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Article by Vicky Hales-Dutton | 29th October 2018

The Great War Remembered

Lest we forget...

One hundred years ago this month, France, Britain and Germany signed the Armistice bringing into force a ceasefire at 11am on 11th November 1918, that ended four years of conflict involving 32 countries and causing 17 million military and civilian casualties worldwide. Here INDEX examines how Kent will commemorate this most poignant of centenaries… 

On 11th November 1918 the nation’s bells pealed out joyously as news of the ceasefire spread. One hundred years later, on Remembrance Sunday 2018, they will ring again. Whole communities will join the national celebrations and/or organise their own Battle’s Over events. In West Kent, as elsewhere, the day officially starts at 6am with a piper (in Southborough, for example) followed by processions, wreath laying, bell ringing and services in many places of worship throughout the day. Following the Last Post at 6.55pm, the county’s beacons will be lit and the night air will, once again, be filled with the sound of bells chiming for peace.

For those left behind in Kent the war was never far away, with the sound of artillery fire and the constant movement of soldiers and munitions to and from the coast. Its hospitals looked after countless wounded men – more than 13,500 convalesced in Tunbridge Wells alone – while many towns, such as Sevenoaks, took in Belgian refugees.

The Great War officially ended on 28th June 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. The 19th July was declared an official holiday and Kent celebrated with the rest of the nation. Later that month, Tonbridge’s successful wartime fundraising was rewarded with the gift of a tank.

Giving thanks in 2018

All over Kent people will come together to remember the fallen, including the 800,000 British soldiers who perished. Wreaths will be laid at war memorials in Sevenoaks, Southborough, Hawkhurst, Cranbrook, Lamberhurst, Tonbridge and many other towns and villages.

In Tunbridge Wells, over 2,000 are expected at a Remembrance Day Parade attended by the mayor, local dignitaries and representatives from the armed forces. The town’s Salvation Army Band and the Orpheus Male Choir will accompany a service at the War Memorial

“People are determined to do something. I’m always amazed how many people of all ages want to pay their respects,” says Dawn Gabriel from the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. Age is definitely no barrier to remembrance – Sevenoaks’ schoolchildren are enthusiastically writing letters to WW1 veterans and posting these in a designated letterbox in the foyer of the town’s Stag Community Arts Centre.

Tunbridge Wells’ Masjid Al-Noor Mosque will reflect on the 2.5 million Muslim soldiers and labourers who fought in the trenches, far from their homelands in Africa, the Middle and Far East or India. When medical supplies ran out, some generously treated injured Allied comrades with their own traditional herbal medicines.

“We’re planning to commemorate with local people and lay a wreath along with everyone else at the town’s War Memorial,” says the Mosque’s Imam, Yasser Balesaria.

On 11th November Herr Halil Öztas, the Mayor of Heusenstamm, travels to Tonbridge where he will lay a wreath. The two towns have been twinned since 1984. He says: “It will be 100 years since the end of the First World War and the end of a tragic chapter in our joint history, in which so many of our countrymen had to endure so much suffering. It is therefore our supreme task to prevent future wars and also to defuse tensions, which may develop, by peaceful means. That is what twinning stands for, as part of a strong Europe, and the foundation for peace and freedom.”

This year’s poppy appeal is alive and well. All across Kent people have had a busy autumn knitting and crocheting poppies for exotic and colourful displays in Tonbridge, Hawkhurst, Tunbridge Wells and elsewhere. In Sevenoaks’ Vine Gardens, knitted poppies decorate a replica of an archway that welcomed returning soldiers in 1918.

The Royal British Legion’s cuddly mascot Reggiment has been out and about a lot recently in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells collecting for the appeal, while the RBL itself has organised a series of commemorative events over the last few months. “We want to remind people that remembrance is not just for November,” says The Legion’s Carl Lewis.

Ways to remember

Countless commemorative concerts, exhibitions, plays, talks and charity events are taking place across the county. These include Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall’s 11th November concert, In Memoriam, featuring the soprano Annette Wardell and performing patriotic hymns and music from composers associated with the war.

Hildenborough’s Oast Theatre is staging Pat Barker’s Regeneration novels, while organisers of an exhibition of local artworks in Crowborough, featuring aspects of the Great War, are asking visitors to vote on their favourite picture.

You may or may not know, too, that the YMCA was instrumental in supporting troops and their families both at home and abroad during the Great War.

“They provided overnight accommodation and a meal in hostels for soldiers on the way to war, and an opportunity to say a proper goodbye to their families,” explains Richard Warner, West Kent YMCA’s Head of Fundraising.

This year, the charity’s Tunbridge Wells shop is setting aside a special ‘remembrance area’ to mark the centenary of the Armistice and help shoppers to pause and reflect on its importance.

Pealing for peace

This centenary year pays tribute to the UK’s 1,400 bell ringers killed during the Great War. Three bell-ringing sessions will take place on Remembrance Sunday – before morning service, again at 12.30pm as part of the ‘Ringing Remembers’ initiative and in the evening after the beacons are lit.

More than 150 churches in Kent are expected to participate at least once, including Southborough, Sevenoaks, Westerham, Eynsford, Penshurst, Brasted, Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells.

Caroline Stockmann, who rings at St Nicholas Church in Sevenoaks, has helped co-ordinate Kent’s bell-ringing efforts. “People will hear the bells all over Kent!” she promises.

Around West Kent

Crowborough Remembers Art Exhibition
Location: Crowborough Community Centre
Date: 1st-21st November
What is it? Art competition depicting aspects of the War, including artefacts from Crowborough’s War 1914-1918 exhibition
Price: Free
More information: crowboroughcommunityfestival.org 

Tonbridge WW1 Talks
Location: Cawthorne Lecture Theatre, Tonbridge School TN9 1JP
Date: 7th & 19th November, 7.30pm
What is it? Maj Gen (Retd) Mungo Melvin talks about ‘Sevastopol’s Wars from Potemkin to Putin’ on 7th November, while Taff Gillingham’s Remembrance and the Great War – a Very British Perspective is on 19th November
Price: Free for 7th November talk (advance booking only) and £4 on 19th November
More information: Twitter @TonFWWTalks and Facebook.com/tonbridgefwwtalks

In Memoriam
Location: Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells TN1 2LU
Date: 11th November
What is it? Royal Tunbridge Wells Choral Society performs Vaughan Williams and Edward Elgar set to Laurence Binyon’s war poems
Price: From £10
More information: assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk/whats-on/in-memoriam#25S0uk9hCLAUMYbt.99

War Graves Talk
Location: The Chapel, Greatness Cemetery, Sevenoaks TN14 5AG
Date: 3rd & 10th November at 10.30am
What is it? Talks by local historian Matt Ball
Price: Free
More information: office@sevenoakstown.gov.uk

WW1 Talk
Location: Sevenoaks – venue TBC
Date: 1st November at 10.30am
What is it? Talk by local historian Ian Walker on the local impact of the war
Price: Free
More information: office@sevenoakstown.gov.uk

War Requiem by Benjamin Britten
Location: Tonbridge School Chapel, Tonbridge TN9 1JP
Date: 24th November
What is it? Tonbridge Philharmonic Choir, conductor Matthew Willis
Price: From £8
More information: tonphil.org.uk/tickets

Location: Oast Theatre, Hildenborough, TN10 3AN
Date: 10th-17th November
What is it? Stage adaptation of Pat Barker’s novels, featuring poet Wilfred Owen and
Price: From £7.50
More information: call 01732 363849, visit oasttheatre.com

More information

Kent & Medway Wartime Timeline: tiki-toki.com/timeline/entry/208714/
Kent’s bells: big-ideas.org/project/ringing-remembers/
Muslim soldiers: Forgotten Heroes 14-19 Foundation
Battle’s Over: brunopeek.co.uk

Images: Southborough Town Council, Private Collect

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