For years, local history author Judith Johnson researched the stories of the 250 people remembered on the Southborough War Memorial. She visited their former homes and workplaces, talked to their relatives and laid local mementos at their distant resting places. Within the pages of her book ‘Southborough War Memorial: The Stories of Those Commemorated’ she has retold their stories and now, as part of the Heritage Open Days programme, she is giving you the opportunity to walk in their footsteps too.
Judith is passionate about these people and I’m thrilled that she has taken the time to tell us a little more about the walk and how her book originally started.
Over to you, Judith….
When I set out some years ago to find out as much as I could about the names on the Southborough War Memorial, the first step was walking up onto Southborough Common with a pad and a biro and making a list. I hoped to excavate some of the history of the more than 250 people from Southborough and High Brooms who were recorded there as having died in the First and Second World Wars, and make some kind of record that anyone interested might read.
There were to follow many hours down Tunbridge Wells Library at weekends searching through old newspaper reports on the microfilm machine. I had some very rewarding encounters with a number of close relatives, who were kind enough to share their memories with me. As they recalled their loved ones, they were frequently moved to tears as the pain of their loss was revived. I was grateful too for the help and generosity of other local amateur historians, including members of the Southborough Society and medal collectors, who I found were always eager to give me whatever material they had discovered.
When my book was completed, my husband and son gave their time to proofread the text. Both of them were surprised at how moving it was to read of those, long dead, who they had never known and the cumulative impact of taking in the patchwork of information I’d gathered about these men (and one woman). Many of the relatives of those named on the memorial were prompted to tell me how touched and grateful they felt that the sacrifice of their loved ones had finally been honoured.
Some years later, I volunteered to do a guided walk of High Brooms as part of the Tunbridge Wells programme for the Heritage Open Days weekend. I spent several days walking around the streets of High Brooms with my husband, book in hand, researching a route (there are indexes at the back of my book which list the names in order of surname, military unit, place of rest, residence, and death date). I was amazed, given that I had been familiar with so many of the men’s details, at the further emotional effect of actually standing in front of their houses, speaking of them, and considering how it must have felt for the families left behind, who went in and out of those front doors.
I’m looking forward to repeating that guided walk, which will also include some High Brooms’ war-time experiences, on Saturday 12 September. This year will be particularly resonant, being the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of HMS Hythe. I also hope that we shall have access to the Hythe Memorial in St Matthew’s Church.
The walk will last for approximately ninety minutes and we will be leaving from outside St Matthew’s Primary School in Powdermill Lane (TN4 9DY) at 2.30pm. Therefore, anyone planning to attend should aim to be outside the Primary School at least five minutes before we leave. I’d recommend some comfortable walking-shoes, and you should be prepared for some steep walks uphill. Look forward to seeing you there!