A munition girl’s bravery

One of the stories that jumped out at me as I first scoured several years worth of the Sevenoaks Chronicle was that of Gladys Chapman, who was honoured for an act of bravery during the war.

According to a news report in the Chronicle on 31st January 1919, Gladys lived at 3, Barrack Corner, St John’s, Sevenoaks and during the war, worked at the Kings Norton Metal Factory at Abbey Wood. About 7000 workers were employed at the factory during the war, most based in temporary huts on the marshes. Cases were made in Birmingham then assembled and loaded at the Abbey Wood Factory, next to Woolwich Arsenal.

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Gladys Evelyn Chapman

The article explains how Gladys was on duty when a fire broke out in the factory, caused by a spark from a machine igniting some cordite.

The outbreak spread to a stack of aerial bullets, and but for the energies of Miss Chapman might have become much more serious. Miss Chapman first filled pails with water, which were poured on the cases, which were smouldering; then when the foreman threw off the corrugated iron covering to get at the burning wood with hose pipes, she threw the sheets to one side. This done, she secured a small hose and played on the fire, although all through these operations the bullets were exploding and flying in all directions, making the undertaking at once extremely dangerous and alarming.

Gladys was rightly awarded for her bravery and attended a ceremony in Brighton, where she was presented with her medal by Lord Leconfield, Lord Lieutenant of Sussex as a ‘recognition of coolness and courage displayed by her, in face of great danger’.

Although her award was credited as the OBE, it was actually a Medal of the Order of the British Empire, which was awarded to over two thousand people from 1917 until 1922 when it became the Medal of the Order of the British Empire for Meritorious Service (usually referred to as British Empire Medal or BEM).

Gladys gave her full name as Gladys Evelyn Chapman on the reverse of the photo but I have not yet been able to discover anything about her after 1919, so please do get in touch if you know any more about her story or have a similarly heroic relative from Sevenoaks in your family tree.

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Searching for Private Miles

One of the highlights of the war memorial project last year was being able to buy the British War and Victory medals of Private Alfred Hope, along with the memorial plaque sent to his family after his death.  Alfred served with 10th Battalion of The Royal West Kents, was wounded on 1st June 1916 and sent home, later dying of his wounds. Because of this, I was able to visit his grave at the church of St Lawrence at Seal Chart, near Sevenoaks, with his medals,  ninety eight years after his death.

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Sevenoaks Chronicle covers Alfred’s story

Later in the year I was lucky enough to purchase the medals of Private William Miles. William was born in 1880 in Malling, Kent, was recorded in 1891 residing at Ivy Hatch and by 1901 was living at Seal and working as a stone mason. William enlisted at Maidstone and served with the 18th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge’s Own). He died of his wounds in October 1916 and is buried in the Warlincourt Halte British Cemetry, Saulty, France.

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William’s war medals

Despite searching for relatives of William, I couldn’t find anyone with a connection to him to find out more about his life and war service and to reunite them with his medals. To my surprise, after the service at the war memorial last Remembrance Day, a cross had been left with William’s name and service details written on it.

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It would be lovely to find this person and see if they know more about William’s story. Both his and Alfred Hope’s medals are currently on loan to Sevenoaks Museum for their Objects of the War exhibition, which is well worth a visit.

So, if anyone does have a connection to Alfred or William, I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Welcome!

Over the last eighteen months, I have researched the 226 men from Sevenoaks who fought and died during the First World War and who are named on the town war memorial at The Vine. This was the most extraordinary journey, which started out of curiosity and as the banner photograph shows, culminated in descendants of the men gathering at the memorial for a special service last August on the anniversary of the outbreak of war in 1914. Last November I also published my first book, Sevenoaks Memorial, The Men Remembered (Amberley Books, 2014), which includes entries for 220 of the men and of course names those, such as the elusive D Smith and Walter Davies, that it was hard to find any evidence for.

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I’m pleased to say that the book sold well on its launch and continues to do so, with all profits being donated to two relevant charities, SSAFA and the Sevenoaks branch of the Royal British Legion. The book is available direct from this site, online or, if you are local, from one of the bookshops in town, including the lovely Sevenoaks Bookshop, who very kindly hosted the book launch on Remembrance Sunday last year. If, like me, you like to support independent bookshops, then this one is well worth a visit, especially as they do great tea and cake too!

Although I’ve charted the progress of my research in the Sevenoaks Chronicle, and via Facebook and our twitter feed, I think that it’s time to launch a website. Despite initially wondering how I would write 50,000 words for the book, my problem quickly became one of ‘What do I leave out?’; so there is so much more information still to share, including letters home from the men, photographs that didn’t make it into the book as well as family stories that have been passed on to me.

My work also uncovered many other stories from Sevenoaks during the war and I am now researching those men who fought and returned (it was estimated that over 1200 men from the town fought in the war), as well as those who died and are buried locally but not remembered on the memorial (such as flying ace, Group Captain Bernard Paul Beanlands who is buried in the churchyard at St Nicholas). I’m also researching the stories of the women of Sevenoaks. They nursed at one of the local VAD hospitals, worked in munitions factories or knitted clothes for men at the Front. They also had to cope with the loss of their husbands, brothers and sons and it is important that their stories are also told. So, if you have a connection to anyone from Sevenoaks during this time, I would love to hear from you!

I hope that this website will be the perfect place to share all of this information and allow the project to become more interactive, not only with the relatives who get in touch, from Tonbridge to Australia but also with today’s residents of Sevenoaks, especially the young people, such as pupils from Combe Bank School, who have already got involved in different ways.

I hope you enjoy reading the posts and please do comment,I look forward to hearing from you!