Tonbridge Castle steps back in time to celebrate 100 years since end of WWI

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

TONBRIDGE will host a weekend ‘filled with education and entertainment’ to mark the centenary of the end of World War I.

The free event, called Tonbridge 100, will take place at the castle this Saturday and Sunday [August 18-19] from 11am-6pm.

But the celebrations begin in style on Friday evening with the arrival of a replica tank from the Great War, which will be delivered to the High Street at 6pm and then rumble up Castle Street to take up its position.

A rich variety of re-enactments and informative displays on Castle Lawn will follow to allow visitors to step back in time and relive the town’s involvement in the war.

The Mark VI tank has starred in Hollywood blockbusters Wonder Woman and Transformers: The Last Knight, and is still capable of being fired.

The massive 21ft machine, known as Frank, symbolically represents the tank that Tonbridge was awarded for its help in the war effort.

It will be accompanied by other WWI vehicles, including an ambulance and water carrier, and there will be a Vickers gun exhibit along with other English and American weapons.

Members of the Living History Groups of the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent regiment and the Tommies of Mons will be dressed in uniform.

Horses representing the Sussex Yeomanry cavalry regiment will be on parade, and a search dog will show its skills.

There will be a singalong with Tom Carradine and Patricia Hammond at 4.30pm on both days. They will be ‘entertaining the troops’ with songs from the era such as It’s A Long Way To Tipperary and Pack Up Your Troubles.

Stalls and exhibitions in the Castle Chamber will explain the part played by schools during the war – children will be able to learn how to knit – and how the town took care of Belgian refugees.

Warners Solicitors will depict the role of the Kent Cyclist Battalion as ancestors of the family firm were involved in its inception (see panel).

And the Royal Air Force Cadets and the Kent Fire & Rescue Service will also have stands showcasing their activities through the years.

The weekend has been masterminded by local historian and Poppy Appeal deputy organiser Pam Mills, who said: ‘This has been a long time in the planning, and I’m so grateful to everyone who has helped bring the project to fruition and the generous funding that means entry into the event is free and accessible.

‘History is for sharing, and this event seeks to educate and entertain by stepping back in time and showing the part we played in World War I. Learning about history is always more fun when you see it.’

‘There But Not There’ artwork created by local artist Martin Barraud will be installed. These Perspex silhouettes first adorned the pews of St John the Baptist Church in Penshurst two years ago in memory of the 51 servicemen from the village who lost their lives in the war.

Miniature versions of these have now been made available via community grants to be part of centenary commemorations across the country.

Since it is also the 100th anniversary of women being allowed to vote for the first time, the Women’s Institute – whose Kentish federation was formed in 1918 – will be selling tea and cakes and showing a timeline of the WI over the century.

The Royal Engineers will be at the Watergate by the Big Bridge to greet visitors with a Husky armoured vehicle and a photograph display comparing their activities in 1918 and the modern era.

The River Market along Baron’s Walk will offer refreshments. Elsewhere in the town, shops will be displaying 100 photos taken a century ago to form a walking trail along the High Street.

Southeastern have joined in the end of war celebrations, and on both days the last carriage on the first train running from Strood to Tonbridge on the Medway Valley Line will be populated by military and civilian re-enactors. The station features informative posters about the town at war.

Visitors can record a video message paying tribute to service personnel as part of the Royal British Legion’s ‘Thank You’ campaign.

A Poppy Appeal tent will be selling merchandise to raise money for the charity, and local organiser Carl Lewis praised the hard work that has gone into staging the weekend.

‘I am thrilled that so many people have come together to assist us in putting on Tonbridge 100,’ he said. ‘We look forward to welcoming everyone to this free event.

‘It’s going to be a visual and educational feast for all the family, from the arrival of the Great War replica tank to the wartime songs from Tom Carradine, and everything in between.’

The event has been funded by a grant of £8,700 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to the Tonbridge Historical Society. It is also being supported by Kent County Council’s Engagement Fund and by local solicitors Warners. Tonbridge Lions and Clarke Williams Insurance have made contributions towards hosting the tank.

PICTURE: OVER THE TOP: Sussex Yeomanry horses will be on display

Cyclist Battalions

Colonel Charles Warner, the great grandfather of Warners Solicitors consultant Charles Warner, was charged with the task of forming the Kent Cyclist Battalion as part of the Territorial Force in 1908, with its headquarters in Tonbridge.

He was called out of retirement in 1915 to command the 2nd Kent Cyclist Battalion, which was engaged in coastal defence from Whitstable to Rye, and was awarded the OBE for his service under bombardment.

His son, Major Kenneth Warner, also served in the battalion, and was posted to the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent regiment in France in 1917.

This company held the line in front of Cambrai, a few days after British tanks had come into action for the first time.

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