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Home   Gravesend   News   Article

Undiscovered First World War posters give an insight into when anarchy descended during Gravesend Riots

23 June 2014
by Alex Matthews

A history enthusiast has unearthed a book of posters that gives a compelling insight into a time of anarchy and rioting on the streets of Gravesend in the First World War.

James Elford, 39, could not believe his luck when he came across a book of First World War posters in Gravesend Libary.

Mr Elford said that he had been visiting the library for years but had never seen them.

One of Mr Elford's discoveries tells of a less than impressive moment in Gravesend's history.

One of James Elford's discoveries tells of a less than impressive moment in Gravesend's history

The posters offer a rare glimpse into life in the town during the war years - with one shining a light on an incident that we can be less than proud of.

Catching the eye, it reads in bold letters “No enemy aliens in Gravesend” and was issued after a moment of madness in the area.

Anti German feeling had reached fever pitch causing an explosion of rage in the town, which resulted in the ‘Gravesend Riots’ on May 13, 1915.

The disorder took place after news had spread that the RMS Lusitania passenger liner had been sunk by a German U-Boat.

An American steamer, the Lusitania had set sail from New York for Liverpool, but was sunk off the coast of Ireland in May 7 1915, with 1,198 losing their lives.

In port towns across Britain people rioted, attacking anything and anyone they thought was connected to Germany, and Gravesend was no different.

History enthusiast James Elford had been visiting Gravesend Library for years

History enthusiast James Elford had been visiting Gravesend Library for years

Hundreds of people ran amok throughout the town, smashing and grabbing whatever they could as well as assaulting people they thought to be German sympathisers.

Mr Elford explained that he has since found court records detailing the aftermath of the riots, with the courts tied up in bringing those responsible for looting and assault to justice for seven months afterwards.

The punishments given out varied, with some given two months hard labour for their indiscretions.

The history enthusiast and artist said that he thinks the motives of the mob were more to do with greed and opportunism than an expression of grief.

He said: “It was people making an excuse to get thieving.

“For that one day Gravesend descended into absolute anarchy, but it shows how civilised our Edwardian grandparents were.”

To see more of the posters discovered by Mr Elford and to learn more about their discovery, read this week’s Gravesend Messenger.

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