Published: 06:00, 26 June 2021
| Updated: 07:45, 28 June 2021
A distinctive mural on a pub's wall set up to honour a wartime hero who is forever connected with a village near Maidstone, is stopping people in their tracks.
As reporter Thomas Reeves finds out, The Hop Pole Inn's tribute is one of a number of ways the community remembers the brave efforts of a 23-year old pilot, including an annual service to him today.
Efforts to remember Richmond Anthony Barrett Blumer - an Australian pilot who plummeted to his death in fields in Nettlestead on June 25, 1944 - have already come to the attention of the Australian High Commission.
Representatives already attend an annual memorial service which has been held since 2005.
But as I get out of my car, there is a stunning new addition, leaving people in no doubt what affection Warrant Officer Blumer is held in.
A mural of Mr Blumer has been spray-painted on the side of The Hop Pole Inn's games room, which will be named after him, with an image of a Spitfire plane and The Air Force Badge for Australia also on the wall.
Upon arrival, I’m greeted by Jackie Bennett. She is an influential figure in the village and a Nettlestead parish councillor.
We sit down in the restaurant area where there are also plans for a gallery of photos of Mr Blumer and clippings of stories written about his life to be added, and we are joined by live-in manager at the pub Rosalind Barker.
“This isn’t just the pub. It is the hub of the village really,” said 65-year-old Cllr Bennett who works on reception at Maidstone Hospital and plans to retire next year.
She tells me about a Tuesday club called Chatterbox, aimed at reducing isolation among older village members.
Mr Blumer was born in New South Wales and, on the day of his crash, flying had been curtailed for most of the day due to bad weather but the warrant officer took part in the last patrol of that day.
Mr Blumer was just 23 when he died and was buried in Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey.
Ms Barker took over the pub, owned by James Porter and Bill Webb, last July and admits she knew nothing of its Australian connection.
“I didn’t know anything about it whatsoever,” she said.
“It wasn’t until a couple of the customers said: ‘Oh, when are the pictures of Mr Blumer coming back’ and I had to tell them ‘I don’t know what you are talking about’ that I found out.
“I then spoke to Jackie and she said she had them in her house, and that we could have them back when we had finished decorating.
"We now have got the portrait back.”
The remembrance service this weekend will help the village pay tribute to Mr Blumer, with Friday marking 77 years since his passing.
Explaining the service, Cllr Bennett, who herself lives a matter of doors down from The Hop Pole Inn, says usually around 30 people attend.
She said: “What normally happens is we start at 10.45am or 10.50am. We have pretty much a standard Remembrance Day service, really, with The Last Post played.
“We usually have prayers and hymns, although we can’t sing this year due to the Covid pandemic. It is a fairly short service.
“Generally, we have a representative from the Australian High Commission and, this year, it is going to be flight lieutenant Peter Ralph.
"He is going to give us a talk about officer Blumer and also about the Australian involvement in the Second World War.
“A standard bearer from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) association will also be coming along with one of their other committee members.”
But the pub is also going to be putting on a family fun day from midday.
This includes a hog roast and children’s activities, with all money raised going towards Help The Heroes.
Discussions now turn to the striking, colourful, mural which was completed earlier this year.
Ms Barker said: “We didn’t quite know what to do with the wall itself because it is quite bland and boring. It is just in the car park.
“So we thought we would put something there that would stand out. James came up with the idea of putting Mr Blumer on the wall, with his aircraft.
“A gentleman came along to do it.
“It took him two days - one evening and one full day to do it.”
The mural was created by Jonnie Barton who was asked to do it by an agency, London-based Graffiti Kings, after hearing the pub was looking for a head-turning tribute.
“It was difficult because I didn’t really have enough to go on with his face because it was such an old photograph,” said the 45-year-old from Leicestershire.
"But apart from that, it was alright.
"The people at the pub were lovely."
Ms Barker added: “We have had people, as they are driving past, turn around and come back to have a proper look at it. So we have had a lot of interest in the actual painting.
“It is part of history as well. It draws you in.”
Mr Barton who says he began doing graffiti work 10 years ago was delighted to hear his work had been well received, having used around 60 tins of paint at more than £12 a pot on the project.
He said: “Normally, I don’t have much contact after doing the mural because it is through the agency.
“So that is actually quite nice to hear that it is liked.”
With Ms Barker left to manage the pub, myself and Cllr Bennett head out to the field where the memorial for Mr Blumer is located.
Although local people were aware of the death of a Spitfire pilot in Nettlestead Green during the Second World War, it was not until 1992 further investigations were made by aviation archaeologists.
They were given permission by Roy Tucker, a local landowner, to excavate the site of the crash where they found items including a flying helmet, fragments of uniform, seat harness, watch and coins which were subsequently taken away for cleaning and conservation.
Investigations revealed the pilot had been Mr Blumer and permission was given to the archaeologists to erect a memorial in his honour.
The first memorial was put in the field in 1994 and the first annual service in his memory was held in 2005.
The services initially took place by the memorial in the field but, as myself and Cllr Bennett trek out to the site, it is easy to see why it is now held in the pub.
After walking for around 20 minutes, going through a field of 10 (thankfully fairly friendly) geese and navigating around a couple of fences, we arrive at the memorial.
“This keeps Anthony at the front of everybody in the villages’ minds,” said Cllr Bennett whose mum, 96-year-old Nancy, is one of just two people believed to still be alive from the Second World War in the nearby area.
“I think we are actually really proud of him. He is one of the family in a way.
“When you think of the great things he did, and he was only 23 when he died, he fitted so much into his young life.”
This year's service will be the first since 2019 as, due to the coronavirus health crisis, plans had to be cancelled last year.