“100 Miles for 100 years” has developed 37 self-guided First World War themed heritage trails for Kent, enabling local communities to actively engage with their local heritage. People can discover more about the people of the time and the impact that the First World War had on local communities in an easy to follow, interesting manner in either a digital or printed format, all of which is accessible through one portal. The variety of information is designed to engage and provide modern day relevance, not just for the enthusiast, but for people with little knowledge of the period.
“100 miles for 100 years” is a Heritage Lottery Fund funded project run by Screen South helping Kent communities discover the First World War heritage of their community, share family and local memories, and join in walking one of the 37 self-guided, First World War themed heritage trails across 21 locations in Kent.
We were very fortunate to have the support of the AHRC-funded Gateways to the First World War engagement centre with our project. The 100 miles project depended on building good community relationships, and having the opportunity to present at various events organised by Gateways helped us network with other Kent organisations and individuals, and to promote our project. The events always had a varied programme to extend First World War knowledge, which we were able to weave into our own public presentations. The Gateways team assisted by supporting an information event held in Canterbury, providing the public with the tools to do their own research. The team also helped with specific First World War enquiries, and it was very reassuring to know that there was expert support available.
The aim of the 100 miles for 100 years project was to involve communities actively in the First World War heritage and to assist them in gaining an understanding of the impact of the First World War on the Home Front as well as commemorating those who fell from all the services. The trails were developed in close partnership with local groups and individuals, and were provided in a variety of formats (including digital and hard copies) as requested in consultation with local communities.
Although there have been many excellent local projects in Kent focusing on different aspects of the First World War, what makes 100 miles for 100 years unique is that it has a single portal to access all the information gathered from 29 Kent locations on a website. The information is presented in map form for each town and features images, family histories and events located in a specific place. This gives the information from 100 years ago a present day identifiable locale, providing modern day relevance and enabling people to envisage a serviceman going to a certain school or a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse living in a specific home.
From our public consultations and sharing events we knew that, whilst people wanted to remember the fallen, they were also interested in the 9 out of 10 servicemen who returned. We strongly felt that one of the purposes of the trails was to engage with not just the enthusiast, but also with many people who had limited knowledge of the conflict or the role their local community played. So we included as many different aspects as we could about life on the Home Front, different roles in volunteer organisations as well as important local landmarks. We tried to represent all the Forces in as many theatres of the War as possible and always included the local War memorial.
We worked very closely with local volunteers and this is some of the feedback we received from one of our volunteers assisting in the development of our trails in Deal:
‘These trails will firstly and most importantly continue the commemorations of those poor men who were killed in WW1. Through your trails you have brought a more local and some unusual elements i.e. identifying the homes of the VADs, injured men etc. You are also encouraging walking and exercise and by choosing to develop four smaller walks you have made bite sized elements which people can tackle who are not seasoned walkers. People can also choose to tackle some of the walks at a later stage. Some of us need to consider public loos and timescales. You are also developing much needed tourist elements for this seaside town, the need for that and particularly for out of season elements has been identified within the district and town council’s Coastal Communities Strategies.’
There were challenges working with local groups, mainly around managing expectations. This was especially the case where there was a wealth of information, not all of which could be included on a trail. We tackled this by producing a booklet for each town which contained more in-depth information to accompany the trail leaflet and app. For example, in Tonbridge we devised a main trail and 2 trail extensions, featuring 37 separate locations with an accompanying booklet which is 34 pages long. This was all done with the assistance of local volunteers. Where we had information which did not fit onto a trail route, we would put it into the booklet as places nearby.
The key to working in the community was to balance local preferences whilst keeping a common standard throughout and ensuring that the information was historically accurate; this element was very time consuming.
One of the most satisfying elements of developing the trails was our work with groups not traditionally involved in local heritage. One of these was the North Kent Dementia support group to whom we gave eight presentations. The feedback when we launched the trails with the general public was also satisfying, a short selection of which is below:
- “I didn’t realise how important battlefield wooden crosses were” – comments made in Lydd and High Brooms where the churches have battlefield crosses displayed
- “I have walked past the Destiny statue all my life without knowing of its relevance” – Ramsgate
- “I am very pleased that a smaller location like Harbledown has been included into the project and has a trail.” – Harbledown
- “Really interesting to know where the men went to school and to learn about the role of VADs” – Dartford
- “I live in one of the houses and am fascinated to find out who lived there before.” – Lydd
- “So good you used the story of the men from HMS Hythe – they should be remembered” – Southborough and High Brooms
- “Thank you so very much for bringing our town to life.” – Canterbury
- “Lovely and very proud that you included information I gave about my family” -Gravesend
In Harbledown, we worked with a volunteer who had researched and produced a community First World War quilt. This featured the men who had served from the village, which we used as our basis when designing the trail and then served to signpost the existence of the quilt.
We also assisted local groups discover more about resources they already hold. For example, working with the Appledore Local History Society who had a photograph of soldiers in the High Street, we were able to identify the regiment and discover a letter from one of the soldiers in the Lancashire Archive. This enhanced local knowledge as they discovered that soldiers had been billeted in Appledore, that Belgian refugee families had been housed in the village, and the names of local people who were special constables also came to light. Feedback from the community shows the local value to these insights: “These discoveries have greatly enhanced our knowledge of our village community during the First World War”
On a weekend in February 2018 in we held a walking event in 18 locations to celebrate the completion of the project. Many locations included other activities, such as local First World War displays, film shows and re-enactors. The weather was bitterly cold and we were very pleased that we had nearly 500 walkers participate and reached out to another 150 people at the various events over the weekend who did not walk. Some of the volunteers held guided walks which were very much appreciated by the participants. Having said that, people were also very complimentary when they self-guided and glad of the opportunity to discover more of the people who lived through this challenging period in Kent’s history. In the office we have only a small team of 2 working part-time on the project, so it is a testament to the relationship we had built up with our volunteers that over 100 of them helped facilitate these events across Kent.
All of our trails remain accessible on our website and on the app for another five years, and several local communities have already held their own walking events. We have also received feedback from families and visitors who have used the website resources to self-guide trail routes. During the summer, 200 members of Kent ATC are walking several routes as part of their First World War commemoration activities. The trail booklets have also been provided in a hard copy format to Kent Libraries and contain in-depth information about the First World War and further links to enable people to discover more.
It has been a privilege to work with families and communities to enable the sharing of Kent’s First World War legacy.
Darrienne Price is Head of Kent Heritage, project designer, researcher, deliverer and manager of the 100 miles for 100 years project. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org