Reservists remember centenary of Chatham dockyard tragedy

Topic: PeopleReserves

Naval reservists paid their respects to 131 sailors killed during one of the greatest tragedies of the first Battle of Britain 100 years ago.

They joined veterans and civic dignitaries in front of the former drill hall of HMS Pembroke in Chatham - where in 1917 German bombers wrought havoc.

The hall - used then as a makeshift barracks for 900 men, sleeping in hammocks - suffered direct hits from two 50kg bombs.

The explosions froze the clock in the tower at 11.12, lifted the roof off the hall temporarily and shattered the glass panes.

Quarter-inch-thick shards of glass rained down on the men, killing 131 of them in the process.

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 Medway campus for students of Greenwich, Kent and Canterbury Universities.

It features a memorial exhibition on the September 3 1917 raid, plus handmade poppies in a display which replicates the famous Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red artwork at the Tower of London, albeit on a much smaller scale.

"We hold a service each year to pay tribute to those who died and the courage of those who helped those who were injured or dying," said Tim Stopford, Vice-Chairman of Chatham Royal Naval Association which organised the ceremony.

"The bombing had devastating and tragic consequences, and this year marks 100 years since it happened. It's important to remember the Nurses and Staff who also helped in the follow up and who generally go unnoticed and their names will never be known."

Kent's Lord Lieutenant of Kent, Viscount De L'Isle, Rear Admiral John Kingwell, Mayor of Medway Cllr David Wildey as well as senior representatives from the Royal Navy, and serving Royal Navy Personnel, Cadets and Veteran organisations. Wreaths as well as crosses bearing the names of those killed were laid.

Dennis Potter, Chatham RNA's welfare officer added: "This was about paying our respects to the men who lost their lives, and remembering Chatham's legacy as a naval town, as well as showing how proud we are of our history.

"This marks the centennial of the bombing; the ceremony was an ideal opportunity to show others how proud we are of our naval heritage."

The Chatham raid was part of a concerted effort by long-range German Gotha bombers to disrupt the British war effort. Having suffered heavy losses in daytime raids, the Germans switched to attacks by moonlight - beginning on September 3 1917.

It caught the British defences completely by surprise. No anti-aircraft guns fired and no British fighter took off to intercept the enemy. The bombers dropped just 17 bombs over Gillingham and Chatham, but the results were devastating.

Ordinary Seaman Frederick Turpin went to the drill hall to help the wounded in the raid's aftermath.

"It was a gruesome task," he recalled. "Everywhere we found bodies in a terribly mutilated condition. The gathering up of dismembered limbs turned one sick.

"It was a terrible affair and the old sailors, who had been in several battles, said they would rather be in ten Jutlands or Heliogolands than go through another raid such as this."

We hold a service each year to pay tribute to those who died and the courage of those who helped those who were injured or dying

Tim Stopford, Vice-Chairman of Chatham Royal Naval Association