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Town's gift to devastated French village following the Great War

By Alan Smith

Today's centenary of the Great War has inspired a lot of research into the world’s worst conflict.

Sometimes that research has thrown up something unexpected.

Maidstone Borough Councillor Brian Mortimer was looking into his own family history – his grandfather, Sgt William Mortimer, was one of the Old Contemptibles, serving with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

The water tower is still in existence
The water tower is still in existence

While delighted to discover that his grandad was the winner of the Military Medal and mentioned in the regiment’s history, it was another discovery that intrigued the former Mayor of Maidstone.

He found that following the war there was a widespread movement to help the communities in northern France that had been devastated by the fighting.

An organisation called the British League of Help was established with the aim of encouraging British towns and cities to adopt a French village.

Some 80 British towns agreed - usually adopting a French village where their local soldiers had fought.

Maidstone was among them.

It adopted Montauban, where the Royal West Kents had been in action in September 1916.

The inscription on the tower
The inscription on the tower

Donations were sought and funds raised through a flag day, school collections and a sale or war paintings by Maidstone artist Frank Hyde.

When they were ready, the Mayor of Maidstone, Frederick Edwin Wallis, conversed with his French counterpart to see what was needed.

The French ‘maire’ wrote to say: “The broiling heat we have to bear just now has turned our country into a furnace.

“As an effect of the heat, powder bursts into flames and sets fire to dry grass, causing concealed shells and grenades to explode.

“The drought is disastrous. No corn has grown. No potatoes. The scarcity of drinking water is cruelly felt.

“We have just one well, worked by hand, taking water from a depth of 250ft.”

So Maidstone built Montauban a water tower.

Sgt William Mortimer receiving instructions
Sgt William Mortimer receiving instructions

The water was lifted by a wind-powered pump on top of the tower and stored in the tower to give a constant supply.

Cllr Mortimer contacted the current Maire of Montauban and discovered the water tower is still in existence today, though no longer in use.

The village still remembers the help given them by their “marraine Anglaise” (English godmother).

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