On 3rd September 1917 around 700 Royal Naval men were resting or sleeping in the Drill Shed at HMS Pembroke Chatham. At 23.12 hours two bombs were dropped onto the Drill Shed by German planes causing extensive injuries and the deaths of 131 personnel.
In 2003 the Universities of Greenwich and Kent acquired the Drill Shed and adjacent buildings as part of their shared campus development. In 2006, after significant refurbishment, the Drill Shed reopened as the Drill Hall Library, a shared facility for the Universities at Medway (Canterbury Christ Church University, University of Greenwich and University of Kent).
Since the restoration of the building, the anniversary of the tragedy as been marked by a short service of remembrance. On 10th September 2017, the Royal Naval Association Chatham Branch, along with the Universities at Medway, who have campuses at what is now known as Pembroke, commemorated the centenary of the tragedy.
A service and parade took place with Rear Admiral John Kingwell CBE taking the salute. Many took part including the local Sea Cadets, Royal Marine Cadets, HMS Collingwood Band, the Merchant Navy, the Royal Naval Reserves and staff and students from Canterbury Christ Church University who were dressed in health care period uniform.
Relatives of the naval personnel who perished on that night, as well as friends and local residents who attended from all parts of the UK and Canada, remarked that the event was poignant, sensitive and remembered our naval heroes with dignity.
Guests and participants were able to explore Pembroke and attend a 1917 health care exhibition. Following on from that event, it was agreed that the Universities and the RNA together would create a film to capture the vital part of local history and the commemorative event itself.
The script was written, original music was composed, the local communities offered their help and the film completed; you can view this here.
A film about how the injured personnel would have been cared for was also made.
If you would like information about joining the RNA Chatham Branch please call the Secretary, Mrs Chris Stout, on 01634 713523. Details about the universities can be found here: Canterbury Christ Church University; University of Greenwich; University of Kent.