Diss firm carves its special place in Remembrance Day events

James Hollington

James Hollington - Credit: Archant

In the build-up to Remembrance Sunday, as thoughts turn to the brave sacrifice of our armed forces, staff at a family-led Norfolk company can justifiably feel a special pride in their work.

Nick Hindle adds names to the Armed Forces Memorial.

Nick Hindle adds names to the Armed Forces Memorial. - Credit: Archant

For stonemasons at H L Perfitts, in Diss, hold the Ministry of Defence contract to craft memorials for fallen soldiers and their handiwork is now the focus of remembrance ceremonies across the land from Cornwall to the Scottish borders.

Richard Bierton works on the inscription on a memorial.

Richard Bierton works on the inscription on a memorial. - Credit: Archant

To the immense satisfaction of Keith Rackham, 68, and his son Richard, who together have steered Perfitts through four decades, the firm also has bestowed on it the weighty but proud duty of adding names of the fallen to the Portland stone wall of the £7m Armed Forces Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum.

Each year, Nick Hindle, who manages the company's North Walsham office, makes the journey to the centre of remembrance near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, to carry out the sombre task of etching names of military personnel killed on duty during the previous 12 months.

Describing it as as 'huge privilege' he told the EDP at the time of his first visit that he was acutely aware of the fact 'they are not just names on a wall'; his thoughts while carving the letters were with the families and friends and colleagues who had lost a loved one.

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The renewed national consciousness surrounding Remembrance has been a significant factor in the growth of a firm which employed just three staff when it was bought by the Rackhams in 1970 and added to its construction and funeral director's businesses.

Keith Rackham said: 'The Rackhams had been in Diss for five generations but I did not join the family business straight from school.

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'I worked in the electronics industry in research and development to begin with; I took a salary cut to join the family business when we bought Perfitts but I have certainly never had any regrets.'

The firm's stonemasons at the time were all approaching retirement and there had been an urgent need to take on younger men to acquire the skills.

'Training new people up has been a key to the firm's success over the years and our stonemasons have gone on to win a succession of awards. We are producing higher standards than 40 years ago and that has always been the philosophy of the company.'

Mr Rackham said business for Perfitts, which is known to have been operating since the 1840s, had traditionally been focused on supplying memorials within a 20-mile radius of Diss, but the 1970s, when he was joined by his son, Richard, was the era when many US war veterans began making pilgrimages back to East Anglia.

'We started making larger memorials for these veterans at local airfields,' he recalled.

While there has been huge investment in hi-tech machinery – 'we have spent £1.5m in the past 10 years alone' – Mr Rackham said it was the skill of his stonemasons that had won the firm its national reputation and led it to securing so many prestigious memorial contracts.

Machines such as diamond cutters now did the 'donkey work' but that allowed more time for the craftsmen to do the skilled part.

The firm, which now employs more than 40 people with offices in Bungay, North Walsham and Ipswich as well as Diss, entered a new era last year when it was bought by the East of England Co-op.

However, the family connection has been maintained with Richard, 42, at the helm, and Mr Rackham senior is confident the success story will continue.

He said: 'Being part of the East of England Co-op has strengthened the firm in management areas such as health and safety and modern communications but their philosophy is 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'.'

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