Thursday, 17 December 2020

Thanet's WW1 and Thanet's war with the pandemic

 Thanet in The First World War and particularly Ramsgate was vulnerable to early aircraft attacks aimed at civilians. When I first started publishing books about Thanet during WW1 my preconceptions changed. Before that I had a different perspective because my grandfather, who had lied about his age, which was really 14, had joined up and by the age of 15 found himself at Gallipoli. During the period when I was 12 to 14 he came to live with us, essentially to die and I slept in his bedroom to look after him when he woke up in the night. I was also having a difficult time, so we sort of commiserated with each other, but didn’t say much about our teenage problems

All of the Thanet WW1 publications were booklets published during or just after the war at the time I started publishing local history books. As far as I could see the only copyright issue was the photographs from that time, most to the Thanet WW1 photos were taken by the local photographer A.H. Siminson and I managed to get permission from his family.

Its difficult to bridge the time gap, however I manage to get permission to reproduce the WW1 daily diary of the accountant to the Isle of Thanet Gas Company

 I assume the chap in the bowler hat smoking the pipe, this sort of history contains a fair amount of guess work, it's the people who don't say they are guessing that cause the trouble.

I think the main issue that badly shocked locals was this was the first time there had been civilian death in the UK since 1066 and all that.

From the diary

Sunday March 19th 1916   

At 2.15 p.m. today, two enemy seaplanes attacked Ramsgate.

Mummie and I had been for a walk on the East Cliff in the morning and had noticed some heavy firing in the distance but it was too misty to see much out at sea and as we so often hear firing now we did no attach any particular importance to this.

After dinner, Mary and I were sitting in the dining room and Mummie was upstairs trying to get Roger to sleep, when suddenly, about 2.15 we heard the sound of rapid firing of shrapnel close at hand, and then the sound of bombs exploding and presently the siren started making an awful row. The din was terrific for a little while but it was over in about ten minutes or so. Mother came downstairs with Roger and I hurried on my boots and coat and ran out into Elms Avenue which is my beat as a “special constable” on such an occasion. However nothing seemed to have happened in the immediate neighbourhood, so when all seemed quiet I went further afield to investigate.

Blackburn's shop in King St The left hand bit is now Co-operative funeralcare

I went on to the West Cliff first but hearing that Blackburn's shop had been hit, made my way to King Street. I found that the shop had been hit just on the edge of the roof. Some of the slates and red brick coping had been knocked about and a lot of windows in Blackburn's and the neighbouring shops had been broken. The street seemed full of broken brick and glass. I heard that no one was hurt here and learning that Chatham House had been struck and that a motorcar had been hit in St. Luke's Avenue I set off to investigate.

Passing the mortuary on my way, I saw the police taking a barrow in there with what was unmistakably a child's body on it - covered with a rug.

Arriving at Chatham House I found the damage not so bad as I had been told at first. This place, lately Mr Hendry's school is now used as a hospital for wounded Canadian soldiers and I was glad to find no one had been injured here. The bomb had fallen on the gable of the roof which was slightly damaged. I heard that Desormeaux's shop, higher up Chatham Street was badly damaged, and also that the worst casualties had occurred in St. Luke's Avenue, where the motor car was smashed and some Sunday school children killed.

As I could not get any further up Chatham Street owing to the roadway being stopped I went back to Glenthorne. On my way up Chapel Place the siren started again which scared some people a good deal, but it was only the two long blasts as a signal that all danger was over. Mrs Styan was on her doorstep and asked me if I knew whether the siren meant all was safe now. She told me her husband had been called to the hospital to attend to an injured child and when I got home the ambulance was just passing by Glenthorne on its way to the hospital with another injured person.

I ran around to Langdon House [Carlton Ave] to tell Bertie Port what I could about the damage done, and then started out again with Mummie and the children. First of all we went to Alpha Road and found that they were all right and then went up Eagle Hill into Chatham Street and saw the damage to Desormeaux's shop. The bomb must have hit it fair and square as the whole of the top part of the premises were wrecked. However no one was injured here I believe as the people had run out into the street to look at the aeroplanes.

Mary's school, Townley House - opposite Chatham House was not touched but we felt so much for the teachers and girls, having bombs dropped so near to them, it must have been very alarming for them.

Then we went down Castle Road into St. Luke's Avenue. The motor had been struck on St. Luke's Avenue, just past the junction with Dumpton

Park Road. The driver it appears was killed instantly. All the windows in the vicinity were terribly shattered and it was here that nearly all casualties occurred as the children were just on their way to St. Luke's Sunday school which is only a stones throw away. We were told some terrible tales of the dead and injured, especially by Sallies cousin Violet, who lives close by, and was out and on the spot when the bomb fell. Fortunately she was not hurt but she saw the motor car smashed and a lot of terrible sights, which it is no good to copy out here. The total casualties at present are given as 5 killed and 9 injured, nearly all children.

We went on into King Street and had another look at Blackburn's premises and then on our way home saw the remains of the broken motorcar (a mere mass of tangled ironwork) in Divers and Hogben's garage at the top of Effingham Street. It is said that the driver of the car who was killed was Mr Divers himself.

After tea I ran round to see if Aunt. Kate was all right and then we wrote to Mother and Father (who are staying with Charlie for the weekend at Tunbridge Wells) and other friends who may be anxious if they see in the paper tomorrow morning that there has been another raid at Ramsgate.

We had Mary to sleep in our room tonight and were all glad to get to bed after such a tragic and exciting day.

Monday March 20th 1916

The Mayor (T. S. Chaney) called a special meeting of the town council last (Sunday) night and went to London early this morning to interview Mr. Joynson-Hicks M.P. and Mr Pemberton Billing M.P. (our own M.P. Mr Norman Craig is serving in the Navy). [Mr. Norman Craig, M.P. for the Isle of Thanet, was booked to travel on the Titanic, when at the last moment he decided, for no definite reason, not to make the journey and failed to inform his friends who mourned his passing when the list of crew was published.] Tonight there was a meeting of townspeople at the Town Hall at 8 p.m. to insist upon better protection for the town against attack by aircraft. The meeting was crowded and I could not get further than the top of the Town Hall steps. The Hall and passage outside was full of people. Did not stay as I could hear nothing outside there and no chance of getting in. The whole town is indignant because the warning siren was not sounded until the danger was practically over. It is thought that had the warning been given promptly the children's lives might have been saved.

Publishers note. I have inserted the relevant details from our publication “The North Foreland Lookout Post in the Great War” by Edwin Scoby Oak-Rhind as it helps to understand what went wrong.

19th March 1916.  

Five hostile machines raided Dover, Deal, Ramsgate & Margate. This was quite the most unsatisfactory raid that occurred during the war so far as clarity of report from our Look Out was concerned.

Subsequent to the raid of the 9th February 1916 a direct phone had been fitted to the Westgate Seaplane Base & we were eager to make good & get in with the first warning signal of enemy attack to this Base.

Immediately upon receipt of the N. G. L. V. warning signal of 2.05 pm the Look Out rang Westgate Seaplane Base for report but could get no reply, after every endeavour he quite rightly passed the warning via the Coastguard line to Foreness for transmission to Westgate- slow but certain.

He then, correctly anticipating, the course of the enemy reported to AA London "German aeroplane over Ramsgate steering west."

After this waste of vital time it would be a mere matter of luck to once again pick up the enemy machines & evidently luck was not with him:- for apparently he failed to sight them again.

At the same time it is clear that AA London had the initial warning well before the enemy crossed the coast line.

Actually the first of the two machines reported by N. G .L .V. at 2.05 pm made Ramsgate & let fall her bombs, she then turning southward retraced her course passing out nearby the N.G.L.V. once more. Hard in pursuit was Flight Commander Bone, who had gone up from Westgate on a Nieuport Seaplane, & the raiding Rumpler was shot down in the mine fields SE of the Goodwin Sands.

The second of the two machines crossed the coast nearby Ramsgate, passed across the Island & bombed Margate, passed straight out to sea & swinging round headed ESE for home.

One of the Dover-Deal raiders was shot down in the Straits.


The siren warning given during this raid was so late as to cause great feeling amongst the civilian population-it was not given in fact until the raid was well over & YET OUR LOOK OUT HAD THE WARNING IN LONDON FIVE MINUTES BEFORE THE ENEMY CROSSED THE COAST.

In dealing with the controversy that subsequently arose between the Naval & Civil Authorities Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon, Vice Admiral Dover, in his book "The Dover Patrol 1915-17" refers to the incident thus:- "Hostile aircraft  approached the town from the seaward at about 2.10 p.m. unfortunate delay occurred in passing through the Public Telephone the order to sound the siren. " Now hostile aircraft were known to be approaching the town at 2.5 p.m., not at about 2.10 p.m., & in addition any forethought would have anticipated delay, sooner or later, over the PUBLIC TELEPHONE.


Funeral of the Children

Tuesday March 21st1916

Today a train of motor wagons with anti-aircraft guns, searchlights, motor cycles etc and 50 or 60 soldiers arrived at Ramsgate. Two search lights and some guns are placed in the Warre's field and on the Government acre, on the West Cliff and the West Cliff promenade is closed to the public.

Thursday March 23rd

The funeral of the air raid victims took place today. The 5 little children at St. Luke's Church and Mr Divers at St Georges Church, the interments being at the cemetery. The mayor and corporation attended the funeral of the children. Grandpa went as an official of the corporation. The Canadian wounded also attended and took a beautiful wreath and the school children also went. Mr Diver's funeral was a Masonic one.

It is such a sad week in Ramsgate the saddest we have known for many a long day. Everyone feels the children's deaths and injuries.

Saturday March 25th1916

The hospital authorities post a bulletin on the hospital railing each day, showing the condition of the injured. Two have died during the week (a young married woman aged 23 and one child). One child has been discharged from the hospital during the week and 3 are in a critical condition. 1 not so well today and 2 going on favourably.

The soldiers at the children's funeral are wounded Canadians.

At Oak Villa tonight we spent 15 or 20 minutes watching the searchlight from the West Cliff. They seem to try them in the evening about 7.30 to 8 p.m. or perhaps it is done to inspire confidence. The town is still very sore over the authorities failure to protect us last Sunday.

We have heard from Uncle Bob that Lester is lying in the base hospital at Salonica with typhoid fever.

Sunday March 26th1916

At evensong (St. George's) tonight we sang, “There's a friend for little children” as the hymn before the sermon. There was a large congregation and they sang it with great feeling.

The Ramsgate people behave splendidly in these trying times, no vestige of panic or fear at the air raids, and tonight's large congregations shows they are not afraid to go out to church on account of danger from air attacks.

Ramsgate people were complimented in the House of Commons during the week on their plucky behaviour, but we think a little more protection for our children would be worth many compliments.

Rinah Pagden, who is a nurse at the VAD Hospital at Nethercourt told us the other day that Ramsgate has orders to prepare to receive 4000 wounded. The town has taken its full share in the war and is prepared to do more if necessary, but we all trust it will be over this year although we cannot see the end in sight yet.

Monday March 27th1916

The patients in the Canadian Soldiers hospital at Ramsgate have opened a subscription list to erect a monument to the child victims of the air raid on 19th instant.

Wednesday March 29th1916

H. J. Stewart (in group 101) to Herne Bay today to report for army, but sent back as he is not yet 19 years old.

Friday March 31st1916

Received telephone warning at gas and water offices 4.45 p.m. “Take air raid action.” Jack King (manager) kept up until 4 a.m. Saturday April 1st but all quiet in Thanet.


Of Thanet's towns Ramsgate was by far and away the hardest hit during WW1
One of the things I learnt from the WW1 diary is that we kept up to date with the rapidly developing news by Ramsgate people phoning London and posting the latest news up on a shop in Addington Street

Our current war with coronavirus has some parallels with previous wars, particularly in terms of the number of people killed.

Civilian deaths in the UK during WW2 (mostly the blitz) and UK deaths from coronavirus are about the same at the moment.

Media wise I just don't think the News people can change gear, they have got used to taking the opposite side to the government, but in this one that would mean being on the same side as coronavirus, a bit like being on the same side as Hitler in WW2. Something like this has happened with some of the conspiracy theorists who seem to be actively encouraging killing people, particularly over vaccines, masks and protests.

The last three days I have put the worst 20 local authorities figures on some Facebook groups, so people can see where Thanet and Canterbury fall compared to the other really bad places in England.

There are several official figures and the are different, I have just cheeked about 4pm Thursday 17.12.202 and this is what they say.

Thanet District Council 635 cases in the latest week

Kent County Council Thanet Weekly cases  451.7 previous 7 days

UK Gov Thanet 447.4 weekly rate per 100,000

on the local death rate front, the view from my desk is Co-operative funeralcare

Normally they have about one funeral per week, at the moment they are having about one per day.

My own take is that social distancing, testing, vaccination, masks, etc are part of people's patriotic duty. Not doing your best is on a par with deliberately showing a light during an air raid in WW2.

Anyway this time the figures are here and I will link this post to the Facebook groups. These figures are for England and extracted from the UK Gov website this is the link to it 

Top 25 coronavirus rate per 100,000 English local authorities Thanet has fallen from 18th place to 21st but the Thanet figure has risen from 447.4 to 458. These figures are extracted from the UK Gov website based on the update around 5pm on Thursday 17/12/2020. I have done the update because a lot of people seemed to find the figures helpfull

1 Swale                   746.3

2 Medway 735.9

3 Basildon 715.8

4 Havering 653.8

5 Dover                 726

6 Ashford 609.1

7 Thurrock 603.4

8 Maidstone 574.4

9 Broxbourne 562.3

10 Epping Forest     555.1

11 Barking and Dagenham 543.4

12 Canterbury 539.9

13 Redbridge 539.3

14 Hastings 509.4

15 Brentwood 502.5

16 Gravesham 500.3

17 Enfield 466.2

18 Lincoln 464.3

19 Folkestone and Hythe 462.8

20 Tonbridge and Malling 459.3

21 Thanet 458

22 Waltham Forest 457.1

23 Bexley 445.9

24 Dartford 436

25 Newham 432.4

 yesterday the figures were 

1 Swale 725.6

2 Medway 701.1

3 Basildon 699.3

4 Havering 596

5 Dover 659

6 Maidstone 552.3

7 Ashford 549.9

8 Canterbury 517.6

9 Broxbourne 517.1

10 Barking and Dagenham 512

11 Thurrock 510.5

12 Epping Forest 504.2

13 Gravesham 496.5

14 Redbridge 480.3

15 Lincoln 479.4

16 Hastings 455.4

17 Brentwood 454.4

18 Thanet 447.4

19 Boston 441.8

20 Folkestone and Hythe 438.1

and the day before 

1 Swale 673

2 Basildon 648

3 Medway 640.1

4 Havering 544.8

5 Dover 523.1

6 Maidstone 522

7 Canterbury 506.7

8 Ashford 496.8

9 Gravesham 491.9

10 Lincoln 479.4

11 Broxbourne 448.2

12 Epping Forest 445

13 Redbridge 443.9

14 Barking and Dagenham 441

15 Thurrock 433.6

16 Thanet 427.7

17 Boston 426.1

18 Brentwood 420.7

19 Folkestone and Hythe 414.2

20 Tonbridge and Malling 411.6


1 comment:

  1. Many Years ago 1950, I met an ex RFC pilot from the first world who was living in a flat at Kingsgate Castle, he had all photo's on the wall showing him in his plane, and he flew floatpanes from the base at St Mildreds bay at Westgate-on- sea and they used to intercept the German Gotha bombw=rers over Ramsgate and Thanet, and sometimes if low on fual landed on the sea off Ramsgate and taxied into the outer harbour to be refueled then weather permitting go out and take off back to base.


Comments, since I started writing this blog in 2007 the way the internet works has changed a lot, comments and dialogue here were once viable in an open and anonymous sense. Now if you comment here I will only allow the comment if it seems to make sense and be related to what the post is about. I link the majority of my posts to the main local Facebook groups and to my Facebook account, “Michael Child” I guess the main Ramsgate Facebook group is We Love Ramsgate. For the most part the comments and dialogue related to the posts here goes on there. As for the rest of it, well this blog handles images better than Facebook, which is why I don’t post directly to my Facebook account, although if I take a lot of photos I am so lazy that I paste them directly from my camera card to my bookshop website and put a link on this blog.