hancock was a high-profile presence, as was Tim Lough, president of the Royal British Legion of Buenos Aires. The Scottish Guard pipers put a martial air to the ceremony as did a trumpet from the Salvation Army band, who played taps.

The pipers carried their own banner and that of the Royal British Legion, but in the front two members of the Guard carried the Argentine flag and the Union Jack, side by side.

A considerable number of people from the English-speaking community gathered for the event and were joined by the local citizenry. An eightsome of Scottish dancers performed at the end of the ceremony.

The cairn had shown considerable neglect and decay for some years, scrawled with graffiti and with some of the rockery displaced. Back in January a youth group in Ibicuy, the “Agrupación 24 de Noviembre” (led by Noelia García, Lilian González, Sebastián Rodas and Daiana Suarez), which works to recover historical places and sites in the town, made contact with the ABCC to consider repair and restoration. The “reinauguration” was planned to coincide with the start of the First World War 100 years ago. The Scottish Guard members contributed the bulk of the work to rid the stones of graffiti in the last two weeks.

The cenotaph is on what was once, and may still be, railway ground, about 100 metres from the old Holt station.Town history records that the visiting Prince of Wales (briefly Edward VIII) inaugurated the monument in 1925. A red carpet was laid on the ground between the prince’s train and the stone memorial.

Ibicuy was at one time an important river port, with a decree creating its Prefectura in February 1883. It was also a major railway and road junction when the Paraná river, in its two branches, Guazú and Las Palmas, had to be crossed by ferry via the Brazo Largo island. But Ibicuy’s busy life began to fade in 1975, with the construction of the road and rail complex known as the Zárate-Brazo Largo bridge. The cable-stayed bridges were started in 1972 and completed in 1977 and completely by-passed life in Ibicuy. The port is still in use for storing and loading timber, wood pulp and grains, as well as iron ore. However, in July 2011, part of the dock sank under the weight of goods and metal piled on one of the piers.

The existence of the World War I cairn was brought to the attention of the ABCC and British Legion in the blog of Carlos Mey, in Canada, who had visited Ibicuy in 2005 and 2009.

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