About the Project
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
“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
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
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
That’s why I do it. And that’s what the
Dover War Memorial Project is all about.
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
Thank you, John.