Rainham at War in 1916

The year began cheerfully in January with entertainment in the church hall and a musical entertainment in aid of funds for the Rainham branch of the War Hospital Supply Depot in Sittingbourne. A concert organised by the Co-operative Women’s Guild attended by 80 women followed this. Games, dancing and refreshments were provided and two guineas collected and sent to the Wounded Soldiers Fund in Chatham. Meanwhile, Reverend Tamplin and Reverend Cobb held intercession services at St Margaret’s Church every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Later in February the Rainham Girl’s Friendly Society finished making garments for Belgian children. A total of 30 garments were made and sent to Belgium while a party took place at the Council School for 40 wounded soldiers from Fort Pitt Hospital in Chatham. The Empire Theatre in the High Street also got involved in fund raising by showing films in the afternoons to raise funds for the Rainham Branch of the War Hospital Supply Depot. Dr Irby Webster’s wife and a group of lady helpers organised this. Films were provided free of charge by Albion Cinema Supplies in London. Mr. Cheeseman supplied a small orchestra to play music and Mrs T. Sayer played the piano. Films shown included ‘The Siege of Troy,’ ‘Henry VIII’ and ‘David Garrick.’ These film shows raised £7/18/0d for the war effort.

In April the church hall opened on a daily basis for soldiers billeted in the area to use as a recreation room where newspapers, games and writing materials were made available which allowed soldiers to make use of their free time. Mr L. Osborne managed the room which remained open from 6 pm to 9-25 pm daily. Soldiers regularly used the facility which became very popular. They were also entertained at a concert given by girls from the Church of England School in Station Road the following November. Reverend F E Perry also opened a recreation room for soldiers in the Rainham Congregational Church hall in Chapel Lane (now Mierscourt Road).

Fund raising events continued as the year progressed with St George’s Day being celebrated in Rainham and Upchurch. A group of ladies sold small flags sold which raised £30 for the Star & Garter Home for Disabled Soldiers and St Dunston’s Home for Blind Soldiers and Sailors. Meanwhile, the Rainham Branch of the War Hospital Supply Depot announced that they had raised over £86 since October 1915.

In July a garden fete took place on the parsonage lawn which included an exhibition of war hospital work with 1,005 items displayed. After Dr Irby Webster had given a speech visitors, which included soldiers from Glovers Hospital Sittingbourne, were able to view the exhibition which included needlework by the Rainham Branch of Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild. Sid Wakeley from Rainham High Street set up a fruit stall and a teddy bear competition took place. All the articles on display were sold resulting in £40 being raised and donated to the Wounded Soldiers and Sailors Fund. W. Brewer’s String Band provided music through the afternoon.

The Council School in Solomon Road continued to play an important part in fund raising when they raised money for the Fund for the Relief of Belgium and collected £18, while Young Patriots at the school raised money for St Bart’s Hospital, the Home for Blinded Soldiers and the Belgium Fund. The school also collected 10 dozen eggs for the National Egg Collection for Wounded Soldiers for which pupils received letters from soldiers thanking them for their efforts. A short time later in August a Penny Bandage Day took place and proceeds went towards materials and the manufacture of bandages for wounded soldiers in hospital. On the same day the Rainham Branch of Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild raised £24.

During the Battle of the Somme which began in July 1916 over 60,000 British soldiers were killed on the first day, more than in any other battle in British military history. Rainham suffered casualties in this battle with the loss of numerous local men. At the end of the battle which lasted from July 1st to November 18th 1916, over 1 million allied and German soldiers had been killed or wounded, a disproportionate figure in relation to the territory gained.

Fatalities from Rainham included Private Edward Davison from Ivy Street serving in the 14th Middlesex Regiment, Sergeant Frank Couchman of the Royal Sussex Regiment killed in action and Private William Simmons from Station Road aged 26 serving in the Buffs, killed by shrapnel. Others included Private George Botting aged 20 from Otterham Quay Lane, killed at the Somme while serving with the Buffs, Sergeant-Major Frank Baker aged 26 from Station Road perished at Guillemont, Alfred Cook aged 26 of the Queen’s Regiment and Private William Cheeseman aged 24 of the Middlesex Regiment were killed in action. Second Lieutenant John Wakeley of the Gloucester Regiment aged 20, son of Percy Wakeley was also killed in action. In September the funeral of Private Fred Smith from Ivy Street took place at St Margaret's Church. While serving with the West Kent Regiment in France he died from the effects of being gassed. Lance Corporal Reg Uden aged 20 perished on 18th November, killed in action on the last day of the Battle of the Somme. Driver E. Pilcher of Bredhurst Road was killed in Mesopotania while serving in the RFA. Finally, in December Petty Officer John Sawkins aged 39 of Station Road serving aboard HMS Negro drowned in the North Sea when his ship collided with another vessel.

In early August with the Battle of the Somme still in progress an open air intercession service took place on the playground of the Church of England School in Station Road with about 1,000 people filling the area which included the road outside. Reverend Tamplin from St Margaret’s Church and Reverend Perry from Rainham Congregational Church conducted the service with hymns and a reading by Dr Irby Webster. This service reflected the sombre mood of residents who were regularly informed about the increasing number of deaths and injuries sustained by young men from the village throughout 1916.

The year finally ended on a joyous note with a Christmas fete at the Council School in aid of the Rainham Branch of the Hospital Supply Guild. After Father Christmas had led a parade of children in fancy dress a series of games and songs took place while sideshows like a doll’s house and war relics were displayed in different classrooms. A Christmas tree decorated by the pupils displayed 500 dolls and toys which had been donated to the school by parishioners. Guests of honour included a group of wounded soldiers from the Whitehall Hospital in Sittingbourne for whom tea was provided. During the course of the entertainment Olive Sales won the Prettiest Girl Competition and George Hooker the Prettiest Boy Competition. Mr and Mrs Shaw of The Cricketers Inn played host to a group of soldiers from Strood VAD Hospital in December.

With the allies bogged down in trench warfare and incredibly high casualties being sustained at Verdun and the Somme when attempts had been made to make a breakthrough by the allies, not much optimism existed for an early end to the war at the close of 1916. David Wood.

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