Generous town came to the rescue of community devastated by war
One hundred years ago, Tonbridge was mourning the loss of more than 300 of its townsfolk. They were soldiers killed while fighting in the First World War on the Western Front, and many died during the horror of the Battle of the Somme.
A commemorative event to mark the Centenary of the battle was held at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Thiepval Memorial last month. The site honours the 73,367 First World War British and Commonwealth troops with no known grave.
But what many Tonbridge residents are unaware of is that the town adopted the French village of Thiepval after it was devastated during the First World War.
Pam Mills, a member of the Royal British Legion, has now launched an appeal to create a symbol of remembrance to recognise this historic link and the local lives that were lost.
According to research by Mrs Mills, the adopted French village in the northern region of Picardy was entirely rebuilt in the 1920’s following charitable assistance from the British League of Help.
She discovered that Tonbridge played a major part by setting up a £5,000 fund to revive Thiepval, as well as providing it with new farming machinery.
Pam, whose own great uncle died fighting at the Somme, says developing a remembrance town would be one of several appropriate memorial gestures.
She said: “It has now been 100 years since the Battle of the Somme, so if we cannot remember our link with Thiepval now, when are we going to do so?
“It could be that Tonbridge is nominated as the first ever ‘remembrance town’. Alternatively, a new town road could be named after Thiepval, or we could invite a delegation over from France.
“As a social historian, this would mean so much to me if we were able to do something to highlight the compassion and friendship we showed to a place that was devastated.”
Resident Carl Lewis agrees that there is a need to mark the historic connection.
He said: “Providing help and support to an area so ravaged by war shows that the community spirit of this town is not a new thing, and I believe with the 100th anniversary of the Armistice drawing near, that we remember all persons affected by war, both military and civilian. A road naming, or a statue, would solidify our links with Thiepval as our ‘remembrance town’.”
Borough councillor Sophie Shrubsole, who arranges tours of First World War battlefield locations, said it was heartening to see residents seeking to mark the historic ties between the two countries.
She believes naming a road after Thiepval would be a fitting permanent reminder.
Robert Styles, the borough council’s Director of Leisure and Technical Services, said there are no formal plans to mark the French links. But he added there was a commitment to reflecting on the loss of residents in the First and Second World Wars through services at Tonbridge’s Memorial Gardens.
He said: “We have been approached by residents regarding the naming of a street to mark this event. We have suggested they contact the housing developer to discuss whether this might be possible.”