Record crowds pay their respects on centenary Remembrance Day
by William Mata | 14th November 2018
THOUSANDS paid their respects to the fallen in Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge, 100 years after the end of the First World War.
Remembrance Sunday [November 11] saw events held around both towns in tribute to the servicemen and women all of wars, as well as their families.
David Wakefield, President of the Royal Tunbridge Wells branch of the Royal British Legion, said: “The town has responded marvellously to the centenary of the end of the First World War.”
He described the Remembrance Parade and service outside the War Memorial in Mount Pleasant as ‘fantastic’ and thought around 2,000 to 3,000 people had attended.
“It is the one event a year that brings all of our population together, across all of the boundaries,” he said. “It is something that is well worth having at such a difficult time, when we are so divided.”
“It is too early to say for sure, but from the feel of it the Poppy Appeal will be larger than the £50,000 raised last year,” he added of the Legion’s annual fundraiser.
Mr Wakefield, who served in the Royal Sussex Regiment: Canal Zone in the 1950s, was one of a number of dignitaries to place a wreath by the War Memorial.
He was joined by Mayor Len Horwood but not, this year, by Greg Clark. The Tunbridge Wells MP was instead at the Cenotaph in Westminster – where he was pictured near to former Prime Ministers David Cameron and Gordon Brown.
Instead, the Business Secretary was represented by Lieutenant Commander Jon Vanns in Tunbridge Wells.
John Cohen, Legion branch Chairman, said: “I think a lot more people attended it than in previous years. More people were aware of the significance, perhaps, on the centenary of the end of the First World War.”
A new addition to the programme was the reading of the wartime poem In Flanders’ Fields by John McCrae.
With a reading from Iman Yasser Balesaria, from the Tunbridge Wells Islamic and Cultural Centre, it was thought to be the first time an Islamic group member had spoken at the event.
Jennifer Watts, Legion Secretary, added: “It was an amazing performance and there seemed to be 3,000 people there, from what I could tell.”
Following on, many also attended a smaller service at Hawkenbury Cemetery, were wreaths were laid at the two Crosses of Sacrifice. Christopher Everett, the Legion’s former President, then gave a talk.
Mr Cohen continued: “The Hawkenbury service was very moving and well attended.
“We were fortunate with the weather throughout the day.”
He said there are 73 soldiers buried next to the Chapel. A book titled Remembrance has been produced this year in their honour.
There were also larger crowds in Tonbridge for Remembrance Sunday than in any previous year, according to the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal organiser Carl Lewis.
The War Memorial in Bradford Street was packed out at 10.30am for a service led by the Reverend Canon Mark Brown of St Peter and St Paul’s Church. And thousands lined Tonbridge High Street as scout, guide, cadet and military groups marched through.
Mayor Pam Bates was joined on the occasion by Halil Öztas, Mayor of Heusenstamm, a German town twinned with Tonbridge since 1984. They were not joined by Tonbridge MP Tom Tugendhat, who was at a Remembrance event in India’s capital New Delhi.
In a later service at Tonbridge Castle, doves were released and the beacon was lit.
Mr Lewis said: “It was very nice to see so many people turn out from all parts of the area, especially veterans from many conflicts from the Second World War to the modern day.
“It was good to have the Mayor of Heusenstamm and also the doves and beacon lighting – which have both been done before in Tonbridge, but not for Remembrance.
“The Memorial Gardens were full of people, who had to be asked to move back.
“The High Street was full as well. It was a remembrance of the past but also a look to the future, with the youth groups and the children of Hilden Oaks school, who prepared a wreath.”
He added: “The number of people was greater than previous years. It might have been the significance of the date. I think that will prompt people to come again next year.
“It is nice when the town comes out for any event, and the community in Tonbridge is second to none.”
There were also events in Pembury, Rusthall, Paddock Wood and other local towns and villages over Remembrance weekend.