Remembrance and Commemoration
Before 1914 there were no war memorials, in the sense that we know them today. There were memorials to individuals with those in Wilmington being mainly in St Michael and All Angels Church and Churchyard. After the South African Boer War of 1889-1902 a few Regimental Memorials were erected listing the names of both Privates and Officers.
The closeness to the fighting in 1914-18 in France and Belgium began to affect civilian populations as never before as explosions could be heard and felt throughout southern England. The dropping of bombs from the air-balloons and subsequently aircraft affect some communities with the Crayford and Dartford marshes suffering the first ‘blitz’ in July 1917.
After the outset to WWI in August 1914 there was a belief that the conflict would be over by Christmas 1914. However, by 1916 the reality of the situation and the sheer scale of the number of deaths of reservists, volunteers and enlisted conscripts led to the families of the Fallen of the First World War starting to erect local shrines on street corners to commemorate men of the vicinity. The shrines usually displayed fresh flowers, the Union Jack flag or other flags and appropriate patriotic or personal memorabilia. The shrines were usually created by local women.
The first street shrine appeared in 1916 in South Hackney, London. A series of articles in the London Evening News was supported by Selfridges, the London department store. Queen Mary visited the East End shrines and the movement then spread rapidly throughout the country. As will have been seen from the newspaper article mentioned in the Page headed ‘Wilmington’s War Shrine/Memorial’ the concept of a shrine to the fallen had not gone unnoticed by the then Members of Wilmington Parish Council where it appeared that the enormity of the of the emotion felt in the Parish of the recurrent losses and the return of injured men was not beyond the resources, appreciation and ability of the Parish Council to respond appropriately acted quickly with its own official shrine in 1917 which is now referred to as the War Memorial.
The popularity of local shrines was supported by commercial enterprise with patriotic memorial posters and memorabilia that were photographed to become postcards and family treasures.
Wilmington would also have been conscious of the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) Hospital that opened in Heathclose House which was situated on the north-east side of Dartford Heath where Heathclose Road and Heathclose Avenue now lie.
Also reflected locally were the arc of hospitals from the Orchard and Long Reach east of Dartford Creek and close to the River Thames, through Joyce Green and Bow Arrow to Darenth where the Gore Farm/Southern Hospitals were located to provide medical care, rest and recuperation. Injured soldiers would often arrive at Dartford and Longfield Railway Stations on special ‘hospital trains’ where they would be taken by convoys of ambulances to the hospitals. Recuperating injured military personnel could be seen throughout the Darenth Valley hospitals whilst the required nursing and support staff provided war work for local people.
The return ‘on leave’ of local men ‘serving the colours’ would be widely reported in the local newspapers and their uniformed presence was immediately recognisable when travelling or at home or socialising.