Lest we forget them

    Tunbridge Wells Remembrance Day

    Services were held across the borough, in country churches and at village memorials.

    At Brenchley, Matfield, Horsmonden, Goudhurst and Pembury – to name just a few – many hundreds of local people attended to pay their respects.

    The main thoroughfare through Goudhurst was shut for a few minutes to allow a small parade of veterans and children of the Scouts and Beavers to climb the hill to St Mary’s Church from the war memorial.

    There the Royal British Legion, Royal Air Force Association, parish council, Women’s Institute and others laid wreaths after a rendition of Give Me Strength by the school choir.

     

    Bright against a shifting grey sky, the Union Flag flew high over Tunbridge Wells Town Hall.

    Below, beside the memorial, little wooden crosses had been left in the earth. Rifleman Henry James (Harry) Pike, of the 10th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps, died on August 10, 1917, aged 19. Private CA Gasson, 8th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment, died July 1, 1916, also aged 19.

    It was for Harry Pike and Private Gasson, and so many others like them, that the crowds gathered on Sunday, packed 11 or 12 deep, spilling into the road and round the corners.

    Cadets, Cubs, Scouts and Guides, veterans and serving personnel, men, women and children, all there so they may never be forgotten.

    Guide Amelia Aves, 11, said: “We’re here to remember all the people who died for us, they were fighting for us.”

    Her friend Annie Taylor, also 11, added: “We wouldn’t live like this if they hadn’t.”

    As Big Ben chimed the hour and silence fell, the wind brought a thin rain into the watchers’ faces. No one moved, then or after the final blessing.

    Instead, as the parade made its way back along Mount Pleasant Road, every group eyes left as it passed the memorial, the spectators applauded non-stop.

    As the crowds dispersed into the grey day, the only spots of colour came from the Union Flag flying high over the town hall, and the poppies heaped at the foot of the memorial. We will not forget.


    The view from the poppy seller’s stall by Adam Wells

    A hundred years since John McCrae scratched ‘In Flanders’ Fields’ on a page torn from his despatch book, and 94 since the first Poppy Appeal was held in Britain, the red flower has lost none of its power.

    The 1921 appeal raised £106,000. This year’s is due to raise over £40m, a testament to the public’s generosity and their enduring support for the cause.

    So keen are people to show this support, volunteering for the Royal British Legion is a unique fundraising experience, one that MP Greg Clark has taken part in for the past 10 years. While selling poppies in Tunbridge Wells it often seemed that it was I, the fundraiser, who was helping out the donor.

    I should stress that this was ‘selling’ in the passive sense. The RBL does not believe in stopping people in the street or shaking collection tins as loudly as you can.

    They just want you to stand there, wherever ‘there’ may be, and let people come to you.

    Adam-Wells

    And they did come, from a veteran giving £10 for a single poppy, to a young girl’s five pence, the last of her pocket money.

    Many of those who walked past without stopping felt the need to let me know they had a poppy at home, at work or on another coat.

    Some who stopped to donate and walked off came rushing back, worried they hadn’t given enough. One child begged for a poppy, his parents gently explaining he had a dozen already.

    The rain had forced me inside from my spot by the clock, but it didn’t dampen the spirit of generosity that united Tunbridge Wells.

    My tray was nearly empty by the time I finished my shift and swapped the shelter of the shopping centre for the rain and wind.

    But I still lost two poppies to a gust, lifted from my box and thrown across the road. It was a sad sight, but a timely reminder of the words that started this all a century ago.