By the early years of the 20th century Faversham had built up a long association with the British military through its centuries-long supply of gunpowder, and latterly high-explosives, to the army and navy.
The town was at the forefront of the UK’s war effort in 1914 to 1918. At home local factories produced huge quantities of munitions for the forces, while its menfolk served in their hundreds in theatres of war across the globe.
Contemporary reports were of enthusiasm for the war when it was declared in August 1914, with scores of local men signing up in the early weeks.
The three gunpowder works (Home, Marsh and Davington Mills [Oare]) and the two explosives factories at Uplees (Cotton Powder Company and Explosives Loading Company) worked flat out for the duration of the conflict. Several thousand people in all were employed. The work force at the Uplees operation was so large a temporary railway, the Davington Light Railway, was built to carry them and materials between the site and the town.
Local man Sir Philip Neame was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in December 1914, when he held off a German attack by throwing grenades lit by improvised fuses he made using matchboxes.
But four years of war took a grim toll of Faversham and its people. While physical damage to the town was slight - a few houses were damaged at the corner of Saxon Road and Norman Road during an air-raid in May 1918 - its people suffered heavily.
In April 1916 a gigantic explosion at Uplees killed some 108 men; the exact total has never been pinned down due to inexact wartime records and the appalling injuries the blast inflicted. Perhaps the only bright note about the tragedy was it happened on a Sunday when no women, who made up half the labour force, were working.
By November 1918 a further 374 men from Faversham had been killed in action, around 17.5% of the male population of ‘fighting age’ (17 to 40). That figure excludes the very many from the villages surrounding the town who also died.
In April 2016 a service in memory of those killed in the Uplees explosion was held at the Love Lane cemetery where the bodies of 106 of those who died are buried. A new information panel was also unveiled.
The centenary of the end of the First World War was marked in November 2018 by the dedication by the Bishop of Dover of a new commemorative garden laid out next to the town’s war memorial in Stone Street. Unusually for a town of Faversham’s size there had been no public record of the names of its service personnel who died in either world war. That omission was rectified through the refurbished garden having memorial tablets recording the names of the fallen. At the same time Faversham Town Council staged an exhibition of bunting in the town hall which featured the name of each person who died on active service in the two world wars, with a single name on each worked piece of material.
Oare Gunpowder Works Country Park and Chart Gunpowder Mills are open to the public (check online for the opening times of their indoor displays). Viewed from the adjacent seawall the scattered remains of structures on the site of the explosives factories at Uplees reveal their huge extent. The Fleur de Lis Museum at 13 Preston Street includes information on Faversham and the First World War.
A book on the war’s impact on the town, Faversham in the Great War, was published in 2018 by Faversham Town Council in conjunction with the Bygone Kent historical magazine and is available from the Faversham Society’s Kentish Heritage Bookshop, 10-11 Preston Street. The book brings together a remarkable series of stories about life in Faversham and the endeavours of its people during the First World War.
Below are pdf files containing newspaper cuttings, postcards and images from the First World War, with thanks to Clive Foreman who kindly collated the information.
Read here a newspaper article about the good fruit crop of 1914
Nursing in the War - this has been taken from the BBC News website.