By Andy Tong
SUPPORT for the Royal British Legion is going from strength to strength because people are more interested in tracing their family histories, says Carl Lewis, head of the Tonbridge Poppy Appeal.
The Legion spends £1.73million a week on recuperation for veterans of all wars and conflicts, along with many other activities.
Carl says: “The more people do their research the more they want to find out what their relatives did during the wars. It comes home to people more, with the 100th anniversary of World War I and 35 years since the Falklands.”
Carl is no exception, and this year is an especially poignant one for him, since it marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of HMS Strongbow with his great grandfather John William Lewis on board.
John was chief stoker on the destroyer when it went down on October 17, 1917 with the loss of 46 men. “He was living in Bermondsey and joined the Navy before the war,” says Carl.
It was accompanied by another destroyer, HMS Mary Rose, shepherding 12 merchant ships from Bergen in Norway to Shetland, when they were intercepted by two German cruisers.
The Strongbow sought to identify the ships with recognition signals but, when it received no response, it was unable to open fire before the German craft.
‘It was the first industrial war.
The stokers had a lot to learn’
“The first enemy torpedoes hit the steampipe, causing steam to fill the engine room,” recounts Carl. “It vaporised the whole engine crew. My great grand-father was boiled alive.
“The Germans then gunned the survivors in the water. The Mary Rose was sunk as well, along with nine of the merchantmen.”
Carl has his ancestor’s Stoker’s Manual, and John was trained at HMS Pembroke, a building which forms part of the Royal Naval Barracks at Chatham.
“It was the first industrial war,” he points out. “There was a lot to remember for the stokers, who had to get all the pressures right. They had a lot to learn.”
Last month Carl attended a commemorative service at the Great Lines overlooking Chatham, where there is a memorial to those who died at sea and have no known grave.
Another local seaman, Arthur Lucas from Hildenborough and Tonbridge, was a member of John’s team on the Strongbow and is commemorated on the two local memorials.
This year the Tonbridge Poppy Appeal has been carrying out the collections in Southborough too – and from 2018 Carl’s wife Jenny will be in charge of that appeal.
This will be especially meaningful for her, since the names of six members of Jenny’s family are on Southborough’s war memorial.
Four of them died on the same day, on board HMS Hythe when it sunk at Gallipoli in 1915 after colliding with another troop ship leaving the beaches.
Drink a pint with pride
The Humphrey Bean pub in the High Street has joined forces with the Rockin Robin brewery in Boughton Monchelsea to provide a special Remembrance beer, with 50p from each pint going to the Royal British Legion.
The Wetherspoons pub asked its customers to come up with a name for the brew, and they choose Poppy Pride.