Pembury unveils new war memorial with name of forgotten soldier

Pembury unveils new war memorial with name of forgotten soldier
MAKING HISTORY: Rob Woodhams inspects the inscription for his great great uncle Jim PHOTOS: Jenny Kimber

The occasion was marked with a flypast by a Tiger Moth, which flew over the ceremony at 11.02am on November 11 and scattered 10,000 poppies across the village.

The renovation project was organised by local historian and resident Richard Snow, author of the book Ten Brave Men and True: The Victoria Cross Holders from the Borough of Tunbridge Wells.

Mr Snow, whose grandfather Thomas was a general in the Great War and led an attack on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, is the cousin of Channel 4 News presenter Jon and uncle of TV historian Dan.

In 2012 he researched the names on the war memorial – there were 49 from the First World War and 18 from the Second.

“After talking to the relatives I discovered that there were eight spelling mistakes, which seemed disrespectful,” he said.

“I told the parish council that the state of the War Memorial wasn’t good, the plaques were tarnished, and they told me there wasn’t the money to replace them. But I was very passionate to get them done.”

WRITTEN IN STONE: Richard Snow next to the new stone panel in Pembury

It was the knowledge that one of the dead had been missed off the tribute that led to the other mistakes being amended.

Last year Rob Woodhams contacted the parish council to tell them his great great uncle, Jim Woodhams, should be on the memorial from the First World War.

Lance Corporal Woodhams was with the 12th battalion of the East Surrey Regiment and died on the first day of the Battle of Messines on June 7, 1917 aged 23. He lived at Middle Lodge in Colebrook Park.

Mr Snow said: “When I heard that, I went back to the parish council and, bearing in mind the significance, I said ‘we need to do it now – or never’. I told them if I could raise the money, can we get on with it? And they agreed.”

He approached Burslem, who are the country’s principal war memorial engravers. The Frant company has supplied the Commonwealth War Graves Commission with more than 150,000 memorials for graves across Europe.

“David Hall, a director, said we could do them in stone rather than metal, clean the memorial and repoint the stonework,” said Mr Snow. “I managed to raise £7,000 from the villagers, the Pembury Society, churches, our councillor Paul Barrington-King.”

The original memorial, which was unveiled in 1921, was in stone but when the Second World War names were added in 1949, metal plaques were placed over the top of the original – complete with errors.

The fresh panels were unveiled by the Deputy Lieutenant of Kent Lord Colgrain at the service, led by assistant vicar Carrie Walshaw.

Kent College’s choir sang at the ceremony, which was attended by the 4th Royal Tunbridge Wells [1st Pembury] Scout Group.

PRIDE OF PLACE: Rob Woodhams with a wreath for his great great uncle Jim

Mr Woodhams wrote to Mr Snow saying: “I cannot describe in words how happy this makes me and our family. Wow!

“Even as a boy I walked past the memorial many hundreds of times and always wondered why we could not honour the member of our family who paid the ultimate price. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

David Pentecost, whose ancestors Albert and Thomas had previously appeared on the metal plaque as Penticost, said: “I grew up in Pembury in the 1960s and 70s, and it irritated me that the spelling of my family name was incorrect.

My father and I are relieved and proud.”

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