Cliffe in WWI - Cliffe History

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Cliffe in World War I

In Cliffe in the September issue of the Monthly Magazine, it is recorded that "our men have gone to do their duty to their king and country”, and “our soldiers and sailors and reservists and Territorial forces have nobly risen to this obligation to King and Country; and we who are not in the fighting line are, like Moses of old, supporting them with hands upraised to the God of Battles”. In that first month 60 men left to fight and their wives and families were left behind with in some cases a substantial loss of earnings to contend with.

If that was the case the wife was advised to make an application to the Soldiers and Sailors Families Association where substantial financial support could be granted. The three factories also came to the rescue as in the case of the Associated Cement Manufactures’ who made up every man’s money to its ordinary level. The men remaining at the three factories also made weekly collections at work to help the families of those who had gone to war. The women of the village had begun to make useful garments for wounded soldiers and were mending garments for the soldiers at the Fort.

The Explosive Works expanded and people were bought in to work this meant a lot of village homes took in lodgers and no doubt this helped boost incomes at a time of hardship. Later, as war continued, Reverend Boyd was to write that 'War has been very good for Cliffe with almost every spare room in the village being let to workers coming in from outside and the village shops are always full of customers.’
The first bomb of the war did not explode at Cliffe that dubious honour goes to a backyard in Dover where it fell on a cabbage patch, surprising a Mr Banks who was cutting a branch off a tree for a Christmas decoration.
In fact the second and third bombs fell on Cliffe as reported in the Daily Mail , dated 26 December 1914.

Air Raids on England

A Biplane up the Thames yesterday. An eye witness account of the raid.
An air battle has taken place in the Thames. German airman - there were two in one biplane, -this afternoon carried out a daring raid, trusting no doubt to catch the English napping. Thanks to the vigilant watch on the Thames, however, this was defeated and the biplane had to take flight. That it escaped the shrapnel of the anti-aircraft guns was due to solely to the mist which prevailed at intervals.

The naval air service acted most creditably and as far as can be gathered tonight the unwelcome visitor did no damage of any description. It is safe to assume that the biplane left Ostend at 10.00 am and followed the line of the coast to Calais found the mouth of the Thames via Dover and then cross- country to Sheerness. It seems to have flown at a very great height above the clouds. The hostile craft was discovered hovering over Sheerness towards 1.30 pm.

Unhappily for the aerial enemy the sky cleared and our anti-aircraft guns lost no time in getting the distance. The German biplane was very easily distinguishable by the bird like wings and tapering tail. Intense excitement prevailed among the inhabitants when our guns opened fire. The enemy was at a height of about 4.000 feet, that is to say well in range. Six shells in all were fired, and eye witnesses are convinced that the raider was winged by the second shell fire. At this stage our naval men came on the scene.
Three bi-planes went up and proceeded to give chase. In all fairness to the foe it must be placed on record that he fought a gallant rear-guard action, showing splendid war airmanship at odds of three to one-all the three pursuers infinitely faster.

We now come to the air battle fought while travelling at the rate of 70 miles per hour. I have been able to secure a narrative of the fight 2.000 feet up. The Germans hove in sight at 1.30 flying very high. Two British craft were flying above him pressing down onto the hail of lead poured out by the biplane beneath, a strikingly big and powerful machine. For five minutes Sheerness saw the wonderful picture of the age as the four aircraft went by at a terrible speed blazing away at one another in mortal combat. The German fought gallantly shot for shot but the pace was too hot.

While the battle went on overhead my informant said “We land guns could not fire for fear of hitting the English machines. The German clearly counted on this for hemmed in on three sides; he suddenly made a dash for it and high circled into the clouds. It seemed as if there must be a terrible collision at any moment, but our men skilfully avoided this. The enemy succeeded, disappeared and the next we knew was when our machines returned at four o’clock safe and sound without securing their quarry.

Southend only got a fleeting glimpse of the foe................

The special correspondent for Cliffe sent this report:

The German airman on his return flight to elude his pursuers spent a long time over Cliffe in the district between Chatham and the river circling about and disappearing and reappearing several times. He was first sighted at about 1.40 p.m. and his appearance was immediately greeted with several shots. It is evident that after being chased he made a dash inland, only, however to be headed toward the river again.

A marriage was being celebrated in the church and the bridal party were in the vestry signing the register when the first sound of the guns was heard. Observers said that the shells were well placed and burst all around the airman who however appeared to be little concerned but for one villager had an unusual experience when a shrapnel bullet fell into the bucket he was carrying.

Mrs Saunders recalled that, “we had just sat down to Christmas Dinner, but after all that excitement we couldn’t eat anything. My father went as green as grass and kept saying why didn’t they shoot it down, they certainly flew over the village for quite a while!"

This plane dropped a second bomb at Mortimer's Corner, and it appears to have left a crater the size of which could have been made by a pickaxe. The German airplane was later identified as a Taube. A later incident occurred when Jack Sullivan, saw a Vickers Viny Bomber flying low, to crash land near Marshgate, Cooling.

Jack ran over to find the pilot and gunner sitting like motorcyclists on the carriage. The pilot asked him to stick his finger in the hole underneath where the aircraft had petrol running out. He told Jack that some English sportsman had seen the bombs and took the plane to be a German bomber and fired accurately at the petrol tanks. The damage was repaired and the bomber took off over the marsh just missing the ditches and frightening several cows.

War was not just a matter of a few incidents at home; the young men of the village had gone to fight and were dying. The names on the Roll of Honour and the War Memorial are a testament to the bravery of those extremely young men and boys who lost their lives.
Here in Cliffe, life continued with dreadful news coming ail too quickly as the fields of France and Flanders took the lives of the sons, husbands and fathers of the woman and families of Cliffe. The first two men killed were Robert Foord and James Chevous who were drowned on the 22nd September 1914 whilst patrolling the North Sea.

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