Dunkirk, Kent

We refer to the evacuation of British troops from French beaches during World War 2 as Dunkirk, although the French town is named Dunkerque.

Between Dover and London, there was a Roman road, sometimes called Watling Street. In between Faversham and Canterbury, is the village of Dunkirk. According to historian Edward Hasted’s ‘The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent’ (1800) the whole area had been part of the ancient Royal forest of Blean.

In 2011, it had a population of 1,187 people. Rumour has it that the village was named after a house, lived in by a Flemish man.

The former parish church, Christ Church, Dunkirk, isn’t fully visible from the road, but looks old, being built largely of flints. It is actually built with ancient flints, taken from Canterbury’s city walls, but these were the gift of the Archbishop of Canterbury during the Victorian era.

Just north of Dunkirk, what is said to be the last uprising on British soil, took place at Bossenden Wood. In 1832, a man calling himself Sir William Courtenay, stood in the general election. He was unsuccessful but gained local support. After perjuring himself defending smugglers, he was sentenced to transportation. He was identified by a Cornish woman, Catherine Tom, as being her husband, a maltster named John Nichols Tom. His wife affirmed that her husband had been treated in Cornwall for insanity. Tom aka Courtenay was sent to Barming Heath Asylum (later renamed Oakwood Hospital and now converted into flats).

Upon his release in 1837, Tom stayed in Kent and continued his activism against the 1834 Poor Law, in Boughton under Blean, Hernhill and the ‘Ville of Dunkirk’. The local labourers, smallholders and tradespeople liked Courtney’s enticing views of a better life.

On 29 May 1838, Oak Apple Day, Courtenay and his followers set off around the countryside with a flag and a loaf of bread on a stick, in peaceful protest. Landowners weren’t happy however. On 31 May 1838 the local magistrate ordered a warrant for Courtenay’s arrest. A parish constable, his brother and an assistant, went to Bossenden Farm to arrest Courtenay and he shot the constable.

Courtenay and his men had three pistols and some sticks between them. Nevertheless, they fought a short battle, against officers and men from the 45th Foot, brought in from Canterbury. Eleven men were killed or fatally wounded, including Courtenay. Courtenay had succeeded in shooting  Lieutenant Henry Boswell Bennett, who was buried with full military honours, on 02 June 1838, at Canterbury Cathedral.

Inquests were held at The White Horse, Boughton under Blean Courtenay was buried under his birth name, along with six of his followers, in the churchyard at Hernhill.

Around thirty of Courtenay’s followers were rounded up. Eventually, ten stood trial for murder. Lord Denman sentenced them to death, but immediately reprieved them.  Two were transported to Australia for Life and one for ten years. The others got a year in prison, locally.

After the Courtenay uprising, the Archbishop of Canterbury gifted Dunkirk with the flints, with which to build a church.

In 1940 the Luftwaffe bombed the Chain Home radar at Dunkirk, on several occasions.