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Article by Vicky Hales-Dutton | 20th August 2018

Step Back to 1918 Tonbridge

Exclusive interview with organiser of the Tonbridge Step Back in Time WW1 celebration, boys on bikes take on the Bard, plus gig guide and local choir’s backing role at the annual Sevenoaks Summer Festival.

Is there anyone in the UK who doesn’t know by now that 2018 marks 100 years since the end of the First World War? Probably not, but whether you’re a history buff or simply looking for a jolly afternoon out, Tonbridge Castle Step Back in Time to WW1 event on 18th-19th August promises to be exciting and informative, with something to suit everyone.

The weekend is organised by local historian Pam Mills with the Tonbridge History Society, and sponsored by the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as local organisations – Warners Solicitors, the Kent Community Engagement Fund, Tonbridge Lions and Clarke Williams Insurance – with all proceeds going to the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal.

Each day starts with a bugle call and drill by the Royal West Kent Living History group on the castle lawn, followed by displays in the arena. Attractions include a WW1 ambulance and replica tank, a display of horses (courtesy of the Sussex Yeomanry) and search dogs in action. Children can attempt the mini assault course or check out the interactive historical displays and learn skills such as knitting.

Both days end with an authentic wartime communal singsong.

The town’s shoppers are already stepping back in time, thanks to a display of pictures depicting local scenes from 100 years ago in shops up and down the high street, once again organised by Pam.

A place in history

With a self-confessed ‘thirst for research’, Pam knows a great deal about the impact of the war, and on Tonbridge. She’s co-author of the two-volume Tonbridge roll of honour: the Great War: a record of the fallen (2014) and also gives talks in local schools, while studying for a social sciences degree and being a busy grandmother!

“In most people’s families here in Tonbridge at least one person will have fought in the Great War. My great-uncle died on the Somme aged just 19. I challenge schoolchildren to find their family history – it’s really easy nowadays, thanks to Ancestry.com,” Pam says.

Kirsty Humphrey, Marketing Manager of Warners Solicitors, says: “Warners have been in Tonbridge since 1785. Colonel Warner and Kenneth Warner served in the Kent Cyclists’ Battalion during the First World War. We’re proud to be part of the community event in Tonbridge and want to show our continued support to the town.”

Pam believes that studying history is like driving a car, and she has a point. “We check our rear view mirror before driving forward as we need to know where we’ve been before we go somewhere new. We evolve by learning from our mistakes,” she says.

Fancy a living history train ride?

Hop aboard the Kent Community Rail Partnership’s Medway Valley train to Tonbridge, departing from Strood at 10.04am on the 18th and 9.35am on the 19th. Head for the last carriage, the fascinating Living History Troop Train.

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