Platt – A Century of Remembrance

Little has been recorded about the first Armistice Day (as it was originally called) in Platt, however, events nationwide were almost certainly echoed in the parish with proceedings that have remained largely unchanged for a hundred years.

In July 1919, several months before the community came together for the first Armistice anniversary, locals gathered in Black Horse Meadow for the National Peace Celebrations. A temporary shrine to those who had lost their lives in the conflict was erected and a large bonfire lit in the grounds of Mount Cottage upon which an effigy of the Kaiser was burnt. There were also games, fireworks and a huge tea party which catered for over 2000 guests! Two weeks later, over 200 demobilised men from Borough Green, Platt, Crouch and Wrotham Heath were ‘welcomed home’ at a dinner held at Borough Green Council School. Two-thirds of those in attendance had served in 1914 or 1915 and a large group photograph was taken in the school playground.

On 7 November 1919, King George V announced that a two-minute silence would be observed on the 11th: “All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.” Afterwards, The Times described the event as “a great awful silence” and many people, unsure as to what to do, found themselves awkwardly stopping wherever they were and observing the silence. Some did not, and if identified by reporters, were publicly shamed in the local newspapers!

Locally, after a week of bleak rainy days, Tuesday 11th November 1919 dawned with, what the Kent Messenger described as a “tinge of autumn coldness which is mellowed by bright sunshine.” Across the county, people gathered at their parish churches with Platt likely among those holding a short service just before the eleventh hour. At Platt School, the headmistress gave an address and read out the King’s letter before the two-minute silence, after which two hymns were sung and concluding with prayers and the blessing.

During the year several parishes in the area had already erected war memorials, with most taking the form of stone structures (usually a crucifix or variations of) on village greens, in churchyards and at crossroads. Although Platt had begun planning for a memorial to its fallen, three years would pass before the Memorial Hall was finally opened. No ‘local intelligence’ articles in the newspapers mention whether names of those who had lost their lives were publicly read aloud in the neighbouring villages, and in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, it is assumed that this practice did not begin in Platt until the opening of the new hall.

Until 1939, the nation always marked Armistice Day on the 11th November regardless of which day of the week it fell. It was moved to the Sunday preceding to avoid disruption to the war effort, and hence became known as ‘Remembrance Sunday.’ In 1923 the 11th happened to be a Sunday so, in addition to the regular morning church service, another was held in the afternoon at the new Memorial Hall. At this, for the first time since opening, residents gathered inside the hall and sang hymns before assembling in front of the memorial tablet for the sounding of the Last Post by buglers from the Royal West Kents. A collection was made in aid of the fund for maintaining the light which illuminated the plaque. By 1929, the two Sunday services had been combined with the church service immediately followed by a procession to the Memorial Hall during which the congregation would usually sing “Onward, Christian Soldiers” while walking up Long Mill Lane.

In the 1920s and 1930s, an evening service was periodically held at Platt church on the 11th by the 1st Countryman’s Branch (West Kent) Toc H – an international Christian movement created to perpetuate the fellowship that grew out of Talbot House in Poperinge, Belgium during the war. Instigated by the Reverend Philip (Tubby) Clayton, Talbot House acted as a soldier’s club for men of all ranks, and a reverent alternative to the places of vice often frequented by Tommies. The services were open to all ex-servicemen and their families who assembled to pay homage to the memory of their fallen comrades. The event usually began when the church bell fell silent and the parish vicar announcing the hymn “Out of Many into One.” This was the cue for the procession, which included banner, lamp and wreath holders, to make its way up the aisle to the altar, with the other Toc H members, who held unlit tapers, following behind. After several more hymns and readings, the service reached its crescendo with the ‘Ceremony of Light’. Slowly, and in silence, the men left their seats and lined the way on both sides from the chancel to the church war memorial, which itself was unveiled several months before the Platt ‘Wing’ of the Toc H was formed in 1923. In complete darkness, the vicar lit the lamp and carried it forward to the tablet followed by the wreath holders. As the clergy moved through the church, rush-bearers passed through the two lines and lit the tapers as they went. Light from the flames danced across the old soldier’s faces and threw strangely fantastic shadows on the pews and walls all around the congregation. On one occasion, a reporter from the Sevenoaks Chronicle wrote that it was an “awe-inspiring scene, a scene never to be forgotten.” Guest speakers, usually with a military connection, would mount the pulpit and deliver a speech. For example, in 1927 this happened to be the Rev. H. A. Hall, who had been the chaplain of the 29th Division at Suvla Bay in Gallipoli during 1915.

Another scheme born out of the First World War that has become a regular part of Platt’s annual remembrance is the poppy campaign, which began in 1921. It is not known if, and how many poppies were sold in the community in the first year, however, in 1922 the parish raised (in today’s money) almost £630, around £1500 by the end of the decade and £2000 in 1937.

Although the running order of Remembrance Sunday in Platt has since reversed, the core ingredients of the day are the same and would be familiar to our village forebears. On this, the 100th anniversary of the first day of remembrance, we should not only just remember the fallen, but also their friends and families who were almost certainly still coming to terms with their losses a century before.

Scott Wishart, Platt Memorial Hall