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Girvan couple awarded rare Provost's Medal

Provost Award Ritchie Lorna

A Girvan couple are the first people since 2012 to receive the prestigious South Ayrshire Provost's Medal.

Provost Iain Campbell bestowed the honour on Lorna and Ritchie Conaghan of Girvan and District Great War Project (GADGWP) at a recent Civic Ceremony.

The Provost's medal recognises national or international achievement at the highest level for residents of, and people who are born in, South Ayrshire.  In this case, Provost Campbell chose to recognise the extensive research and dedication the couple have demonstrated to ensure people are remembered and honoured for the sacrifices they made to protect the country and the Commonwealth.

In 2013, Lorna and Ritchie established the GADGWP.  Since the launch of the project, they have painstakingly researched, identified and recorded details of around 600 servicemen from the local area who lost their lives during Word War One and subsequent conflicts.  They have also identified a number of men who had not previously been commemorated on local war memorials, and those who lost their lives in the armed service of Commonwealth countries.

In that same year, the couple began a project to erect a memorial to the 31 crew members of the SS Longwy,that fell victim to a German mine-laying submarine when it was hit by a torpedo in 1917.  The committed duo set up a fundraiser which has seen a headstone commissioned that will finally be dedicated in October this year.

2018 marked 100 years since the end of the First World War and that was when Lorna and Ritchie established the Centenary Project.  This project set out to create a memorial to honour those who fought and died in the Great War and an exhibition to mark the poignant anniversary.

In 2019, the couple held an impressive exhibition in Girvan's McKechnie Institute to share the extensive research and resulting findings of the GADWP.

2021 saw them create the beautiful Wildflower Memorial Garden at Hamilton Park, Girvan, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the poppy.  GADGWP received national recognition when the garden was selected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Foundation as the winner of that year's Best in Bloom Wildflower competition.

In 2022 Lorna and Ritchie arranged and held a re-dedication service for the 100th anniversary of the Girvan War Memorial.

More recently, the couple have been at the heart of the Arandora Starstory - the tragic torpedoing and sinking, 75 miles west of Donegal on 2 July 1940, of a vessel with the loss of over 800 lives.  Over half who perished were Italian prisoners who were seen as 'Enemies of the State' due to Italy's siding with Germany in the Second World War. Lorna and Ritchie worked with Provost Campbell and representatives of the Italian Garden Improvement Group (I.G.I.G.) to help unravel the 83-year-old mystery of the body that was washed ashore at Gamesloup, Lendalfoot in 1940. The body was that of Francesco D'Inverno who had been aboard the ill-fated vessel.

The 'Finding Francesco' story has sparked renewed local, national and international interest in the Arandora Star story and that of the many Italians who lost their lives following its sinking. 

Thanks to the couple's perseverance and commitment, a headstone has this week been erected at Francesco's grave at Girvan's Doune Cemetery to ensure he and his story are never forgotten.  The ceremony allowed local Italian families to come together, many travelling from all over the UK, to remember those lost and witness a permanent memorial being put in its rightful place.

South Ayrshire Provost, Iain Campbell, said: "Lorna and Ritchie have both put their heart and soul into finding answers that help piece together the final parts of the jigsaw of those who bravely fought and lost their lives in conflict in the First World War and subsequent battles. 

"The work they have carried out as part of the GADGWP has brought comfort and closure to many local families in recent years.  Their dedication and determination to leave no stone unturned can be seen through the meticulous research they have carried out since the inception of the project in 2013.

"The Provost's Medal is a significant and very rare honour and I'm delighted to have selected Lorna and Ritchie as its first recipients in over a decade - it's truly well-deserved."

Ritchie and Lorna Conaghan said: "We are truly humbled and honoured to receive the Provost`s Medal in recognition of our efforts over the last 11 years, and will cherish with great joy at the occasion in which we were presented them, but this has never been about us.

"It has always been about the men we have researched, our quest to make sure that they are never forgotten and to pass on their stories to future generations.

"To receive these medals in the presence of the family of Francesco D`Inverno and many of our friends and family who have been on this journey with us was truly overwhelming. A true definition of 'Giving The Past a Future'."