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The 1929 Publications For the Gillingham Park Fete Tragedy The Fireman’s Wedding Compiled by Lori Oschefski


1929 Publications
Rumours and Reports The first news of the disaster was published the very next day in the Chatham, Rochester and Gillingham Observer. It had been published in a great hurry and entitled "Gillingham Fete Disaster - Fire rescue scene turned to tragedy in presence of horrified spectators - Ten dead in holocaust". Some of the details in the earlier reports were wrong and based on guess work. Names were mis-spelt and some of the ages given were wrong. IInterestingly enough printed just below one of the earlier reports on this horiffic fire was an article mentioning the re-opening of the fete by Lady Gower, wife of the local Member of Parliament "in one of her delightfully gracious and brief speeches". One of the first statements in the standard read "Discussing with London newsmen, the Mayor of Gillingham (Councillor Treacher) said, "We can only guess a the possible causes. One suggestion is that someone in a fit of aberration fired half a dozen tar barrels which were in a lower storey. This seems the only explanation for the blaze, which, within two minutes completely enwrapped the house. I don't think the vicitms can have suffered much. Within a few minutes they were probably half-suffocated and must have become unconscious shortly afterwards. It was a terrible sight to see them hanging out of the windows imploring help in earnest, but everyone thought it was make-believe." The Mayor went on to say, "The local authority has now seven families to support. In the case of Nicholls, Cokayne and Tabrett, who belonged to the Gillingham Fire Brigade, their families will only get about ten shillings a week. A suggestion has been made that the site and the space around where the ashes of some of the victims had fallen, should be enclosed and kept as hallowed for all time. I agree with this, and will bring it up at the next council meeting". The occupants shouted in panic "bring the Brigade for God's sake" The Chatham, Rochester and Gillingham News in one of their reports said "a great burst of fire leapt from the bottom of the flimsy building and shot up to the top, piercing the whole structure at one terrible sweep and wrapping it in suffocation flames. The occupants shouted in mad panic: bring the Brigade for God's sake. Many women in the crowd fainted and had to be carried out of the park and several men were in tears. The firemen freniedly dragged two escape ladders to the house...two boys leaped the 40ft for their lives, the poor little fellows crashing into the blazing wreckage below..." A disaster of national importance The Chatham News published an editorial on July 19th 1929, its heading "Playing with fire". The text follows: "The terrible fire at Gillingham which has been so much in our thoughts, and has been the outstanding subject of conversation throughout the district in the past week, represents far more then a serious local accident, it must be regarded rather as a disaster of national importance. for the first few days its awful suddenness, its peculiarly tragic character left us appalled, totally unable either to think clearly or to concentrate our impressions concisely. Our thoughts were instinctively directed first to the suffering of the victims, and then, naturally to a sense of the deepest sympathy for those who in a moment had been bereft of husbands, of sons and of brothers. Now that a week has passed by, and most of what can be said about the ascertainable facts of the occurrence has already been expressed, we should be in a better position to guage the whole terrible calamity in its true perspective, to weigh up and place all its relative incidents so that some conclusive data may be arrived at. We have no desire , we have no authority to apportion blame - that is a matter for the official inquiry - but to see that such safeguards shall be taken in the future as will render a disaster of this nature impossible, we must regard as a duty. One may go on placing one's head in a lion's mouth for years with inferred impunity, but the element of danger does not cease to exist just because no accident occurs. The knowledge that such an act is popular and is looked for as a brilliant finish to a fine performance, does not render it less probable that some day the lion may bite. the whole idea of the onlookers has been to get a bit of fun, but surely that might have been provided quite as effectively without allowing the performers to place themselves in a position that left them exposed to very grave danger in the event of a possible error of judgement or misconception of anyone in charge, or even indirectly connected with the arrangements. From whatever point of view one looks at the matter, it is now perfectly obvious that the carrying through of such a performance was exceedingly unwise, but the tragic part of it is that until this terrible catastrophe took place with many lives lost, it does not seem to have occurred to the many thousands of people who have been present on past occasions that any such danger existed at all. fortunately, such calamities are rare. The Gillingham fire had its counterpart on an even vaster and more terrible scale in the disaster of the Paris Charity Bazaar of twenty years ago or more. Such occurances bear no relation to a railway accident, to the loss of a great liner, or even to an ordinary fire. They stand out alone in all their dramatic terror. They demonstrate how strangely apathetic the advance of civilisation has rendered the human mind to the possible consequence of playing with a dangerous element. They prove to us that the complete efficacy of an apparently perfected organisation into which the human element has been introduced is a fallacy, that there can never be any guarantee of safety on the crater of a seemingly quiescent volcano.. We may, we doubless all of us do, deplore a lamentable deficiency of effective precautionary measures against accident wherever we may find it, but if so terible a mishap as we have recently experienced in our midst does not do something towards effecting a reorganisation of the standards of safety, prudence and forethought, then we can only believe that the high value which, as a nation we have always placed upon human life, no longer holds weight in civilised existence."

The Times July 12 1929

July 12, 1929 Paper unknown

The Daily Mirror July 13 1929

Larger clips from newspaper will follow

The Argus July 13 1929 Austraila

The Miami News July 13 1929 United States

July 13 1929 The Daily Mirror

Clip from July 13 1929 The Daily Mirror

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The Canberra Times July 13 1929 Australia

Published July 22 1929 in the Times Magazine "FUNNY FIRE"
One evening last week in Gillingham, England, thousands of citizens trooped gaily to the city park to witness a traditional absurdity—"the realistic spectacle of a house on fire with thrilling rescues" —staged for the benefit of the Gillingham Hospital. A dummy three-story building had been made of wood and canvas. Inside were gathered ten young naval cadets, several of them dressed as clowns, and four firemen, two of whom impersonated a bride and groom. They played comic parts in the various rooms, waiting for the red lights which would cause the building to seem on fire. They would then be "res-cued" by the fire company's expert ladder-work. Next the building would be set really ablaze, to display the fire company's hose-work. In the darkness the audience grew impatient. Children squirmed and complained. Suddenly the building emitted jets and twists of flame, illumined the landscape. The effect was uncannily real. The crowd cheered and applauded. In an upper window the mock bride and groom looked funny as they gesticulated for help. The crowd roared heartily. Amid soaring flames, the clownish occupants of the building cut excited, silly capers. When the searchlight operator turned his beam on the blazing roof, he revealed what looked like a charred corpse. Nervous, delighted, the crowd's amusement increased. Waves of heat rolled out over the park. Firemen rushed toward the house. Bodies began dropping like torches from the upper stories. Shrieks sounded from the audience, from the building. Frantic women lunged toward the blaze. A real cigaret had lit a real fire in the gasoline-soaked building too soon. Fourteen "actors" died.

Published July 12 1929 in the The New York Times "TWELVE BOYS DIE IN FLAMES"
While several hundred laughing spectators applauded their supposed acting, fifteen boys screamed for help and twelve of them died in flames purposely set for a demonstration of the modern efficacy of fire-fighting methods at Gillingham, in Kent, last night [July 11]. St. Bartholomew's Hospital in Rochester, for the benefit of which the "exposition" had been planned, has become a morgue for twelve of those who has tried to aid it, and a resting place between life and the grave for three others.

July 15 1929 The Daily Mirror

The Daily Mirror July 15 1929

Sidney Morning Hearld News July 14 1929 Australia

The Times July 15 1929

The Daily Express July 15 1929

July 15 1929

The Daily Express

July 16 1929 The Daily Express Clip on next page

July 16 1929
The Times

July 17 1929 The Daily Express

July 23 1929 The Daily Express

The Daily Express clip

The Daily Express July 18 1929

July 19, 1929 Published in the Chatham, Rochester and Gillingham Observer "THE LAST SAD FARWELL : HEARTRENDING SCENE"

The Daily Express July 18 1929

The Times July 18 1929

Daily Sketch July 18 1929

July 19th 1929 The Times The Inquest Resumes

The Times July 16 1929

The Times July 18 1929

The Times July 31, 1929

The Times August 10 1929