Betteshanger Church

One of the most attractive Victorian churches in Kent, paid for by Sir Walter James in 1853 in imitation of nearby Barfreston. His architect was Anthony Salvin, who effectively rebuilt an existing church. A few objects survived the rebuild including a thirteenth century piscina, the Royal Arms of William III and an extraordinary memorial by Peter Scheemakers to Salmon Morris, representing a Naval scene. A large and imposing Byzantine type porch protects the tympanum over the south door and leads the visitor into a rich and impressive interior. Good quality Victorian fittings include four windows by Charles Kempe

Rupert Brooke at Betteshanger - 1914

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.

The poet Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) was the son of a housemaster at Rugby School; and later attended King's College, Cambridge. His first book, Poems, appeared in 1911. His most famous work, the sonnet sequence 1914 and Other Poems appeared in 1915. For a short time in the autumn of 1914 he was stationed at Betteshanger.

When war looked likely he was uncertain:

If fighting starts I shall have to enlist, or go as a correspondent. I don't know. It will be Hell to be in it, and Hell to be out of it.

Edward Marsh[2] (who was secretary to the First Lord of the Admiralty - Winston Churchill) secured Rupert Brooke a commission with The Royal Naval Division. At the outbreak of war it was quickly discovered that the numbers of men reporting for duty in the Royal Navy far exceeded the Admiraltys requirements for the manning of ships. So the Navy surplus were organised in Army type units under the command of the Admiralty.

On Sunday 27th September 1914, Edward Marsh saw Rupert Brooke and Denis Browne[3] off at Charing Cross station, on their journey to the training camp at Betteshanger. Both men were joining the Anson, (8th) Battalion[4] of the Royal Naval Division, under the command of Lt.-Colonel George Cornwallis West. This battalion had the motto Nil Desperandum (Never Despair) and was part of the 2nd R.N. Brigade, which, on 9th September, had moved from Walmer to Lord Northbourne's estate at Betteshanger Park.

The influx of new recruits had led to a shortage of junior officers, new officers were urgently needed for duty in the camp, although, many had little if any training. Sub-Lieutenant R. C. Brooke found himself in charge of the 15th Platoon in D Company. A unit of about 30 men, mostly naval stokers of the Royal Naval Fleet Reserve from Northumberland, Scotland and Ireland. He was unable to remember their names or comprehend their various accents and northern dialects. Many officers could recall their early efforts to exercise authority over 'the stokers', who assumed newly joined officers were incompetent until proved otherwise.

Sub-Lieutenant R. C. Brooke quickly took on the tasks of kit inspections and route marches through chalky Kentish lanes. Time was also taken up with boxing, soccer, and drill. Now he had a close cropped military haircut, he looked very different from his Cambridge days. The conditions in camp were fairly basic, but the officers were permitted a bath at Betteshanger rectory. His stay was a short one; on 4th October they received marching orders, and set off from Betteshanger to Dover, bound for France. The Rev. Canon H. Clapham Foster[5] was a padre attached to the 2nd Naval Brigade and gave an account of the departure:

The news that we were to leave immediately for France spread very quickly round the camp, and among the men there was a scene of boundless enthusiasm; loud cheers were raised as they hastily dressed and got their kits together. There was no time to lose. Breakfast was at seven a.m., and at eight we were told the transport would be ready to convey our baggage to Dover. The Second Royal Naval Brigade started on the march to the pier at about nine a.m., amid scenes of great enthusiasm, two brass bands and a-drum-and-fife band accompanying them. The men selected some curious words for their own special "marching songs," and these are, as a rule, set to familiar melodies....
There's a man selling beer over there;
There's a man selling beer over there:
Over there, over there, over there, over there -
There's a man selling beer over there.

Another favourite ditty with men on the march is a song with a somewhat unsavoury refrain:

Wash me in the water
Where you wash your dirty daughter,
And I shall be whiter than the white-wash on the wall.

... Singing such ditties as these, we marched from Betteshanger to Dover. We were accorded a magnificent reception in the streets by crowds of people who cheered lustily and waved flags and handkerchiefs as we made our way to the pier.

They landed at Dunkirk and, after some delay, learnt they were bound for Antwerp. Brooke was surprised to hear senior officers say to the men that they should write a last letter home as it was likely the train would be attacked, and if they reached the trenches at Antwerp they would all be 'wiped out'.[6] This was not very encouraging, was it aimed to harden their resolve? Although insensitive, it highlighted their role to delay the Germans reaching the channel ports; the so called 'Race to the Sea'. As they boarded the train each man received 120 rounds of ammunition.

At 2 a.m. on Tuesday, October 6, they crossed the Belgian frontier. On arrival in Antwerp the Belgians were in retreat and it was clear the Germans had superior forces and positions and were unlikely to be stopped by the Royal Naval Division. The Rev. Canon H. Clapham Foster continues:

... the village of Vieux-Dieu, a quaint spot on the confines of the city. Here we halted and were told that we were to rest a short time before going up to the firing line. We were told that we were to be quartered for the night in an old château, standing in its own grounds and surrounded by trees...There we sat round the table, a light being supplied by a candle stuck securely in the neck of an empty bottle... Plates and forks were scarce, but, pocket-knives came in exceedingly handy. The windows had been plastered up with brown paper so as not to let out a single streak of light.

There sat such well-known personages as Lieut.-Colonel George Cornwallis West, Arthur Asquith, Denis Browne and Rupert Brooke, eating pieces of veal with their fingers and drinking coffee out of tumblers and milk jugs.

At the bottom of the garden which surrounded this ch>âteau was one of the Antwerp forts, and so sleep was practically impossible, as the guns were cracking out every few minutes, shaking the house to its very foundations.
At dawn, after a cold night, they were sent off to relieve the Belgians holding Fort 7, and while shells burst around him, Brooke observed aeroplanes amongst the shrapnel bursts, and noted the 'unreality' of war. Although he survived, the Brigade's baggage at nearby Wilryck station was destroyed by a German bombardment; Brooke lost a pair of field-glasses and a gift from E. M. Forster and two sonnets he was working on. The château at Vieux-Dieu, where they had stayed the previous night, had also been hit by shells. The situation became untenable and a general withdrawal was issued.

They stopped at Bruges and from Ostend returned to Dover in a morning mist on 9th October. After this six-day campaign the officers were given leave. Brooke and Arthur 'Oc' Asquith[7] gave a report to Winston Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty) of the expedition's failure.

Rupert Brooke was back at Betteshanger on 18th October, although the Anson Battalion did not stay long at Betteshanger.

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