Chatham Commemoration

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was a most glorious middle-Autumn day for a trip to the Medway. The date of 22nd September has taken on a new significance and it felt right that we should be making this journey down the estuary to a spot which excactly one hundred years ago, was engulfed with shock and grief. A century after the event, hundreds of people were coming together at the Royal Dockyard in Chatham to remember the incident which involved their ancestors, people none of them could ever have met. Our only connection to Thomas Lindsay Kirkland is that he once lived a few streets away from us. We have discovered very little about him but he is the first of 182 names on our war memorial to be lost during the war and it seemed right to be honouring his memory. He perished along with 1,459 others when three cruisers; The Hogue, The Cressy and The Aboukir were sunk by a submarine off the Hook of Holland. They have become collectively known as the Live Bait Squadron. Thomas’ home on Franche Court Road with its white picket fence and rosemary hedge has become a pivotal story-telling point on our Summerstown182 walk. Last weekend, for the first time I made a connection with the people who lived there, one of whom later came to the church to get a photo of the memorial. Until we researched Thomas Kirkland’s story I knew nothing about this incident and can only marvel at what Henk van der Linden and others over the years have done to keep the story alive. On Monday it was more alive than ever. The commemoration event in Chatham was a wonderful tribute to the lost seaman, about 1,200 of whom came from the Chatham-Medway area. Many were very young. There was also strong Dutch participation honouring the part played by the Netherlands at the time, in terms of acts of rescue and in recent times in terms of preserving memories. The service was in the immense hanger-like ‘No5 Covered Slip’ where they have been making ships since the early 1800s. Three huge flags provided the backdrop, the Royal Marines Band, the British Legion standard bearers, the braid, the dignity – it could not have been a more splendid tribute. We were proud to be there, humbled to represent our Petty Officer from HMS Hogue. The service concluded with a shower of poppy petals which tumbled gently onto three life buoys place in front of a gigantic Royal Ensign. HMS Cressy, HMS Hogue, HMS Aboukir. They were the genuine article, all recovered that fateful day and now preserved in the Imperial War Museum. Shivers ran down my spine imagining these in the water, perhaps with someone clinging to them on that September morning. After the Dockyard we tried to find the monument high above the town, the Chatham Naval Memorial on which are inscribed the names of over 18,000 seamen killed in both wars. It was breathtaking. We set about finding the names of our six boys, one of whom quite literally was a ‘Boy’ Percy Newman, a sixteen year old butler’s son from Garratt Lane, one of 820 drowned on HMS Defence in the Battle of Jutland. The names are in chronological order so it was a simple task. Stoker First Class Harold Glassett from 29 Keble Street who died on a submarine is very appropriately on panel 29. Leading Signalman William Pavitt from Merton Road lost his life on HMS Derwent. Chief Petty Officer Francis Halliday, the schoolkeeper from Smallwood Road, went down with all hands on HMS Clan McNaughton. Alfred Byatt, Stoker First Class from Foss Road was drowned on HMS Formidable off the Dorset coast. On the way to the dockyard we passed through Rochester and wanted to pay our respects to another sixteen year old we know something about, Henry Ollive from Bellew Street. He is buried in Fort Pitt Military Ceremony and had been visited earlier in the summer by Simon on his way to track down ‘I Clay’. Although its a small graveyard we couldn’t find a map. We were in a bit of a rush for the ceremony but fortunately got a bit of help in locating the grave. Just as we were getting out of the car, a white fluffy creature darted from the direction of Henry’s grave and ran behind a clump of conifers. As we wandered over, the helpful critter emerged and cooly proceeded to observe us from a distance, just to make sure we’d got the message. If only the extraordinary albino squirrel guide of Fort Pitt had been at Etaples to help point out George Henry Worth.


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