Universities at Medway hosts centenary commemoration for war dead

Tuesday 27 June 2017

The deaths of 131 naval men killed during a bombing raid over Chatham during the First World War will be commemorated in a special ceremony at the Universities at Medway campus.

A service and parade, organised by the Royal Naval Association (Chatham) in partnership with the universities, will take place on Sunday 10 September, marking 100 years since the fatal raid took place.

Those attending will include The Lord Lieutenant of Kent, Viscount De L'Isle; the Rear Admiral John Kingwell CBE, OBE, Deputy Commandant, Royal College of Defence Studies; the Mayor of Medway, Councillor David Willdey; and senior representatives from the Royal Navy and other armed services and organisations.

Music will be provided by a Royal Marines band, while the parade will feature naval veterans and cadets, among others. There will also be wreath laying, planting of crosses, the reading of names of those who died in the tragedy and hymns.

On the night of 3 September 1917, there were 698 men either asleep or resting in their hammocks in the Drill Shed, which formed part of the Royal Navy's HMS Pembroke barracks at Chatham. The Drill Shed was often used as a temporary overflow dormitory when the barrack accommodation blocks were full.

The men lost their lives when the building was bombed by German Gotha airplanes. It suffered a direct hit as the planes dropped nearly fifty bombs over Gillingham and Chatham. Contemporary accounts tell a terrible story: many were fatally injured from the explosion, with some victims being cut to pieces from the falling pieces of glass from the roof.

The attack was one of the first night-time bombing raids in the history of warfare. The hands of the clock in the tower were frozen at 23.12, marking the exact time the bombs hit the building.

Today, the building is known as the Drill Hall Library: a state-of-the-art learning resource centre and one of the showpiece buildings of the Universities at Medway campus, serving the students of Greenwich, Kent and Canterbury Christ Church universities.

Tim Stopford, Vice-Chairman for the Royal Naval Association (RNA) Chatham, says: "We hold a service each year to pay homage, but this year will be even more profound as it marks the centennial.

"The bombing had devastating and tragic consequences, of course, but we are also paying tribute to the courage shown by many, such as nurses and other staff, who helped those who were injured or dying, while surrounded by such carnage and confusion. We intend to represent the memories of those lost, and also those who saved lives, even though some of these names will never be known."

The ceremony will take place from 11am. The public are welcome to attend and watch the service and parade from a designated position on Central Avenue, on the Medway Campus.

Dennis Potter, Welfare Officer, RNA Chatham, adds: "This is about paying homage to the men who lost their lives. It is also about remembering Chatham's heritage as a naval town, and showing the world how proud we are of our distinguished history. As it marks the centennial of the bombing, this ceremony gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pay respects."

For more information about the event on 10 September, please email Chris Stout, Secretary, RNA Chatham, at jim@baydrift.com. 

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Last edited: 27/06/2017 11:32:00