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Fire memorial for park

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A relative of a 12-year-old boy killed during the Fireman’s Wedding disaster has spoken of her delight at securing permission for a memorial.
Fifteen adults and children died as a result of the tragedy in Gillingham Park in July 1929 when a demonstration, in which a makeshift four-storey house was set alight, got out of control.
The Fireman’s Wedding refers to the tradition in which two firemen would dress as bride and groom and stage the fire-fighting demonstration based on a mock wedding party.

Gillingham Park memorial
Gillingham Park memorial

Lori Oschefski , 50, from Canada, made the 3,600-mile pilgrimage in October last year to visit the graves of those killed, including her cousin, Royal Navy Cadet Eric Cheesman .
Miss Oschefski also campaigned for a memorial to be built honouring the lives lost. Medway Council and the Friends of Gillingham Park have now approved plans and the memorial could be installed as early as March.
Speaking from Canada, she said: “I am extremely happy with the new memorial design. It is a very fitting tribute to the lives that were lost that day. “Not only listing the names and ages of those who died but also including a detailed account of the tragedy will ensure that these lives and this tragedy will always be remembered.”

Gillingham Park memorial
Gillingham Park memorial

Following Miss Oschefski’s efforts, the council agreed to clean and renovate the victims’ graves in Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham, and she added: “I have to commend Medway Council for their excellent work in the renovation of the graves and this outstanding memorial design.
“ I’m looking forward to returning to England this year to see this new memorial in place.”
The memorial, in the park, will feature a two-dimensional image of a fireman and child standing back-to-back either side of the list of names.
It has been designed by Arc Creative Design Ltd of Folkestone and is expected to cost in the region of £8,000, paid for through a park improvement budget.

Eric Cheesman
Eric Cheesman

Miss Oschefski discovered Eric’s fate as she researched her family’s history
He was the only son of Edward Cheesman and Elizabeth Florence Jackson, of Watling Avenue, Chatham. His sister, Molly, was watching the tragedy as it unfolded and it is believed her screams of “Eric’s burning, Eric’s burning” were the first to raise the alarm.
The plan was to set light to the house after those inside had been “saved” by firefighters. But the blaze started too early and before a valve was turned to set water running.
To read the full story behind the tragedy, go to www.firemanswedding.com

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