(Photograph courtesy of Tonbridge Historical Society)
Local historian, Pam Mills, gave a lively talk, packed with interesting facts on Tonbridge during WW1.
Pam began her talk by informing us that Tonbridge in 1913 was a
town full of ne'er-do-wells. When the prospect of war became imminent Tonbridge very quickly turned into a place full of upstanding and patriotic inhabitants, with 3,000 men signing up out of a total population of 15,000. We were given many interesting
facts about these recruits, such as Tonbridge born Harry Webber being one of the oldest recruits to join the army at the age of 67 and Philip Hobden being the first Tonbridge citizen to fall on 23 August 1914.
to Tonbridge being a railway town on the line to the channel ports it was strategically placed to provide medical care to the wounded. We learnt about the medical facilities provided for casualties, such as Quarry Hill House (later to become Fosse Bank School)
at the top of Quarry Hill Road, which was used as an auxiliary hospital and staffed by local VAD’s. Tonbridge School sanatorium, off Dernier Road, was used as an interim medical centre while conversion work was being completed on Quarry Hill House. Many
of the casualties were French and Belgium citizens and 28 of these servicemen died in Tonbridge and are buried in our local cemetery. The Wesleyan School on Barden Road became a triage centre for the wounded. Again, due to the railway, Tonbridge became a training
area for regiments en route to the front, with troops being billeted at various locations in the town.
Although the war ended on 11 November 1918 the Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919 and a number
of events relating to the war took place in Tonbridge during that year. A Peace Party was held on 19 July to commemorate the end of the war, followed by a Children’s Treat Day on 7 August. Tonbridge took delivery of a WW1 tank on 29 July 1919. Most towns
were given their own tanks not only to commemorate the war and but more importantly to solve the country’s dilemma in disposing of the thousands of tanks used in France. Our tank arrived by rail and was driven by the army up the High Street flanked by
cheering crowds to the Castle grounds. It remained there until 1938 when it was scrapped and used for the manufacture of WW2 munitions.
A brilliant talk that lasted almost an hour, but one which I could have continued
listening to for longer.