Report of the laying of the foundation stone
Chatham, Rochester and Brompton Observer, August 1st, 1903




Monday was an important day for the troops in garrison and also for the local Rifle Volunteers, as Field-Marshal the Rt. Hon. F. S. Earl Roberts visited Chatham for the purpose of inspecting troops, and also to lay the foundation-stone of the drill hall of the 4th Volunteer Battalion Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment),a site for which has been granted by the War Office on the Recreation Ground, Fort Pitt. Lord Roberts, who was accompanied by Major-General W. T. Shone, C.B., Inspector-General of Fortifications, Major-General A. E. Turner, Assistant Inspector-General Auxiliary Forces, Col. Maxwell, Assistant Adjutant-General Royal Engineers, and Col. Phipps-Hornby, aide-de-camp, arrived at the Chatham Railway Station at about eleven o’clock, and was received by Major-General Sir R. Hart, Commanding the Thames District, and his staff. A salute was fired from Fort Amherst when the train steamed into the station, and a guard of honour from the Oxford Light Infantry was in attendance, whilst the East Kent Mounted Rifles furnished the escort.


The Commander-in-Chief rode direct to the Recreation Ground, where a large company had assembled at the invitation of Col. F. A. Newington and the officers of the Volunteer Battalion. The site was gay with bunting, and a large marquee had been erected for the accommodation of the guests. Among those present were the Mayor of Chatham (Ald. T. C. Lamb), the Very Rev. the Dean of Rochester, Col. Savage, R.E., Canon Pollock, the Rev. O'Neill, Mr. G. Winch, Mr. H. J. T. Browne, the Rev. A. Briggs, Rev. H. A. Hickin, Councillor J. R. Featherby, Ald. G. H. De Ia Cour, Ald. F. G. Homan, Councillor C. Tuff (ex-Mayor of Rochester), Rev. S.D. Scammell, Dr. Jefferiss, Dr. Woodman, Mr. A. F. W. Stephens, Mr. H. P. Mann (Town Clerk), Councillor J. J. Acworth, Dr. Holroyde, Messrs. W. E. R. Randall, W. J. Upton, P. J. Neate, A. Coltman, E. B. Willmott, C. Newcomb, F. Whyman, J. H. Whitfteld, J. Kidwell, etc.

The Volunteers were drawn up on the further side of the ground, and on the arrival of the Commander-in-Chief they gave a general salute. The Earl of Darnley, who was wearing the uniform of a honorary colonel of the regiment, and Col. F. A. Newington, the commanding officer of the regiment, were introduced to Lord Roberts and Col. Newington briefly outlined the general plan of the hall, and also gave a few particulars of the corps.

Lord Roberts said: “It is a great pleasure for me to come here and lay the foundation stone of your new drill hall, and I hope funds will speedily be forthcoming to enable this hall to be completed, because I know how essential it is for the efficiency of any Volunteer unit to have a suitable drill hall, Volunteers, do so much for themselves that I am always glad to be able to help them in any way; and it is a great pleasure to me to take part in a ceremony like this, as it affords me an opportunity of telling the Volunteers how much I appreciate their patriotic spirit in devoting the few leisure hours they have at their disposal to drill and training; and Also to tell those citizens who may not find it convenient or suitable to become Volunteers, how much I value their encouragement of Volunteers by donations and subscriptions. We are also much indebted to the great employers of labour for granting their employees facilities to attend camp, and in other ways render themselves efficient as Volunteers. Perhaps no one knows better than I do what value the Volunteer can be, and it is because I know how well they did in South Africa that I am anxious all Volunteers should, if possible, attend camp for a short time every year, as I know six days in camp is worth several months' ordinary drill and training. I congratulate the members of this Battalion on what they have done during the short time it has been in existence It was only raised three years ago, and it now numbers about 900. I understand from your Colonel that 630 men went into camp at Shorncliffe last year, and he hopes to have at least that number, if not more, in camp again this year. I consider it a great privilege to lay this foundation –stone, and I wish every one of you all possible success and prosperity in your future career (cheers.)

At the conclusion of the speech, prayers were read by the Very Rev, the Dean of Rochester, and then, at the request of the Earl of Darnley, Lord Roberts proceeded to lay the stone. After administering several taps with a mallet, he declared the stone to be well and truly laid, and this announcement was hailed with warm cheers.

The silver trowel which was used was presented to his Lordship as a souvenir of the occasion. The foundation stone bore the following inscription:- 4th Battalion Q.O. (Royal West Kent Regt.)

This stone was laid
Field Marshal the Rt. Hon. F. S. Earl Roberts,
V.C., K.G., K.P., G.C.B., O. M., G.C.S.I.,
July 27th, 1903.
F. A. Newington, Col. Commanding
G. H. Wells, architect.

At the conclusion of the ceremony the band played the National Anthem, and as the Commander-in-Chief prepared to depart another general salute was given.


On leaving the Recreation Ground, the Commander-in-Chief proceeded to the Lines to inspect the troops, all of whom were drawn up in position by the time he arrived. There were two brigades on parade. Col. C. G. Gordon, Colonel Commandant R.M.L.I., was in command of the Infantry Brigade, which was comprised of the 1st Batt. Oxfordshire Light Infantry, Royal Marine Light Infantry, 4th Batt. Rifle Brigade, 4th Batt. Royal West Kent Regt. (Volunteers). Col. Smith-Rewse, Royal Engineers, commanded the Royal Engineer Brigade, consisting of the Service and Training Battalions and details. The Royal Engineers were stationed on the right of the line, and at the extreme left there were about fifty veterans, consisting principally of Crimean and Indian Mutiny men, in charge of Col. J. B. Ridout. Chairman of the Veterans’ Association. The troops were formed in line of quarter-columns, facing the flagstaff, with intervals of 30 paces

Between brigades and units, the bands being massed in the rear of the centre. Unfortunately the weather proved unfavourable, as several heavy showers fell, which made matters uncomfortable for the troops and also for the large concourse of spectators. At intervals, however, the sun shone forth with considerable power, and then the scene was a very picturesque one. On Lord Roberts taking up his position at the flagstaff, the troops gave a general salute.

The Commander-in-Chief then rode along the line, and remained for several minutes in conversation with the veterans. He specially picked out George Parr, a fine specimen of a veteran of 88 summers, who in reply to questions informed his Lordship that he left the Service no fewer than 58 years ago after being wounded in the New Zealand War. He also sailed in. the Erebus in one of the expeditions to the Arctic regions. Another veteran named Jardine, was one of the four who rallied the Guards at the battle of the Alma. Lord Roberts asked Col. Ridout to convey to the veterans the gratification he felt at meeting them.

His Lordship again took up his position at the saluting base, and the troops marched past in column, in line of quarter-columns, and in mass, the bands playing the various regimental marches as the movements were executed. The Royal Engineers were in very strong force, and the whole of the men presented a smart appearance, the dark green uniforms of the Rifle Brigade being in striking contrast to the red coats of their comrades. The march past was characterized by much steadiness, and subsequently drew forth warm commendation from the Commander-in-Chief. At the conclusion of the march past the troops again formed lines of quarter-columns on the original alignment, at thirty paces between brigades and fifteen paces between battalions. The officers and colours having taken their posts in review order, the command was given to slope arms, following which the troops advanced in review order until the general officer commanding held up his sword and the brigadiers gave the command “Halt”. The general salute was then given, the regimental colours being lowered. The in section was now over, but an interesting ceremony remained to be performed. The troops were formed into three sides of a square, and his Lordship presented several Distinguished Conduct and other medals to Royal Engineers and the Oxford Light Infantry. The troops afterwards returned to barracks, and the remainder of the day was observed as a holiday.

Before leaving the lines, Lord Roberts complimented Col. Newington on so many Volunteers turning out, and also on the smart appearance of the men.

The Commander-in-Chief stayed at the Sun Hotel on Monday night, and left for London on Tuesday morning, a salute being fired from Fort Amherst as he left.

Reproduced by permission of Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre.
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