Standing outside the iron gates to Chatham Naval Memorial with the memorial obelisk taking central stage.

Visiting Chatham Naval Memorial, Kent, England

In Counties, Days Out, Kent, Our Journeys, Trip-Types, UK Travel by JanisLeave a Comment

Remembering the sacrifices made for future generations

Chatham has played a significant role within Royal Naval history for hundreds of years. Chatham’s historic dockyard was once a bustling hive of activity with dockers, shipbuilders, labourers and seamen all with the purpose of protecting ‘King and Country’.
Standing outside the iron gates to Chatham Naval Memorial with the memorial obelisk taking central stage.

The entrance to Chatham Naval Memorial

Over the centuries, Chatham Dockyard has built and launched a vast number of British warships. Every metal rivet, each length of oak decking and the miles and miles of rope rigging would have passed through unwavering hands.
 
The vessels would range from the commanding power and elegance of Horatio Nelson’s H.M.S. Victory to the streamline submarine of H.M.S. Ocelot.

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The obelisk at Chatham Naval Memorial under brooding grey skies
Under a brooding sky

Three Naval Memorials

Chatham was one of three principal manning ports during the First World War. The significant loss was suffered from this port and the region; it was enormously meaningful that the lives and the ultimate sacrifice of these men and women were remembered.

A stone seaman, holding binoculars, stands as a lookout at one end of a curved wall, adorned with brass plaques detailing the names & ranks of those lost at sea.

The lookout

Therefore, along with Portsmouth and Plymouth, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission created three poignant Naval Memorials.
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The dedication
The fundamental significance of these three Naval Memorials is that no-one is ever forgotten or overlooked. Therefore, these touching and moving monuments were dedicated to those who lost their lives and who ‘Have no Known Grave but the Sea’.

What to see and do near Chatham

While you’re visiting Chatham Naval Memorial, take a peek at which other places you can discover in the vicinity. Along with Chatham Historic Dockyard, you can also see two English Heritage sites, Rochester Castle and Upnor Castle.
 
Ensure you leave a little time to stroll the delightful Dickensian High Street in Rochester, and there’s also a Rochester Cathedral.

Chatham’s First World War Naval Memorial

The central obelisk in Chatham’s Naval Memorial was erected in memory of those from the First World War. It was constructed out of Portland stone and unveiled by the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII) on 26th April 1924.
The obelisk at Chatham Naval Memorial

The Obelisk

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Guardian Lion

Chatham’s dominant towering obelisk is identical to the columns at Portsmouth and Plymouth. They were designed to be seen by all shipping vessels passing by the three ports.
 
Chatham Naval Memorial sits proudly, high above the town in the Great Lines Heritage Park. This incredible and distinctive landmark can be observed from miles around.

Chatham’s Second World War Naval Memorial

Unfortunately, only fifteen years after the First World War monument’s unveiling, the Royal Navy was called upon once more to fight in the Second World War.
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Some of the names from World War II

In 1946, the decision was made to extend the existing monument and add the surrounding curved memorial, which envelops the obelisk, to commemorate the Second World War dead.
 
The arched Portland stone walls were subsequently unveiled by the Duke of Edinburgh on the 15th October 1952.

Every soul is significant – Lest we Forget

When we visited the memorial, we were immediately drawn to the obelisk; it is astonishing. Surrounding the lower section are large brass panels individually listing every single one of the 8,517 names who lost their lives in World War I.
A brass plaque attached to the obelisk of the Chatham Naval Memorial detailing those who have no grave other than the sea.
From the Great War
A closer view of one of the brass plaques attached to the outer arms of the Chatham Naval Memorial detailing around 150 of those who fell in battle
From WWII

The names of the departed are arranged according to the year of death, the vessel that they served upon, then by service, rank and surname.
 
There are just so many names; you want to read them all, give every single one of them the time and respect they deserve for allowing us the freedom we have today.

Last Orders

If you would like to take a glimpse of Chatham Naval Memorial on the ‘Silver Screen’, catch the movie Last Orders. The 2001 film has a star-studded cast of Sir Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Sir Tom Courtenay and Helen Mirren.
 
Setting off on a journey to scatter ashes in Margate, a touching story unfolds on the way to the Kent coast.

The sailors stand guard

The inscription to the 10,098 men and women of the Commonwealth who died while serving in the Royal Navy during World War II are individually listed on the brass panels on the curved memorial.
A stone sailor, wrapped in a heavy duffle coat, places as a lookout over Chatham from the Chatham Naval Memorial,
Keeping watch

Four beautiful statues of sailors stand, one at each end almost protecting their fellow seafarers.
 
Row after row, there is just a sea of names, and what I still find incomprehensible is that all these men and women have no known grave. Their final resting place is known only to a higher spirit.

They are not forgotten

As you can imagine, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission keep the memorials looking immaculate; they are a pleasure to visit.
Attached to the brass plaque next to the inscription for Harknett T.A is a small wooden cross decorated with a Poppy, dedicated to Uncle Tom
Every name has a story

Every person listed is equal to the next; amongst them are over 20 sets of brothers and individuals awarded the Victoria Cross. There are 16 ladies from the Wrens (the Women’s Royal Naval Service) and a young lad of 15 years of age who was a bugler on H.M.S. Cressy.
 
A few years ago, Gary and I decided that we wanted to remember the war dead on the memorial in our village of Eccles in Kent. So, we set out to uncover a little slice of history for each of the names.

The brass plaque with the dedication to Hamilton Herries Milligan, Officers Cook, on the Chatham Naval Memorial in Kent
Hamilton Herries Milligan memorial
The Eccles War memorial, incorporating a clock in the simple stone column.
The Eccles War Memorial and Clock, Eccles, Kent
We discovered that one name Mr. Hamilton Herries Milligan was upon the Chatham Naval Memorial. Hamilton served as an Officer’s Cook on H.M.S. “Mary Rose”. The H.M.S. “Mary Rose” was unfortunately targeted and sunk on the 17th October 1917 while escorting a convoy of merchant ships. The warship now lies 70 miles off the coast of Lerwick, Scotland, and is designated as a protected place.

An interesting read

If you're intrigued by Kent's weird and wonderful history, or all unusual stories around the county, then take a peek at "Kent's Strangest Tales".

You won't be able to put it down, you can pick it up for your Kindle or in good old paperback.


Tower Hill Memorial

Loving history as Gary and I do, we have also visited the Tower Hill Memorial in London, just opposite The Tower of London.

This memorial is also seafaring and dedicated to the civilian merchant sailors and fisherman who lost their lives in WWI and WWII. It’s a very touching place to visit, and the incredible number of names appear endless.

One of the stone Seaman at the Tower Hill Memorial in Trinity Memorial Gardens on Tower Hill, London

The Tower Hill Memorial

There are a staggering 36,095 inscriptions on the brass panels at the Tower Hill Memorial. Just like the honourable men and women on the Chatham Naval Memorial, these noble young people sacrificed their lives and have no known grave but the sea.

3 Kent road trips

While visiting Kent, why not pick one of our three road trips. Discover 11 of Kent’s charming and historic coastal towns, our Kent on a rural road trip, and our Kent Downs (AONB) road trip.

* This post may contain links to affiliated sites where we earn a small commission at no additional charge to you.

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The obelisk at Chatham Naval Memorial

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About the Author

Janis

Janis, the co-founder of Our World for You, was born in London and raised in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Along with Gary her partner, they have been travelling part time since 1995. In 2016, they decided that enough was enough with the 9 to 5, so armed with the knowledge and experience that they had gained on their adventures, that they wanted to inspire others to travel the world near and far.

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