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PICTURED: Memories of Dartford during the First World War revealed
Stewards’ Stores at Dartford War Hospital (that’s the Lower Southern with the wounded German prisoners of war
People in Dartford will have a chance to visit First World War battlefields in France and Belgium to commemorate 100 years since it began. Reporter HELOISE WOOD learns more about how the borough coped with the five years of battles, bravery and bloodshed.
This year marks the centenary of the Great War and Dartford Council is giving residents an incredible chance to remember their families who fought in it.
Through sharing stories of their families’ involvement, they can apply to visit the battlefields in Northern France and Belgium where so many lives were lost.
The borough of Dartford itself experienced huge upheaval in 1914 as the war broke out.
Historical expert Dr Mike Still explained how a cafe was created especially for the Belgian refugees to keep them on the straight-and-narrow and how three hospitals in the borough were adapted to cope with the soldiers' terrible injuries.
Dr Still, who curates Dartford Museum in Market Street, told News Shopper: "When the war first started there was a fairly good atmosphere because no one knew how bad it would be.
"All of a sudden there was all this change in the borough, in what had been fairly quiet market town.
"There were lots of people coming in from abroad. Wounded German prisoners-of-war were looked after at the Lower Southern Hospital.
"When they recovered they were moved to camps, such as the former cement works in Dartford and sometimes worked on farms.
"The Americans were given their own hospital, the Upper Southern, from 1918 and there was a military aerodrome on the Dartford marshes."
Dr Still explained how adjustments were made to keep the streets peaceful in the face of so much change.
He said: "We had a lot of Belgian refugees and they had their own committee in the town.
"They even had their own cafe built in The Brent because apparently they were rolling around the streets drunk with nothing to do.
"A lot of Australians came in and married many of the local women married."
The Orchard Hospital was rarely used after 1939 and was mostly demolished by a doodlebug in the Second World War.
The Upper Southern was demolished in 1967 and the Lower Southern was closed in the 1980s.
Dartford Council leader Councillor Jeremy Kite visited the Tyne Cot Cemetery in Ypres a few years ago to find the grave of a 26-year-old soldier, Lance Sergeant Charles Mackerness, from Fulwich Road who had lost his life in battle.
He told News Shopper: "We took flowers from Central Park to his grave so we could bring a bit of Dartford to him.
"It was an incredibly moving experience, seeing row upon row of these graves. His brother also died in the war, a few years later."
Dartford Museum has an exhibition, the Calm before the Storm - 1900 to 1914, open until July 5.
From July 18, a new exhibition will focus on the First World War.
Share your family's story
The trip to Europe, organised by Dartford Council, will offer participants the chance to connect with their family’s history and visit significant sites.
Places on the fully-funded trip with one overnight-stay are limited - it is open to Dartford residents (along with a carer or companion if necessary).
Residents should email their story and contact details to firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of April.
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