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Tales of horror and heroism after the Great Explosion

By Faversham Times  |  Posted: March 30, 2012

  • HISTORY MAN: John Breeze

  • DEVASTATED: The explosion killed 120 people and left a crater 40 yards across and 20 feet deep. Windows were shattered on the far side of the Thames Estuary IIS20120323D-011_C

  • MOURNING DRESS: Sidney Lloyd's children Henry, Alfred Aylett (stepson), Sidney and Irene GIIS20120323D-010_C.JPG

  • ILL-FATED: Sidney Lloyd (far right, back row) with his TNT munitions colleagues months before the explosion GIIS20120323D-006_C.JPG

  • ILL-FATED: Sidney Lloyd with wife Mildred Aylett who lived on Westgate Road GIIS20120323D-007_C.JPG

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ON APRIL 2, 1916 a factory in Uplees, Faversham, became the site of the worst disaster in the history of the UK explosives industry.

A fire spread to 15 tons of TNT and 150 tons of ammonium nitrate, and 120 people died in the resulting explosion.

The blast shattered windows across the Thames Estuary in Southend and the tremor was felt in Norwich.

Ahead of the 96th anniversary of the Great Explosion next week, Claire McWethy met the Chart Mill Gunpowder Museum's curator, 78-year-old amateur historian John Breeze, to find out how a hobby researching its victims turned into a 15-year project chronicling thousands of lives.

Poring over ring-binders crammed with names, addresses and faded black and white photographs of the victims of the explosion, Mr Breeze said: "I've been interested in researching family history for a while and ever since I did my own I wanted to start on other people's.

"I originally started the project 15 years ago thinking looking into the histories of 120 people would be a nice little project but it quickly expanded to cover about 3,500 people affected by the blast."

John started his research with little more than a newspaper report from 1917, which published the names and ages of the victims of the explosion.

The disaster happened when a fire in the Explosives Loading Company's chimney spread to fifteen tons of TNT and 150 tons of ammonium nitrate.

Among the victims was Sidney Lloyd, who lived in Westgate Road. He was just 26 years old when he died in the explosion, leaving behind four children.

John recalled that an ancestor came to him a few years ago. He said: "I was approached to help someone find a family member by the name Lloyd who might have been killed in the great explosion.

"There were two Lloyds but when I read out Sidney's address they immediately knew it was him. We both welled up and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

"The family were able to give us photographs of Sidney a few months before he was killed and pictures of his children in mourning gowns after the explosion. It just makes it all real."

Mr Breeze's research also extends to the heroic efforts of the rescuers and firefighters.

Numerous medals were awarded for bravery in the aftermath of the explosion, including five OBEs.

Mr Breeze added: "I just hope that people are interested enough to come along to the commemoration to find out more about all the remarkable stories of those that were involved."

The Faversham Society will be sharing photos, family histories and tales about the heroes and victims of the explosion at the Memorial in Love Lane Cemetery between 11am and 3pm on Monday.

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