'Roro' (Roll-on Roll-off) Ferry
THE 1ST WORLD WAR
During the First World War 1914/18 a secret "Q" port by the banks of the River Stour was the starting point of a ferry service for troops and munitions to France and Flanders. Camps were occupied by thousands of soldiers who were taken by day or by night across the North Sea and the Channel to Dunkirk and Calais.
The chosen spot for the hidden port was under the Roman fortress of Richborough; and a railway was constructed from the main line which passes under the Saxon walls to the banks of the Stour. The river mouth was dredged; and a new port of embarkation was created. The camp was constructed in the marshlands on both sides of the river.
Most of the work undertaken by the Royal Engineers and much of the equipment and arms for the Ypres Salient were sent across from Richborough Port, using sea going barges and the very first roll-on roll-off ferries.
BETWEEN THE WARS
After the end of the war the port silted up, the Quay was deserted, and the mile of camps lay derelict. Some years later, the area was sold by the Government to a combined industrial enterprise of Dorman Long, one of the biggest steel firms in the Kingdom, and Pearsons, a big contracting firm who had carried out major constructions in many parts of the world.
They made plans for the development of light industries on a large scale, using the camp, the railway, the river water, and the Kent coal for power but the plan did not get off the ground.
For nearly twenty years the Richborough Camp was not used until the end of the year 1938, when Sandwich received more than 5000 Jewish and political refugees from from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, driven out by Nazi persecution.
THE 2ND WORLD WAR
At the end of August, 1939, Britain was at war with Germany and a large majority of the men in the camp volunteered and eventually were accepted for service in and attached to the British forces.
A plaque was placed on the wall of the Barbican, in 1971. to commemorate the Richborough Transit Camp, where five thousand people found refuge from Nazi persecution
In their place battalions of English infantry engaged in home defence were quartered in the Richborough Camp.
In 1942 Richborough Camp became a post of the Marines, named H.M.S. Robertson: and the former Q port was again a hive of industry. Part of the Mulberry harbour to be towed to the Normandy coast, for "D Day" attack on the German wall, was built there by the Royal Engineers.
The secret of the factory was well kept; high walls shut off the workshops from the roads, and buses travelling along that stretch of road were blacked out until "D" Day. when the cumbersome block of a breakwater was taken out to sea.
After World War 2 was over, the refugee camp and the "Q" port, were again turned over to light industry but this time with rather more success. Part of one of the companies (was Pfizer Ltd. now Discovery Park) occupies the 1st World War site of the Royal Engineers headquarters.
In 2003, it was proposed by the late Derek Lord, a local journalist and ex Royal engineer, that the Royal Engineers be offered the Keys to the town of Sandwich and a plaque to commemorate their time at the port be placed at the site of their old headquarters.
A ceremony was held on 3rd April 2004 with the band of the Royal Engineers marching through Sandwich in full dress uniform.
On the Sunday morning a chapel recognizing the roles of the Royal Engineers, Sandwich and Ypres was dedicated in the croft at St. Peter's Church.
Unfortunately not on BBC iPlayer anymore but you can buy a Great British Railway Journeys series 2 DVD from the BBC shop which includes Michael Portillo's trip to Richborough Port.
Royal Engineers in Sandwich 2004
Receiving the Key to Sandwich
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