Gravesend Sapper Out and About in Gravesend and Rochester – December 2016

This Gravesend Sapper was out and about on Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th December 2016 with his Finnish family who had flown over for a weekend party.  (I am alright thank you).  What a weekend.  Between partying we took time to show the family around the local area and made a few stops.  We came across Gravesham’s First Citizen, Madam Mayor,  Councillor Greta Goatley, who always has a smile for us.  We also met various people, one who’s son is a serving sapper, while visiting local events and sites.  We saw something of the local sapper heritage.

Renovated Market Re-Opens in Gravesend

The first stop on Saturday 3rd was the newly re-developed Gravesend Market where we found the Madam Mayor re-opening the hall.  I was really pleased she recognised me from the many events and ceremonies the Gravesend branch of the REA took part in this year.  The worshipful the mayor of Gravesham and the Mayoress Victoria Bance, (left) kindly posed with my sister Helen, centre, niece Susan and her husband Mika for this snap, which made our day.

Light Vessel Number 21 Moored at the Town Pier Pontoon

The second stop of the day was on the waterfront.  I was curious about the presence of LV21, a big red boat moored on the town pier.

I last saw her moored at Gillingham last year.  Markko, my nephew and me approached the starboard hatchway to find the Skipper, Gary Weston, filming and a disapointing closed sign across the gangway.  This ex light vessel is a floating museum dedicated to the Trinity House lightships services.  I asked Gary if it was really closed and could we have a look?  When I explained I was local but my nephew was from Finland he warmed to the idea, and invited us aboard to meet his Finnish wife, and ships Captain, Paivi Seppalla.  They both made us very welcome and while Paivi and Markko were talking, I got to know Gary and Bob a little.  Bob is a volunteer at the museum whose son just happens to be a serving Sapper Staff Sergeant with six tours of Afganistan under his belt. We had a good chat about mess life, reminisced about the summer and winter balls at Brompton Barracks in Chatham, and life as a senior non commissioned officer in the RE and what it was like to re-settle after army service.

Gary told us the idea behind LV21 which is a floating media centre, with a radio studio and an amateur radio station on board and where they teach young people how to interview and prepare radio broadcasts. Gary outlined the full facilities of the vessel and the plan to moor up in Gravesend as an Arts Centre.  Wow.  We look forward to seeing this as we thought the plan would bring an outstanding facility to the town.  By the time we left the ship, the whole family had the opportunity to say hello and I gave a five minute radio interview to Leon and Zoe who were running a series of interviews with local people set to broadcast on 17th and 18th December.  I related how I came to be in Gravesend with my Finnish Family after 62 Years of not knowing they existed.  Listen here:

Rochester Cathedral

Our third visit was to
the annual Dickens Festival and Sweeps parade at Rochester. This was a fantastic parade hosted by the Lions Club and featuring the Rochester City Pipe Band and many Dickens Enactments.  If you haven’t been, Go.

Whats that got to do with the sappers?   Well, we also visited the cathedral that day, and I was able to see the Stained Glass Window and the rolls of honour dedicated to the Royal Engineers, who gave their lives fighting during the Boer and Zulu wars and the Afghan Campaigns in the 19th Century.

Lest we Forget.

The whole weekend was a great pre-curser to Christmas!

Stuart Dixon