Platt During Summer 1918

The weather during the summer of 1918 was something of a mixed bag in Platt. Although mostly fine, temperatures were often below the norm but interspersed by the occasional warmer day, with July peppered with thunderstorms and heavy rainfall. The conditions favoured the harvest which was achieved without any interruptions from inclement weather, and unlike the previous two seasons, the crops were said to have been of excellent quality.

In early June, parishioners from Platt joined hundreds of others from Borough Green, Wrotham and Ightham for an open-air United Intercessory Service in Borough Green. The audience listened to the attending clergy with a great deal of seriousness and reverence, and afterwards, a collection made on behalf of the Wrotham and Borough Green Prisoners’ Aid Society raised £3 11s (about £210 today.) The same week, Platt School was visited by a government inspector who reported that he was delighted with his first personal inspection. He wrote that there was a “brightness and willingness to respond and to try at new questions which showed an open-hearted desire to learn and to think which were quite admirable.” On 21 June notification was received that two girls had been successful in obtaining a Free Place Scholarship at Maidstone Grammar School and on 2 July the school closed for four weeks for the annual Fruit Picking holiday. Over the year pupil numbers had risen to 115; however, the school abandoned the timetable due to the available staff numbering just two people (the headteacher and a supplementary assistant) – an issue which would hamper efforts to run the school properly for the remainder of 1918.

A large community gathering took place at the home of Captain and Mrs Charlewood Turner in Warren Wood, Wrotham Heath during July when the Platt War Hospital Supply Depot held a summer fete to raise funds to buy more materials to make medical supplies. The event began at 5 pm, but thirty minutes earlier visitors were already said to have been streaming down the road in large numbers, and within fifteen minutes of opening, the main lawn was packed full of people. Games such as ‘a shy at the Kaiser’ and ‘hoopla’ proved extremely popular with guests who paid a penny per turn. Total takings on these two activities alone amounted to an impressive £5 (note: for those not old enough to remember, there were 240 pennies in the pound!) A team of Depot workers aided by Mr Swift – the landlord of the Royal Oak, served tea and refreshments to over 300 people – which was three-quarters more than those expected to turn up. Consequently, the ‘penny dip’ lasted less than half an hour, and a local palmist, who had anticipated a quiet evening in her tent, was kept busy for over three hours. At 5:30 a concert took place in the hall led by the well-known singer Mrs Harry Bedford, who travelled down from London to give a recital, and afterwards, several locals took the opportunity to show off their singing abilities in front of their ‘celebrity’ guest. The entertainment then moved back outdoors when a large semi-circle of people convened on the lawn and watched a charming dance performance by Mademoiselle Mallalieu, who was a rising star on the London scene. The ‘graceful flying little figure’ backdropped by the romantic surroundings of the woodland, was sympathetically accompanied on piano by Miss Bright, who was the headteacher at Platt School. As the beautiful summer’s evening wore on, Leonard Job, founder of the Wrotham Heath Golf Club who was home on Army leave, won the putting competition and at 7 pm the lawn was cleared, and general dancing began. The event drew to a close at 9:30 pm when the crowd sang ‘God Save the King.’ In total, the Platt Depot had raised £47 10s (about £2,802 today) which had been helped in part by everyone giving their time and equipment for free.

Overseas, the situation continued to be somewhat less than sanguine for the Platt men at the front, however; with the last German offensive of the war occurring on 15 July, things were about to improve dramatically for the Allies, starting with the Battle of Amiens on 8 August. Before this, and in a very different theatre from the horrors of France and Flanders, Joseph Baldwin, a postman from 17 Whatcote Cottages, died in Baghdad on 16 July from erysipelas, which was a skin infection that if spread into the blood or lymphatic systems could prove fatal. Joseph, an ‘old contemptible’ in the British Army, had served with the 1stRoyal West Kents in the earliest days of the war and was present at the retreat from Mons. He found himself discharged from service in 1916 having served thirteen years in the military, and as a time-expired man still keen to do his bit, Joseph’s route back to the war was as a volunteer with the British Red Cross. At the time he died he was working as a motor launch engineer on the Tigris River and left behind a wife and two children. Joseph is buried in the Baghdad War Cemetery although the current condition of his grave is unknown.

Back on the Western Front, Frederick Ellis Ingram from Crouch had arrived in the trenches near Amiens two-days before the battle that would mark the beginning of the end of the war. He had been with his unit, the 7th Royal West Kents, less than two weeks when he was mown down by enemy machine-gun fire shortly after dawn in the first waves of the attack. Frederick had just turned 19 when he was killed in action, and a memorial service was held for him in Platt Church soon after the community received news of his death. He was an old Platt Schoolboy and worked at the Basted Paper Mill before he joined the Army. An officer writing to his mother said that Frederick had been ‘bearing himself magnificently, by all accounts, and we are all very sad to know he has gone.’

Like Frederick, Harry Stringer Gilbert, who lived opposite the Church at 2 Maddox Cottages, had also just celebrated his nineteenth birthday when he lost his life. He disembarked in France on 19 June and was taken on strength of ‘A’ Company, 2/17th Battalion, London Regiment on 16 July.  At 2:45 am on 17 August, while holding trenches near the Belgian border, the enemy raided Harry’s section of the line causing 17 casualties. Harry was severely wounded and eventually evacuated to No. 62 Casualty Clearing Station, which was near Dunkirk in Arneke, where he died of his injuries ten days later. At Harry’s memorial service in Platt Church held on 8 September, the Rev. Brand said that he ‘hoped that it would be some consolation to the parents and family in their loss to realise that greater love hath no man than this: that a man should lay down his life for his friends.’

By the end of the summer, the war had entered its fifth year. The Hundred Day Offensive – as it came to be known, was gaining momentum, and with the Americans now also engaging the enemy along the front south of the British and French positions, the German Armies were rapidly beginning to fall apart. Platt would lose one more of its sons to the war before the Armistice and continued its war efforts right until the end. The evening at Warren Wood must have provided a welcome respite from the tragedy of conflict and the effect it had on the community, but perhaps, it also offered a glimmer of hope that in time, better days lay ahead.

Scott Wishart, Platt Memorial Hall