Tonbridge's Big Bridge decorated with flowers for Poppy Appeal

IN FULL BLOOM: Mayor Pam Bates, veterans and re-enactors attend the launch of the town’s Poppy Appeal on the decorated Big Bridge

Tonbridge's Big Bridge decorated with flowers for Poppy Appeal

by Andy Tong | 31st October 2018

THE Tonbridge Poppy Appeal was launched last Thursday [October 25] with the organisers aiming to break £40,000 for the first time on the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

The Mayor of Tonbridge & Malling, Pam Bates, began the campaign in aid of the Royal British Legion at Big Bridge and said: “At lot of time has been spent selflessly by members of our community to show that they remember [the fallen].

“We thank all those that served, and currently serve, in the Armed Forces,” she added. “During this centenary we have seen the town come together to mark the occasion.”

The Big Bridge was decorated with knitted poppies created by local residents and assembled by the appeal’s deputy organiser Pam Mills.

The flowers spell out the words ‘Tonbridge’, ‘Thank you’ – part of a national campaign of gratitude for the sacrifice of Armed Forces veterans – and ‘1918-2018 3000’ in recognition of the number of men who went off to fight in WWI.

The flowers are made of other colours as well as the traditional red; white for peace, purple for the animals that contributed to the war, and blue for cornflowers, the French symbol of remembrance.

The Mayor made particular reference to the Tonbridge 100 centenary weekend held at the Castle on August 18-19, organised by Mrs Mills and Carl Lewis, the head of the appeal.

Veterans attended the ceremony along with members of the Living History Group of the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent regiment.

“It is a great pleasure to serve a town with such community spirit. I will wear my poppy with pride,” added Cllr Bates.

“Thank you for coming along today and starting the appeal with such a brilliant ceremony.”

A delegation from Tonbridge will be among the 10,000 members of the public taking part in the ‘A Nation’s Thank You: The People’s Procession.

They will march past the Cenotaph in Whitehall for the National Service of Remembrance on Sunday November 11 after being chosen from a nationwide ballot.

Mr Lewis says he hopes the town’s Poppy Appeal will break new ground this year having raised a record £34,755 last year.

He and his wife Jenny, who has taken over the collection in Southborough, have been invited to attend the Centenary of the Armistice Service at Westminster Abbey.

RECOGNITION: Jenny and Carl Lewis will attend the Westminster Abbey service

 

The couple were put forward for the honour by the Legion’s Community Fundraiser for Kent, Jane Ayers, who said: “They live and breathe the Royal British Legion ethos.

“They volunteer not just in Tonbridge but all over the country, covering the London Marathon for us as well as Poppy Runs and Walks.

“In the town itself they’ve organised the Tonbridge 100 weekend, the Dragonboat Race team – and they held a car show this year too.

“Carl’s mum and dad are deputy Poppy Appeal organisers, and out of everyone I know in Kent I’ve never seen so much enthusiasm.”

Mr Lewis’s grandfather John William Lewis was one of the 46 crew who died on board HMS Strongbow when it was sunk while escoring a merchant fleet in the North Sea in 1917.

“Every Remembrance time is special because of those who served [in the Armed Forces], whether they survived or not,” said Mr Lewis when asked about the significance of the 100th anniversary.

“And we mustn’t forget those who stayed behind and worked in the factories and on the farms, the firemen who became stretcher bearers and medics, the train drivers who transported the troops to the front.

“The community came together 104 years ago, and they’ve done so again. It’s great to see so many veterans here.”

He paid tribute to the stunning decorations by the river, saying: “Once again the community has come together to make something so visual, the Bridge of Remembrance, as I’m calling it.”

Raise a toast to Queen’s Own

The Tonbridge Brewery has created a bespoke beer called Queen’s Own – named after the Royal West Kent Regiment – for the Humphrey Bean branch of J D Wetherspoon in the High Street. The pub is selling the Kentish Ale, 3.8 per cent ABV, at a discounted price of £2.99 and is asking customers to donate 50p to the Poppy Appeal collection pot.

Never forgotten: Sergeant Still recalls trauma of war

AMONG the veterans who attended the Poppy Appeal launch was Derek Still, President of the Royal British Legion’s Tonbridge branch.

Mr Still, who was a Sergeant in the 7th Field Squadron Royal Engineers, delivers the Kohima Epitaph at the service of Remembrance.

He was stationed in Berlin when the Wall was erected in 1961 and helped to remove mines from the French Zone in the city.

He is also a veteran of the Malayan Emergency in the 1950s, where the sappers’ job was ‘building bridges and blowing them up’.

He returned to the country 30 years ago with his medals from the campaign, to bury them there out of remorse for what took place in the conflict.

Mr Still, 79, was born in Tunbridge Wells in August 1939, just weeks before the start of World War II. “I knew what it was all about,” he said.

“I remember seeing doodlebugs coming over the town, and going into air raid shelters. We had American soldiers staying in our houses.”

His father was a tank driver in the Westminster Dragoons who took part in the D-Day landings and pushed on all the way into Germany.

Mr Still has lived in Tonbridge since 1966 and was a Labour councillor for Trench ward for 32 years.

Last week he movingly recalled his time in the Far East. “It was a place that changed my attitude to life,” he said.

“We were brainwashed into believing that we were protecting the rights of the individuals who lived there. In fact we were protecting the rubber plantations.”

Concerning his decision to take his medals back there, he said: “When you see all the people that died in the villages... It was a like a stress disorder, you know?”

He reflected on those conscripted to fight, like the soldiers on the Western Front in 1914-18: “When you get called up, your life’s on the line. You go out there and get told what to do, and you just do it. They wouldn’t even have thought about it.

“I am not a fan of conscription,” added Mr Still, who served for 12 years after completing his National Service. “But you see the youths of 19 today and you think, ‘what kind of life have they got?’

“We used to meet people from all over. It had an impact on the way society worked.”

 

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