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Author Topic: French Prisoner-of-War Memorial, Chatham  (Read 355 times)
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cliveh
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« on: June 07, 2013, 10:15:14 AM »

The French Prisoner-of-War Memorial - Chatham:

During the Napoleonic Wars French prisoner-of-war were incarcerated on board prison hulks moored at various naval ports and docks around the country. By 1799 over 25,000 prisoners were held in horrific conditions on board these ships including a large number held on the Medway in hulks moored in Short Reach and Gillingham Reach. Needless to say fatalities were high due to the overcrowded, insanitary environment and those that died at Chatham were buried in marshland on St. Mary’s Island and on, what was then, an island known as ‘Prisoners’ Bank’.

In the 1860’s work began on land for the extension to the Dockyard which was to include the ‘Prisoners’ Bank’ burial island off of Gillingham Reach so in 1869 the Admiralty ordered that these remains were to be removed and re-interred in the site on St. Mary’s Island. In total 711 skeletons were moved to, what was by then known as, the French Prisoner-of-War Cemetery. By this time relations with France had improved considerably and it was decided that a proper memorial should be erected on the site. The design of the Memorial was approved by the French and was erected by some of the convict labour being used on the Dockyard expansion. It was unveiled in 1871 and the Admiralty agreed to pay £5 per annum for its upkeep.

By 1903 the continued dockyard expansion work now threatened the St. Mary’s Island cemetery so in 1904 the Admiralty ordered that all the remains be moved to a new site on high ground adjoining St. George’s Barrack Church at HMS ‘Pembroke’, the new Royal Naval Barracks at Chatham. The transfer of the remains and the Memorial was completed by the 7th December 1904.

In 1991 the remains of a further 362 prisoners were discovered on St. Mary’s Island and these too were moved to the St. George’s Church site which was now known as the St. George’s Centre following the departure of the Royal Navy from Chatham.

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IMG_0187 Chatham - HMS Pembroke.jpg
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John
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« Reply #1 on: June 11, 2013, 07:42:35 AM »

Morning Post - Thursday 15 December 1892

THE FRENCH CEMETERY AT CHATHAM.
The Lords of tbe Admiralty have received the following letter from M. Waddington in reference to the French Cemetery at Chatham :—

"The Government of the Republic has been made acquainted through me with the recent decision taken by the Government of the Queen to assure the preservation of the funeral monument at Chatham where rest the remains of the soldiers and sailors of the First Empire who died prisoners of war on board the English hulks. I am charged to make known to your lordships that the Minister of Marine has been particularly affected at the initiative taken in this matter by the British Administration. I shall be much obliged to you if you will make known to her Majesty's Government the sincere feelings of gratitude of the Government of the Republic for the homage rendered to our deceased soldiers. — Waddington."

By order of the late Board of Admiralty, the cemetery and monument have been thoroughly renovated, and a sum of £25 a year voted to keep them in order.
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« Reply #2 on: March 03, 2017, 13:21:12 PM »

SINGULAR DISCOVERY. Within the past week a number of bodies of French, prisoners confined at Chatham during the Continental war have been brought to view. During the time the prisoners were kept on board the hulks in Chatham Harbour, those who died were interred in a portion of the marsh land adjoining the Medway, which is still known as "Prisoners' Bank," the number of bodies being computed at about 2,000. Owing to the gradual washing away of the banks of the river, and the now constant inundation of the adjacent marshes, much of Prisoners' Bank" has disappeared, while a large number of bodies have been exposed to view. The land has become the property of the Rochester and Chatham Gas Company, and on the attention of the Secretary of State being directed to the circumstance, a letter has lately been received from the Home Office, inquiring whether the Gas Company would allow the bodies to be exhumed with the view to their being re-interred elsewhere. To this communication a reply has been forwarded authorising the taking of such steps as might be deemed advisable, and preparations are accordingly being made by the authorities for burying the bodies in a more suitable spot in the locality.

County Observer 30/1/1869
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« Reply #3 on: March 04, 2017, 11:26:01 AM »

AFFECTING MEMORIAL. A Chatham Correspondent of the Standard writes: During the progress of the excavations connected with the works for the extension of Chatham Dockyard by the construction of additional basins, docks, and factories, the workmen came upon the remains of the French prisoners who were detained at Chatham during the Continental war at the commencement of the present century, several hundreds of whom were buried on the marsh which is now covered by the workshops and basins. At the time the French prisoners were at Chatham a Russian squadron likewise lay in the Medway, and disease having broken out among the crew of the ships several hundreds of the officers and men died, and were buried in a lonely spot adjacent to the then existing dockyard. From the number of bodies disinterred there is no doubt that several hundred Russian sailors and French prisoners must have been buried at the spot; and steps have accordingly been taken by the authorities to preserve the resting-place of those who died so far away from their native shores. A large plot of ground has accordingly been selected at the extremity of the dockyard extension works, which has been laid out as a cemetery, and as the remains of those formerly buried are dug up they are carefully removed to the spot selected, and re-interred. In the centre of this burial-ground a memorial obelisk has been erected, composed of polished granite and Devonshire marble, with elaborate carvings, the entire work, which rises to a height of nearly 40 feet, having been designed and executed by one of the convicts now confined in Chatham Prison. At the base of the pediment is the following inscription Here are gathered together the remains of many brave soldiers and sailors who, having once been the foes, and afterwards the captives, of England, now find rest in her soil, remembering no more the animosities of wars or the sorrows of imprisonment. They were deprived of the consolation of closing their eyes among the countrymen they loved, but they have been laid in an honourable grave by a nation which knows how to respect valour and to sympathise with misfortune."

Flintshire Observer 25/3/1875
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