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.

Ernest Cockburn from Ramsgate wrote in his diary

At dinner time today we heard a tremendous explosion. It shook the whole house and ~I thought it was a big mine or torpedo at sea.  There were two more explosions within half an hour of the first.We learnt during the afternoon that it was the Gunpowder Cotton Mills at Faversham that had blown up. Our motor fire engine went from Ramsgate and six local doctors.

The crater made by the explosion was 40 yards across and 20 feet deep. Many bodies were recovered from the surrounding marshes and dykes, but seven were recorded as missing, most probably atomised by the explosion.   Many of the dead were buried in a mass grave at Faversham Cemetery in Love Lane on 6 April, 1916.  There will be a memorial service there at 1pm on Saturday 2nd April 2016.

Only three days before the explosion H M Chief Inspector of explosives had visited the site and noted the absence of hydrants and fire buckets in various buildings. The nearest fire brigade appliances were of course in Faversham.

Pte Thomas William Gray of Ramsgate first served in the Buffs then transferred to the Royal Sussex Infantry after the Gallipoli landings, from which he returned injured. He was on guard at the Faversham powder works at the time of the explosion in April 1916 and was involved in the rescue of workers, for which he received a Distinguished Service Medal. Five of the National Guard who were on guard that day were killed instantly. Of one man nothing but his rifle was ever found.

Alfred  George Southam, a victim from Ramsgate, is buried in Ramsgate Cemetery.

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