New book chronicles history of Gravesend in the First World War
PUBLISHED: 15:20 04 August 2016 | UPDATED: 15:35 04 August 2016
The work takes a look at the ‘war to end all wars’ from a local perspective
As the nation continues to mark the centenary of the First World War, a new book has been published that delves into the history of Gravesend during the devastating conflict.
Gravesend in the Great War chronicles the war’s impact on the town’s people - both those who were sent out to serve on the front line and those who remained at home.
For author Stephen Wynn, writing the book was also a personal journey that took him back to his childhood.
He told the Reporter: “I first went to Gravesend 50 years ago. I remember not really wanting to go – I was dragged across with my mum.
“I lived in Basildon and there was no railway station. It was a long journey for an eight-year-old.
“For me it was nice. Writing the book, I relived the journey I did with my mum.
“I spent a lot of time doing research in the library in Gravesend. It was like going back to my childhood.”
The book contains a number of fascinating tales that shed a light on the town’s contribution to the war effort.
“In 1914, Otto Koehn, a German officer, had been captured and was held in a Prisoner of War camp in Dorchester,” Mr Wynn said. “He was keen to get back to Germany and hid himself in a big crate.
“He only got discovered at Gravesend when some of the people loading the Batavia [a ship] noticed a hand sticking outside.”
The book also shows how the lives of the town’s people were changed during the febrile atmosphere of war.
“In May 1915, there were anti-German riots. One of the things they did was to attack a printers’ shop – Schultz and Sons, on Milton Road - but they were English!
“It shows how things got into people’s minds and normality went out the window.”
Meanwhile, Gravesend’s MP, Sir Gilbert Parker, played a key role in persuading the USA to join the war on the side of the Allies – a considerable task given the sizeable German population in America.
Mr Wynn served as a police officer for 30 years and only put pen to paper as a means of catharsis when his two sons served in Afghanistan.
“Both of my sons came back,” he said. “But it got me thinking what it might be like for people whose sons haven’t come back.
“With writing history comes a big responsibility. They say history is written by the winners, so you have to read between the lines.”
Adding that he never imagined he would become a writer, My Wynn said: “If you have the right attitude, you can achieve quite a lot in life.”
Gravesend in the Great War is published by Pen and Sword Books and is available now, priced at £12.99.
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