THE spectacular Women in War exhibit at Tonbridge Castle has attracted great attention since it was unveiled last month, and more details emerged to tell its fascinating story of a ‘trailblazer’
It features three flower-decked statues created by pupils from Hillview School. The artwork was inspired by the story of Margaret Waite, a Tonbridge resident who joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry [FANY] in 1914 and went to serve on the front line.
The statue decorated with red poppies symbolises Margaret, and two of her grandchildren, Sarah Coles and Tara Heffler, were at the opening on October 27.
Sarah still lives at Postern Park Farm in the town, where Margaret lived with her mother, Felicia.
The farm has been in the family since 1847, and as tenant farmers the Waites bought it in 1910.
Margaret did not tell her grandchildren about her wartime experiences.
“She didn’t talk about it,” said Sarah, who kept up the tradition of service by joining the Royal Navy. “It was commonplace that people didn’t talk about the war. It was so horrific. They merely said: ‘We did our duty’.”
But Margaret’s story has been painstakingly recreated by Pam Mills, local historian and deputy organiser of the Poppy Appeal.
When Margaret returned from the front she helped her mother tend to wounded Belgian soldiers who were brought to the town.
They were housed initially at Tonbridge School’s sanatorium while a purpose-built facility was constructed at Quarry Hill House.
One of the Belgians evacuated after the siege of Antwerp in 1914, Louis Delvigne, was taken in at Postern Park Farm, and he and Margaret later married in Paris.
The couple went to live in Liege, Belgium after the war and had three children. They later divorced and Margaret returned to Tonbridge.
Tara revealed that in World War Two their grandmother helped the Resistance in occupied France. She worked for the Free French under General De Gaulle in South Kensington alongside Tara’s mother, Louise Delvigne, now 94.
Margaret, who was awarded the Order of Leopold II by the king of Belgium for her bravery in the trenches, also received the Cross of Lorraine, the symbol of Free France – which may be a unique double achievement for a woman.
Sarah and Tara describe Margaret, who died in Tonbridge in 1979, as a ‘trailblazer’.