Kent in WW1 Films

Kent in WW1 commissioned this short film from award-winning director Nichola Bruce, to illustrate the world of hidden stories and connections that mark Kent and its people out as particularly important in the impact and legacy of the First World War.

Nichola Bruce, with long-term collaborator Sam Sharples, bring a taste of the stories from Coastal Kent in the First World War alive. Working closely with the Screen South Kent in WW1 research team, led by Darrienne Price, the film is supported by local people and their families who have allowed us to reflect on some very personal stories echoing down the century.

Local heritage groups and organisations have been very generous in opening up their archive and giving us their time to discuss the unique contribution played by Kent communities. We are also grateful to the Imperial War Museum for their support on archive moving image research and inclusion.

The film evokes an impression of the war years in Coastal Kent and aims to set the viewer on a journey of exploration into the multi-faceted contribution made by Kent at that time and its ripple effect on future generations.

1. Wye’s Forgotten Airmen

In this film, produced by Funder Films with the support of Screen South and Kent in WW1, Wye teenagers explain the history of the Wye Aerodrome where pilots were trained during World War 1.

2. Rosanna Forster the Chimney Sweep

Rosanna Forster, Chimney Sweep

Pictured here is a photograph of Rosanna Forster, a chimney sweep in Gillingham in 1917. Rosanna is Grandmother to the neighbour of Victor Chidgey who can be seen talking about Rosanna in the video below.

The following is a transcript of the video:

A neighbour of mine, her grandmother - her name Rosanna Forster, she used to help her husband in her chimney sweeping business. He worked as a boiler-maker at Chatham dockyards, but she used to assist him on a part time basis.

Every year without fail she was pregnant. And then her luck changed for both of them; he got sent to Bermuda as a boiler maker oh dear what a shame what a terrible place to be sent in the middle of a war and she was left here on her own but she thought well she has no income she would carry on with the business so she carried on cleaning the chimneys and having her babies and she said to me that was the best time of her life when he went to Bermuda because she wasn’t pregnant that year. She had a break. And then after the war in 1919 he came home again and their life resumed”

Image, film and text courtesy of Victor Chidgey.

New Information courtesy of Rosanna Forster’s Granddaughter Susan Borer:

'Rosanna was pregnant in the picture above and gave birth the day after. When her Husband came home from the war he was unwell and so Rosanna carried on sweeping. The couple stayed together and went on to have 6 more children after the war and Rosanna carried on sweeping into the Second World War. Rosanna was known to everyone as ‘Sootie forster’ and she was also the local midwife. Everyone went to her with their problems. Rosanna died in 1960 at the age of 72.'

3. Seaman Thomas George Perry 1918

In this video, Victor Chidgey talks about Seaman Thomas George Perry, whose ship was torpedoed by a German submarine on August 15th 1918. He survived, and fled the Navy after he returned to England.

119CHA - Seaman Thomas George Perry 1918!

120CHA - Service Record of Thomas Perry

The following is a transcript of the video:

‘Now that’s my Grandfather Chatham Seaman just an ordinary Seaman who was involved in momentous events. He was forcibly put into the navy when he was 12 years old by a magistrate in London because he was caught being vagrant and the magistrate said you’re not a bad body but there is a danger of you becoming one so we’ll send you to Chatham to join the Navy.

So he came down here in Chatham much against his will and he was annoyed about it so they said ‘Oh your one of those are you well we’ll put you in Pembroke and you can learn boxing’ and he said he was in the ring 30 seconds and some tiny little kid knocked him out so he thought he better learn his boxing properly.

And then he was put on the Armageddon, a battle ship, went off to Malta and came back in 1914 his 7 years were finished. But he came back from the Spithead review and they said ‘no you’re not leaving the navy, from now on your HO (Hostilities Only), when the Wars over you can go’. ‘Right’ he said so that was mark one against the Navy, that was the first thing that upset him.

He was on the Zeebrugge raid, he was destroyer man when the war progressed on the Zeebrugga raid. He based his time at Harwich in a brand new destroyer flotilla and he was on ‘H.M.S Ulieswater’. 1918 early February (*August) they were escorting a convoy of the Dutch coast when the ‘Ulieswater’ (it was about 3 months old) blew up and the captain said ‘ah mine ‘ he radioed ‘I’ve hit a mine’ the flotilla leader the ‘(H.M.S.) Scott’ came alongside and that blow up. It wasn’t mines at all it was torpedoes it was a U-Boat sitting there thought he’d had a bonus day 2 Royal Navy ships. So my granddad he went from the ‘Ulieswater’ across the deck on to the ‘Scott’ and when the ‘Scott’ started to sink he took to the boats and when they were torpedoed or sunk they got 2 weeks survivors leave. So he thought ah I’m due for a month. He got nothing. They said ‘no you never got your feet wet. You never actually landed in the Sea, so you can’t be a survivor’. Mark 2 against the Navy, didn’t get it. Even when he was a very old man he used to say to me ‘Oh I never got my leave you know’.

So back to Harwich, he was busy the whole time and then the War ended. Come 1919, the Navy didn’t release him because, by this time he had become the Navy’s welter weight boxer and he was pretty good and they wanted him to stay boxing and boxing. They sent him to the national sporting club to fight/box with the army which he won he was very good kept it all and they said ‘no you can’t leave’ he said ‘but the war’s over’ and they said ‘yes we are aware of this but very sorry Seaman Perry we can’t let you go’. So what would you do? He walked off on his own. Took his mother’s maiden name and went selling fur coats. ‘I give em 3 chances’ he said so that was fair enough wasn’t it.

So he was a reluctant hero if you like. Just the story of an ordinary Chatham Rating, ordinary, no heroics, no modesty. With him you got what he told you, but it’s always interesting. This story all came out, I was quite old, I’d got on a bit, and I said to him ‘where’s your medals’, ‘didn’t give me none’. So I said ‘well you can apply for them now’.’ No don’t you get in touch with them, that Navy’s got long memories’. I said ‘oh right’. When he died I thought I’ll find out what happened there. Much surprisingly.’

So the Navy never caught up to him at all?

‘No he had gone out of the Statute of limitations, which he thought was quite good, he liked the sound of that, Statute , ‘I’m only a stoker’ he said ‘but I’ve ended up Welter Weight Champion and Statute of Limitations, not everyone’s got that’ he said, that’s quite important you know’ I said ‘Is it’ ‘Oh yer.’’

Image, film and text courtesy of Victor Chidgey.

4. Lieutenant Percival M Sharp

This is the story of Lieutenant Percival M Sharp who served in both World War 1 & 2.

130ROC - Lieutenant Percival M Sharp

126ROC - Sharp With Fellow Officers

Below is a video interview with Christopher Sharp about his Grandfather

The following is a transcript of the video:

Well my Grandfather for a while he lived in Rochester and he was in the territorial army in 1914/15 just when the War came and he went off to France and he signed up for the 10th (Service) Fusiliers they were based I think at the Tower of London. I think they were the stock broker regiment they were called.

He managed title of Tenant, he rose to Captain and then just before sometime in July 1916 he was near a place called Poitiers in France. A German shot him in the arm and his number 2, I think they call it Batman, he was shot outright and the fellow officer was killed outright yet my Grandfather survived it. His arm was in tatters and he was told by a French doctor that he had to go to France to have it amputated. But, he was then found out, another officer in the regiment said if you go back to England we can do the job easily. So he went back to England had the operation on his arm I think it was a hospital in John (Radcliffe) Hospital in Oxford where they did the job, patched his arm, he didn’t have it amputated at all, and then he went back to France for a second dose as they say.

He fought at the Somme. He was in the 37th division he went all round all various parts of France. After the War he then enlisted in the Second World War and he went off to Russia when the communists and Russian revolution was on and he managed, had a part in that and then in 1940’s the Second World War he went off to Leeds and helped a page on the Second World War. He got all his medals I think they call it Pip Squeak and Harry or something like that. After the War he made it at Coutts bank, he became a clergyman. He died in 1978 and is buried here in Rochester and I think he did his bit for King and Country and I think he just deserves a mention.

Images and film courtesy of Christopher Sharp.