Tonbridge in the Great War

Welcome to the town page for Tonbridge. Explore your town map to discover people who lived in your town during the First World War.

Tonbridge in the First World War was a bustling town with the inhabitants being reminded of the War on a daily basis. They would have been aware of the increased rail traffic as Tonbridge was on the main line between London and the coast. Musketry practice was held at the Drill Hall (formerly the Corn Exchange) for the West Kent Battalion Volunteer Training Corps.

The local inhabitants attended fund raising concerts in the Castle grounds which was also the venue for First Aid training as War broke out. Concerts were also given at the Public Hall for soldiers billeted locally, the Public Hall was also the venue of a soldiers club open to all ranks.

We are reminded of the stress the War caused those on the Home Front by a local woman who was so overcome by the worry of her husband serving abroad and not hearing from him that she had to be rescued from the River Medway by Mr Cantle, who was the landlord of The Chequers. Subsequently Mr Cantle received a Royal Humane Society Award for his bravery.

Quarry Hill House was handed over to be used as an auxiliary hospital and received its first wounded – who were Belgian soldiers – in October 1914. Many local women served as VAD’s their roles ranging from nursing, to cooking and housework.

Over 2000 alumini of Tonbridge School served, of whom 415 were killed in action. One of these was Henry Webber who at 67 was exempt from service but petitioned the War Office to be able to serve alongside his three sons. Mr Webber died on the Western Front whist his sons returned safely.

During the War, 3000 people from Tonbridge served and 346 were killed and are remembered in the Tonbridge War Memorial Gardens.

Sources: various editions of the newspapers such as the Kent Courier and the Kentish Gazette

Please add information to your town page by clicking Upload Your Story. Tell those important stories about your relatives – share their experiences to help build a picture of your community during this period. Don’t forget to check out your local clubs and societies, and whilst you are exploring our site take a look at the other towns around the coast to discover more about Kent’s rich history during the First World War.

1. Quarry Hill VAD Hospital

Quarry Hill VAD Hospital

The location of Quarry Hill House, now a housing estate. Between October 1914 and February 1919, some sixty or more of the town’s women volunteered to work at this VAD Hospital.

2. Sanatorium-Tonbridge School

Sanatorium-Tonbridge School

This is the location of Tonbridge School Sanatorium in WW1.
The headmaster of Tonbridge school placed the school sanatorium at the disposal of The Red Cross who staffed it along with other medical officers.

3. Airfield History

Airfield History

On Christmas Eve 1913 local pilot H.R Johnson was the first man to land a plane on the meadows of Cage Green Farm. Lieutenant Johnson joined the RFC in 1914 and was killed in France in January 1916.

4. YMCA Parish Rooms

YMCA Parish Rooms

Colin Blythe; a cricketer who played for England; is named on the memorial. At the outbreak of the War he enlisted in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and was killed in action in 1917.

5. Tonbridge Castle

Tonbridge Castle

Tonbridge Castle was an important focal point for the town during the First World War with training for the VAD detachments held inside and soldiers drilling in the grounds.

6. The H Street & the Chequers – Tonbridge

The H Street & the Chequers - Tonbridge

The Chequers, 122 High Street, was run by the Cantle family during the First World War .The landlord AJ Cantle rescued a young woman from drowning in the Medway in February 1917 - she had become overwrought with worry about her husband serving on the Western Front. Mr Cantle received the Royal Society Humane Award for his brave action.

7. The Medway in Tonbridge

The Medway in Tonbridge

During the War all the important bridges such as this one would have been guarded and patrolled- either by the local territorials or by the Scouts.
Unfortunately during the War the Medway at Tonbridge was also where a young mother and her baby went missing. The lady concerned, according to the Kent and Sussex Courier, had a husband serving at the Front and left a note saying she was tired of life and was ‘going to end it’. This story demonstrates the toll to families of the strain of having a relative serving on the Front during the War


8. Tonbridge School

Tonbridge School

Over 2000 alumni from Tonbridge School served in the First World War, with 415 of these being killed in action during the course of the War. Wounded Belgian soldiers were also treated at Tonbridge School

9. Margaret Waite – FANY



All through the War the railway had to cope with passengers and freight in greater numbers than before. For example in October 1914 5,000 territorials from Scotland with their kit arrived at the railway station on 9 trains which had been specially chartered by the War Office. The newspaper report congratulated the station master and staff and the way they handled this influx of men and goods.

10. WW1 Certificate – F W Chalklin

WW1 Certificate Lynne Chalklin

11. Cricket Map – Tonbridge Library

Cricket Map

12. Tonbridge Tank

Tonbridge Tank

The front of the Castle: in 1919 Tonbridge was presented with a tank in recognition of the fund raising supporting the troops throughout the War. The tank was displayed until the outbreak of WW2 when it was scrapped.

13. Bradford Street

Bradford Street

The Star Picture Hall in Bradford Street advertised the ‘Battle of the Somme’ War Office film in October 1916.This was the first time that civilians saw what being battle was like and many went to see the film.

14. Barden Park House

Barden Road Manor

Druce Cheal was a librarian who joined the Royal Engineers in 1914. He and a colleague were laying mines Allied trenches when a sudden German advance cut them off. They managed to unite with an artillery position and following their heroic actions were both awarded the Military Medal
Note: 18 Avebury Avenue is the location of the National Food Kitchen.

15. Tonbridge Junction

Tonbridge Junction

16. St Eanswythe

St Eanswythe

17. Woolley and Blythe

Wooly & Blythe

18. Belgian Soldier Funeral

Belgian Soldier Funeral

There are several WW1 graves in the cemetery, which are organised by year of death. It is also a place of rest of a Belgian soldier Lodewijk (Louis) Marx, who died in November 1914 and was given a full military funeral.

19. Whitefriars Press

Whitefriars Press

In August 1914 men who were not already Territorials rushed to enlist in Lord Kitchener's new army. Men who had worked at Whitefriars Press joined together as Pals, those killed in action are named on the War Memorial.

20. Old Post Office and Bridge

Old Post Office and Bridge

The Post Office had to take on temporary male and female staff to replace the men who enlisted. The was uproar when deliveries were cut to 5 a day during the War.

21. Spickett’s Paragraph

Spickett's Paragraph

Lyons Crescent was heavily populated by servicemen and their horses, some were billeted at the Salvation Army Hall. Henry Spickett of Spicketts Stone Masons joined the R.E. in February 1917 as a tank driver. A survivor, he was commissioned to build the first War Memorial.

22. Dougall VC

Dougall VC

23. Bank Street Drill Hall

Bank Street Drill Hall

The Corn Exchange became the Drill Hall where the men lined up to enlist in the Royal West Kent regiment in 1914. During the War it was used extensively for recruiting and by various units.

24. The Chequers Inn

10am 10.09.1915 Maidstone

653ton-the-chequers-inn-tonbridge-front653ton-the-chequers-inn-tonbridge-back 

The transcribed text reads:

I am sorry but I shan’t be able to get out tonight, for I am on duty again. I hope you get this in time to stop you coming up.

I should be able to come out Saturday night if you come up dear

Au revoir,

With love from G.A.V.

 

Miss Cheeseman

The Chalet

Loose

Nr Maidstone

25. Tonbridge Castle

27.03.1915 7.45pm

Tonbridge

650ton-tonbridge-castle-front 650ton-tonbridge-castle-back

This card is written in French and addressed to:

Mademoiselle Steenbruggen

4 Ayr Terrace

St Yves

Cornwall

26. Quarry Hill

Quarry Hill House on Quarry Hill was used as an auxiliary hospital during the First World War. Alicia Grice served there, starting as a probationer in 1914 and becoming a nurse in 1916 when she transferred to work in Birmingham and then went to work in France.

Source: Kent and Sussex Courier, various dates

610ton-greetings-from-tonbridge-cropped-quarry-hill

Image courtesy of Darrienne Price

27. The Public Hall

During the First World War concerts were performed here for soldiers billeted in the town, a Soldiers Club met at the Public Hall - the club represented all ranks, a chance for officers, NCOs and men to mix socially.

Source: Kent and Sussex Courier, various dates

610ton-greetings-from-tonbridge-cropped-public-hall  

Image courtesy of Darrienne Price

28. Tonbridge Castle

The Kent Volunteers used the lower castle grounds for training such as physical education and bombing practice. Open air concerts were held throughout the War and in 1917 £7 15s was raised for the hospitals Sunday fund.

Source: the Kent and Sussex Courier, various dates Image courtesy of Darrienne Price

610ton-greetings-from-tonbridge-front

29. Tonbridge School

Over 2000 alumni from Tonbridge School served in the First World War, with 415 of these being killed in action during the course of the War. Wounded Belgian soldiers were also treated at Tonbridge School

Image courtesy of Darrienne Price

606ton-tonbridge-school

30. The Medway

During the War all the important bridges such as this one would have been guarded and patrolled- either by the local territorials or by the Scouts.

Unfortunately during the War the Medway at Tonbridge was also where a young mother and her baby went missing. The lady concerned, according to the Kent and Sussex Courier, had a husband serving at the Front and left a note saying she was tired of life and was ‘going to end it’. This story demonstrates the toll to families of the strain of having a relative serving on the Front during the War

607ton-the-medway-in-tonbridge

Image courtesy of Darrienne Price

31. The Chequers, High Street

The Chequers, 122 High Street, was run by the Cantle family during the First World War .The landlord AJ Cantle rescued a young woman from drowning in the Medway in February 1917 - she had become overwrought with worry about her husband serving on the Western Front. Mr Cantle received the Royal Society Humane Award for his brave action.

Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser - Friday 04 May 1917 (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

 

608ton-the-h-street-the-chequers-tonbridge

Image courtesy of Darrienne Price