war memorial at dusk, photographed by Michelle Cooper




About the Project

"THREE MEMORIALS AND A MARINER" by Marilyn Stephenson-Knight

Freezing till your fingers might to drop off doesn’t have much to recommend it. Unless, that is, you’re engrossed in something really worth while – like the Dover War Memorial Project.   

“What’s it all about?” and “Why are you doing it?” are questions I’ve been asked about the Project. A Dovorian in exile, I’m now a softie from Milton Keynes. We don’t get many sea breezes up there. So as I struggled through a biting sleety gale to the former Marine Station that second question was very much in my mind too. Why on earth was I doing it, when I could be warm at home with a good book? 

The short answer is that I needed to visit the Memorial at the Cruise Terminal. Unveiled in October 1922 it commemorates 556 employees of the South Eastern and Chatham Railway (SECR) who died in the Great War. One of them was Albert Edward Gilham. He lost his life in March 1917, when the channel steamship SS “Achille Adam” was torpedoed* in the English Channel. He was one month short of his sixteenth birthday.   

It’s for him, and for all the others like him, that I am so passionate about the Dover War Memorial Project. The Project will trace and publish the histories behind each name on the Town Memorial outside Maison Dieu House. There are over eight hundred; each one a person whose dreams, hopes, and expectations were never fulfilled. Behind them are more casualties; widows and fatherless children, bereaved brothers and sisters - and parents just like Albert’s, whose devastated mother Annie, already a widow, announced the death of her “dearly beloved son … Dearest Bertie” in this newspaper on 30th March 1917.   

That’s what the Project is about. It continues the work begun when the Town Memorial was unveiled in 1924. The War Memorial Sub-Committee of Dover Town Council stated that the monument should record “the gratitude we feel towards those who nobly sacrificed their all” and show “our sympathy toward those who suffered … so terribly from a sense of personal loss”. Annie had requested that Albert’s name, already on the SECR memorial, should be forever commemorated on the Town Memorial too. I hope that she and the many others did attain some comfort – maybe even feel some pride - from that public acknowledgement. 

Annie is herself now at rest, and as those who mourn pass on, the Torch of Remembrance is entrusted to new generations. The Dover War Memorial Project is part of this charge. All the names were placed on the Memorial by people like Annie, who wanted their loved ones remembered. It’s up to us now to ensure that they’re not forgotten. On behalf of Dover Town Council that’s why I, backed by a superb team of helpers, have voluntarily undertaken the Dover War Memorial Project.  

There’s more. The 1920s Sub-Committee designed the monument, with its figure of Youth overcoming suffering, to symbolise spirituality, duty, and self-sacrifice. Their intention was to help educate young people. Developing educational resources is also part of the Dover War Memorial Project. From its publications our new generations will be able to illustrate important events in the past by relating them to local knowledge. They’ll gain an insight into social and family history too – it may be a shock to realise that when Albert was killed he was younger than most GCSE students today.  

The Town Memorial was realised by community effort and so will be the Dover War Memorial Project. There’s a vast amount of knowledge and expertise in Dover and everyone’s welcome to contribute. The Project’s been featured in local and county media and the interest and support have been phenomenal. Tracey Hubbard at the Town Council offices has already received numerous telephone calls and letters. I’ve been offered resources ranging from books and films to the all-important access to historical archives both here (including the Dover Express’s – thank you!) and in Belgium and France. Annie’s no longer here to speak to us - but many relatives still remain, and as one I visited said, “I’m so pleased that people are still interested, that they still care.”  

Albert is, I believe, the youngest person commemorated on the Town Memorial. The loss of the SS “Achille Adam” also claimed the oldest there. Working as a Fireman, Daniel Wyborn was 63 years old. One more casualty, also called Albert, is on the Town Memorial. His surname was Port, and he was a 29-year-old Able Seaman. There were six in all who died. The others were William Arnold, 27, James Clift, 30, and Harry Wright, 25. All six are together on the SECR Memorial – and too on the National Memorial at Tower Hill in London. It’s dedicated to merchant seafarers lost in the wars, and bears the names of over 32,000 people with no known grave other than the sea.  

The “Achille Adam” had been 31 miles off Beachy Head when she was sunk. But only Daniel was killed by the torpedo. William was drowned and the others died from exposure. As I shivered my way home I looked out across the grey choppy sea. Daniel and William, James and Harry, and the two Alberts are all still out there. What I was doing was little enough, a puff of chilly wind was nothing, in comparison with the horrors that they and all the others who’d lost their lives in war had been through.  

That’s why I do it. And that’s what the Dover War Memorial Project is all about.  

Marilyn Stephenson-Knight 

Post Script

Next time you’re passing the Town Memorial, why not pause a moment to find Albert Gilham’s name?

This article first appeared in the Dover Express, 2 March 2006, page 10, under the heading "Why their supreme sacrifice cannot be forgotten"

* the report that the Achille Adam had been torpedoed appeared in contemporary newspaper reports. Volunteer researcher for the Roll of Honour John Harrison informs us that the Achille Adam is listed on the Newhaven Transport Memorial, and further writes, "According to 'British Vessels Lost at Sea', HMSO 1919, the ship was stopped by a U-boat (UB 39) 31 miles off Beachy Head and 'sunk by bombs' which I understand to be explosive charges."

Thank you, John.

Copyright 2006/9 © Marilyn Stephenson-Knight. All Rights Reserved