Rainham at War in 1918

As the war entered its fourth year and the people of Rainham continued their fund raising activities for the cause, Reverend Tamplin gave a lecture entitled ‘War in the Air’ in the Church Hall, while children at the Church of England School gave their subscription to the War Charity Fund to help blinded soldiers and sailors.

In January the boy scouts collected waste paper and metal in a house to house collection to raise funds for the Hospital Supply Guild and for the 1st Rainham Troop of the Boy Scouts. At the end of February a well-attended concert organised by the 2/5th company Kent Fortress took place at the Council School followed by a whist drive and dance.

It wasn’t long before more announcements were made about casualties and deaths at the front with 24 deaths in 1918, the most recorded from Rainham in a single year of the conflict.

Fred Swan from Ivy Street died when his ship ‘Raglan’ was sunk by German ships ‘Breslau’ and ‘Goeben’ in the Dardanelles Straits. Swan perished with the rest of the crew. Meanwhile, Archibald Rayner from Longley Road won a commission in the City of London Regiment and went to France where he was twice wounded. He returned to England and attended Magdalen College, Oxford where he passed the officer cadet course. Others were honoured for their bravery like Private Reg Barrett from Ivy Street aged 25 of the Lancers, mentioned in despatches for gallantry at Bourlan Wood in France. He spent six hours under heavy shell fire rescuing wounded men. He had already received the Military Medal after the Battle of the Somme. In February Sergeant John Reeves aged 21 from William Street and serving in the Buffs also received the Military Medal for bravery.

In March the funeral of Rainham artilleryman Albert Hadlow aged 22 from Pudding Lane took place after he had died of a wasting disease caused by being gassed in France. A full military funeral took place at St Margaret’s Church. A gun carriage brought his coffin draped with the Union Jack to the church while members of his regiment formed an escort. Later in April several Rainham soldiers were reported missing. These included Thomas Mattocks from Wakeley Road of the Royal Fusiliers Machine Gun Section, Corporal Job Barden of London Road and Sapper John Poynter of Wakeley Road. Private Albert Kitney of the Buffs from Pump Lane and Frank Perry, son of Reverend F. E. Perry of Rainham Congregational Church were also reported missing, but news later revealed that they had been taken prisoner of war.

Casualties continued to rise in May when Cecil Bowra aged 20 from Station Road, attached to the East Surrey Regiment died. He and a comrade were killed by a German shell in France just 16 days after Bowra had arrived from England. At about the same time the military funeral of Leonard Paul aged 29 from Ivy Street took place in Rainham after he had died from the effects of being gassed. Lance Corporal Alwyn Randall of Lower Rainham also suffered being gassed and entered hospital critically ill but survived.

People of Rainham got a surprise in June when a military balloon descended over Moor Street and landed in a field. Afterwards people learnt that the balloon had been forced to land because of a shortage of ballast. Lieutenant Hepworth of the RAF who had piloted the balloon packed it up with help from local residents then continued his journey to Hurlingham by train from Rainham railway station. The event caused considerable local interest with many people converging on the area to watch. During June news also revealed that 1,661 war savings certificates and war bonds had been taken out in Rainham which demonstrated the success of the scheme introduced the previous year.

While the conflict continued events still took place in the village. On August 14th the Rainham War Hospital Supply Guild Garden Fete took place on the Parsonage Garden. Mrs Selby, commandant of the 3rd Queen’s Regiment opened the event which about 1,500 people attended. Parties of wounded soldiers and sailors attended as guests. Mrs Selby gave a speech followed by a parade of 50 young people in fancy dress while children danced around a maypole. The band of the Queen’s Regiment played music throughout the afternoon. Activities included donkey rides, a concert, blindfold cricket and a dolly pram parade. Sideshows included an art gallery in a tent which attracted many people and stalls displayed fruit and flowers, fancy work, cakes and slippers. During the evening Rainham Fire Brigade gave a drill demonstration. The takings for the fete amounted to over £150.

Brothers Ernest and Fred Wellard from Bredhurst Road who served in the Merchant Navy had a narrow escape in September when a German submarine torpedoed their vessel off the West coast of Ireland. They were in the water for 2½ hours before help arrived. Although they were saved 53 other men died. This incident turned out to be the third time that they had experienced being torpedoed during the war but they survived.

As the war reached a climax more casualties were announced. On September 21st Private John Bolton of William Street serving in the Royal Sussex Regiment died of his wounds in hospital after serving 2½ years in France. Sapper William Sellen aged 21 of the Royal Engineers died in Palestine. Archie Mattocks a sergeant in the Buffs got severely wounded while in action. He later developed pneumonia and became dangerously ill.

Towards the end of the year many Rainham residents became ill and six died when an influenza epidemic hit the area. The Church of England School in Station Road had to close for a week due to the absence of many teachers who were suffering from the sickness. This led to the cancellation of various events in the village but attention temporarily diverted away from this with news that the war had finally ended which brought a feeling of great relief and joy. The ringing of the church bells and the flying of the Union Jack from the church tower in Rainham marked the end of the Great War on November 11th 1918.

David Wood


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