Children from Dover College Junior School were invited to take part in a unique high speed history lesson on board a commemorative Southeastern Poppy train on Thursday 08 November, in partnership with The Royal British Legion.
More than 30, Year 5 and 6, pupils learned about the sacrifice made by men, women and children during the First World War whilst travelling from Dover Priory to Ashford International.
As part of the Royal British Legion’s Thank You movement to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War, the children were invited to draw pictures to say ‘Thank You’ to those who fought and the families left behind during the war effort. They also heard about the key role that the railway played in helping carry troops and supplies to the frontline. Many chose to dedicate their drawings to Dover College alumnus, Captain Wilfred “Billie” Nevill, who led the famous ‘Football Charge’ of the East Surrey Regiment in July 1916 at the Battle of the Somme.
Ahead of the special journey, the children joined Southeastern’s managing director David Statham at the Dover Western Docks Remembrance service. During the service, Head Girl, Ciara Flisher and Head Boy, Sebastian Gebhardt laid a wreath on behalf of Dover College Junior School at the War Memorial to help commemorate the 556 men of the South Eastern and Chatham Railway who fought and died in the First World War.
Mr. Brett Fairclough from Dover College Junior School said: “In this centenary year, our pupils have been learning about the people involved in the First World War during their history lessons. Today Southeastern helped us bring this to life for them and conveyed the importance of saying ‘Thank You’ to a generation that has shaped the world in which they’re growing up.”
David Statham, managing director at Southeastern said: “We were delighted to welcome Dover College Junior School pupils onto our Poppy train to learn about the how the men and women who worked on the railway were among those who played a vital part in the First World War. Their pictures reflected a real sense of gratitude and appreciation the sacrifices made by so many. I hope their experience will inspire them to keep on remembering in the decades to come.”
The schoolchildren travelled between two important towns in supporting the First World War effort. Dover was one of the principle embarkation ports for troops fighting along the Western Front, whilst Ashford was a strategic hub for the South Eastern and Chatham Railway transporting supplies between London and the south coast.
The railway played a vital part in the war effort, transporting troops on their way to France and helping convey thousands of the wounded back home to hospitals. With men called up to serve in the armed forces, it was left to women to take on important railway jobs – becoming ticket collectors, engine cleaners, porters and train painters.
Every year since 2014, Southeastern has run the annual Poppy train for The Royal British Legion carrying special livery adornments to commemorate a year in the First World War. Last year, the tour raised over £20,000 and Southeastern hopes to beat this weekend with the new 2018 Poppy Train. It is also offering all armed forces personnel free travel on all its services on Remembrance Sunday.
2018 has seen The Royal British Legion led a national movement calling on the public to get involved in saying ‘Thank You’ to all who served, sacrificed, and changed our world during the First World War.
The ‘Thank You’ movement honours not only the 1.1 million British and Commonwealth Armed Forces who lost their lives in the First World War, but also those who played their part on the home front, and those who returned to build a better life for the benefit of generations to come.