Category Archives: Personal stories

The Big Bang

n Sunday 2nd April 1916, just as most Ramsgate folk were sitting around the table enjoying their Sunday roast, they were suddenly jolted by a tremor, which to some felt like an earthquake. In fact what they were experiencing was the aftershock from the explosion at the Explosives Loading Company factory at Uplees, near Faversham in which 108 men died. Many local women worked there too but luckily did not work on Sundays. Fifteen tons of TNT and 150 tons of ammonium nitrate blew up when some empty sacks caught fire.

So great was the explosion that windows across the Thames estuary in Southend were shattered and the tremor was felt in Norwich and in France as well as Thanet.

Continue reading The Big Bang

Remembering Ramsgate’s saddest week

On Sunday 19th March 1916 five enemy seaplanes raided Dover, Deal, Ramsgate &

Margate. In Ramsgate townsfolk heard heavy firing in the distance but it was

too misty to see much out at sea that afternoon. Suddenly the rapid firing of

shrapnel was heard then the sound of bombs exploding. Damage was done in King

Street and Chatham Street.

The driver of a motor car was struck and killed on St. Luke’s Avenue and most

of the windows in the vicinity were shattered. Five children were killed on

their way to St. Luke’s Sunday school and nine people were injured.

There will be a commemoration service at St Luke’s Church in Ramsgate on Sunday 20th March 2016 at 10.30am. All are welcome to attend. If fine the congregation will be invited to join a short walk to the cemetery to see the gravestone of the Saxby children which was restored in 2015.


Major Powell-Cotton battles on

As an important seaport Ramsgate became a strategic hospital base and some of the largest buildings in Thanet such as Chatham House College, the Granville Hotel in Ramsgate, and Yarrow Children’s Home in Broadstairs, were used as temporary hospitals. Additional beds were also placed in the Ramsgate General Hospital.

Continue reading Major Powell-Cotton battles on

Women put on a brave face


When waving off their menfolk women put on a brave face, but as these two verses of a poem by Miriam E Gladwell show, many a tear was shed at night in the privacy of their own bedroom:-

You came to me with your eyes ashine

With a soldierly, careless trend

In a khaki uniform so trim

And a new peaked cap on your head

I’m off to the front dear comrade mine and I’m jolly glad to go

But your lips were set in a line so grim

That bode ill for the foe

My fighting blood leaped up in pride

You looked so British, so grand

But my women’s heart was so vaguely stirred

As you heartily shook my hand

Stirred with a pain I struggled to hide

You were marching to glory – or death

And ‘twas only God that night who heard

The tears that were choking my breath

Miriam E Gladwell was a Ramsgate poet, well-known to the concert-going public in the town and district, who had made many successful appearances on the platform as an elocutionist of merit, and was always available for the organisers of charity events. In October 1916 the Thanet Advertiser published a book of her poems called “In War Time,” which was followed by another volume in December 1917. Miriam and her husband Charlie ran the Wellington Hotel in Ramsgate High Street. Her children Vincent and Miriam were the original Bisto kids designed in 1919 by the cartoonist Wilf Owen from Rochester who worked for a time for the East Kent Mercury newspaper.

The siege of Kut 1916

Al-Kūt is a city in eastern Iraq, on the left bank of the Tigris River, about 160 kilometres south east of Baghdad. British troops including the Buffs were serving in Iraq as part of the Mesopotamia Expeditonary Force. This fertile area with important trade routes was fought over in biblical times and one hundred years after the siege of Kut this territory is still being bitterly fought over.

In autumn 1915, Turkish troops besieged Major-General Charles Townshend’s forces in Kut-al-Amara before the Allied troops could withdraw further down the Tigris to the port of Basra. The siege of Kut-al-Amara lasted 147 days, before the British and Indian troops inside the garrison town finally surrendered on 29 April 1916. Conditions were appalling. In bitterly cold weather, with inadequate supplies, poor communications and with little medical treatment, many soldiers did not survive the winter. Of the 11,800 men who left Kut-al-Amara on 6 May 1916, 4,250 died either on their way to captivity or in the PoW camps at Aleppo. Continue reading The siege of Kut 1916

A quiet corner of Ramsgate

On a recent visit to Ramsgate’s Jewish Cemetery to see the grave of a civilian who died in a WW1 air raid my attention was drawn to two other graves on which WW1 soldiers are remembered.

The civilian who died was Kate Cleopatra Bonny who was killed on the Eve of the Day of Atonement 5676 on 17th September 1915 aged 32.

The first soldier was Alfred Abraham Silver, a Lance Corporal in the 2nd Garrison Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment who died in India from influenza aged 22 on 25th October 1918, and whose parents lived in Augusta Road. He was buried in India and remembered on the Kirklee Memorial. There was an obituary in the Thanet Advertiser of 9th November 1918.

The other soldier was Morris Julius van Thal, a Rifleman in the 24th Battalion Royal Fusiliers who died in France on 29/04/1917. His body was not found so he is remembered on the Arras Memorial.


Ramsgate added to IWM database

For the last two years I have been re-creating the Ramsgate Roll of Honour from the First World War. I am now starting to add the names very gradually to the IWM’s website

I am starting with the smaller groups such as those men who emigrated from Ramsgate, mainly to Canada or Australia. I have also added some men who served in the RFC/RAF. Have a look at my entries in the community ” RamsgateRemembers14-18″ and please let me know if you find any mistakes!

Jack Silverthorne

Jack Silverthorne, the uncle of Broadstairs Mayor Rosalind Binks, was born in Abertillery in Wales in September 1897, but grew up in Ramsgate, Kent.

When war broke out, he rushed to enlist – at 16 – and was promptly taken home again by his mother. Nevertheless, he went back some time later – still underage – and was accepted by the Royal East Kent Yeomanry (later the Buffs).

His regiment was moved to the Dardanelles and saw action at the Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey.  After being evacuated from Gallipoli in October 1915 he was in Egypt and possibly other Middle Eastern countries.

He hated the heat and the flies and thought no fighting could be worse than Gallipoli. He begged his superiors for a transfer to France. He got his wish, saw plenty of action, was wounded at Cambrai and was finally shipped back to England with severe injuries.

He underwent 12 operations in the aftermath of the war but still had a silver tube in his body and a hole in his shoulder when he returned to his home in Ramsgate.

Jack was engaged to be married but on 4th August 1926, whilst on the main sands at Ramsgate, he saw two bathers in difficulties in the water. He and another man rushed in fully clothed to rescue them. He rescued one bather but drowned beneath the old jetty trying to save another. He was 28.

He received a posthumous Certificate of Heroism from the Carnegie Heroism Trust and the Trust paid for his gravestone, in the cemetery off Cecilia Road on the right hand side of the main path through the new part of the cemetery.

Sad to think he survived two war arenas but died a young man in his home town.

Rosalind’s  grandfather Alderman Daniel Barnett,  who lived about 2 doors along from the Royal Oak Hotel, arranged a contract between his family’s company and the Ministry to supply the soldiers of the Great Army with soup in WW1.

Robert Wickenden

WickendenYoung soldiers at camp. Robert is reclining at the front

Robert was born in Folkestone in July 1890. His parents were Charles and Kate Wickenden. He had many brothers and sisters. His grand-daughter Fiona was only nine years old when he died in 1964 but has very fond memories of him, and his memory always lived on through her grandmother, mother and uncle.

Robert served in the 1st Battalion of the Buffs, the East Kent Regiment from 1914, having originally enlisted in February 1910,  and was transferred to the army reserve in March 1919. He hardly ever spoke about the war to his family but they knew that he had suffered shrapnel injuries and had ongoing health issues due to several gas attacks in the trenches.

Robert married Charlotte Eliza Anne Drake in Folkestone in 1921. Fiona’s mother Phyllis and her uncle Bob were born in Folkestone in 1922 and 1924. The family moved to Ramsgate in the 1920s as Robert worked as a platelayer for the railways. He was transferred to Ramsgate when the new railway lines, the viaduct and the new Ramsgate Railway Station were constructed. The family lived in Coleman Crescent.

Fiona still lives in Ramsgate and still has her grandfather’s medals, which will be handed down to her son Louis.

Guided tours in Ramsgate Cemetery

There is still time this summer for anyone who wants to join one of the guided tours of the WW1 graves in Ramsgate Cemetery.

The next tour is on Wednesday 15th July meeting at 2pm by the cemetery chapel near the Cecilia Road entrance.

The final tours for 2015 are on Saturday August 22nd at 3pm and Thursday September 3rd at 2pm.

There is limited parking at the cemetery approach road. The Thanet Loop bus service stops nearby in Hereson Road and Dumpton Park station is a ten minute walk away. Tours take about an hour and it is possible for visitors with pushchairs and mobility scooters to visit most parts of the cemetery.