The Friendly Army - Sculpture project at East Kent Railway

WWI Commemorative Project
by Gabor Stark, Senior Lecturer & Course Leader MA Urban Design

The DMAG Dover Museums and Arts Group project Joined Up has brought together museums, heritage and the arts in the Dover District. Artists were allocated to each of the ten participating organisations, where they researched the site-specific connections to World War I and have created artworks that interpret each collection in a new way. Gabor Stark is the artist chosen to work with the East Kent Railway heritage line. The industrial railway, originally built to serve the Kent coalfield, today is run entirely by volunteers. Visitors can ride restored heritage trains between the villages of Shepherdswell and Eythorne.

The Friendly Army consists of six sited sculptures that trace the historical connections of the site to the First World War and mark the thresholds and crossings between the remaining line and its surrounding landscape. All materials were found on site and the sculptures have been built together with the EKR volunteers. The sculptural pioneers guard and survey the tracks, visually re-establishing the former links with the East Kent collieries and guiding visitors and passers-by along a sequence of stations and situations.

The vertical form of Tower is derived from the chimneys and headgear structures of the collieries that were served by the East Kent Railway line. During World War I miners were employed to tunnel and plant explosives beneath enemy lines. The sculpture is placed next to the public footpath in Eythorne, linking to the Miners Heritage Trail and leading walkers along the remains of the former collieries and mining villages of the Kent Coalfield

The structure translates the EKR crossing signs along the tracks into three-dimensional elements. Placed beside Shepherdswell Road at the first farmers crossing after the Golgotha Tunnel, the sculpture alludes to wayside and conciliation crosses and pays tribute to the war memorials in Shepherdswell, Eythorne and other villages in East Kent.

The sculpture references the acoustic location devices that preceded radar technology. Sound location was used from mid-WWI to the early years of WWII for the passive detection of enemy aircraft by picking up the noise of the engines. A few sound mirrors can still be found along the Kent coast. The two metal tubes of Receiver are EKR water pipes dating from the 1910s. They originally connected the water well to the storage tank in The Knees woods at Shepherdswell, feeding the water towers along the tracks. The pipes now act as listening devices channelling the ambient soundscape at Eythorne Station.

The winged sculpture takes its inspiration from the German airplanes that flew via Shepherdswell to Dover during the last Moonlight Raid on England on the night of the 19th to the 20th of May 1918. Pegasus is placed on the surviving brick abutment of Wigmore Lane Bridge, which used to continue to Tilmanstone Colliery. The statue marks the northern end of the remaining East Kent Railway line.

The sculpture is inspired by the war horses that were transported on the East Kent Railway line to and from the Hammill (Woodnesborough) Colliery during World War I. Shortly after the outbreak of the war the Hammill site was taken over by a cavalry remount unit and horses were stabled in the colliery buildings before being deployed to the front. In total, more than one million British horses were sent overseas and just over 60,000 returned. Dragoon also alludes to the heraldic dragon of The Buffs Royal East Kent Regiment. Many of the fallen commemorated on the war memorials in the Dover District served with The Buffs in the First World War.

Owing to the strategic importance of the East Kent Railway, which used to connect Richborough Port with the London-Dover main line, the army had a presence on the site in both, the First and Second World War. Mounted at the farmers crossing in Eythorne, Organ recalls the muzzles of the Howitzer railway guns that were stationed at the sidings at Eythorne and Shepherdswell in WWII.

Further Links

Gabor Stark's Profile