Tonbridge 100 brings home living history of Great War

The Mead School in Tunbridge Wells gave a professional level performance in the  ISA drama contests

By Carl Lewis, Poppy Appeal Organiser

AN ESTIMATED 5,000 visitors attended a special centenary celebration of the end of World War 1 held at Tonbridge Castle last weekend [August 17-19].

Tonbridge 100, hosted by a team of volunteers led by social historian Pam Mills, began in style with the arrival of a replica Mark IV tank, which was delivered to the High Street and made its way up Castle Street. The event was opened by the Mayor of Tonbridge, Pam Bates.

Each day, the first train into Tonbridge from Strood became a ‘troop train’, with a living history group arriving and marching up the High Street to the sound of bagpipes played by Dennis Newman.

Castle Lawn was the centre of activities and visitors from as far afield as Belgium and the United States were entertained by singalong king Tom Carradine, accompanied by Sarah Dacey, as they led the crowd in wartime and patriotic song.

The actions of animals in war were marked by a search dog demonstration and exciting displays by horses and riders of the Sussex Yeomanry.

A 1918-style military encampment was set up by the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment Living History Group and one of the re-enactors, Richard Heald, said: ‘This has been the best town-sized show we have done since the group was formed nine years ago. We were amazed by the amount of people.’

Young visitors were ‘enlisted’ by army recruiters before being put through their paces in drill instruction and assault courses.

Two other important centenaries were marked, with South Tonbridge Women’s Institute remembering the actions of the women who won the right to vote, and Tonbridge Royal Air Force Air Cadets of 2520 Squadron presenting the 100-year history of the Royal Air Force.

Static displays also recalled the tragedy of HMS Hythe, the community of local Belgian refugees and the role of the Voluntary Aid Detachment hospital.

There But Not There silhouettes, created by Penshurst artist Martin Barraud, stood guard and the Royal Engineers and Queen’s Ghurka Engineers brought a Husky armoured vehicle as a contrast to the previous century’s equipment.

Mrs Mills said: ‘It’s been brilliant. We did what we said on the tin: Educate and entertain. I have seen so many lovely comments I have lost count.

‘I’m so happy we put on an event that attracted so many people. History is for sharing and that’s what we did.’

More than £2,000 was raised for the Royal British Legion’s Tonbridge Poppy Appeal through donation buckets and the sale of special poppies made by local artist Mark Willson from recycled materials.

Tonbridge Farmers Market provided food and drink stalls, and the event was generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Warners Solicitors, Clarke Williams Insurance Brokers, J D Wetherspoon, Kent County Council, Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council, Tonbridge Lions and Rotary clubs.

PICTURE: WAR HORSE: The Sussex Yeomanry on parade on Castle Lawn to mark 100 years since the end of World War 1 PHOTO: Stephanie Jaynes Photography

The first to fall

On Thursday [August 23] a short service will be held at the Memorial Garden in Tonbridge at 7.15pm to mark the first soldier from the town to die in the war: Philip Hobden of the Royal West Kent Regiment who fought at the battle of Mons.

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