CWG: Lance Corporal William Larkin

Lance Corporal William Larkin

William Larkin was born in 1863, the eldest son of Alfred and Frances Larkin from Cranbrook in Kent.

He disappears off the radar for a few censuses – there are too many variations on his surname to identify exactly where he was on the 1881 and 1891 documents.

From later documents, however, we can identify that he married Eliza in around 1886; the couple had no children. By the 1901 censes the couple were living to the north of Maidstone; ten years later, they were running the Fox & Goose pub in Weavering, Kent.

Private Larkin’s military service is also lacking in documentation, but some information can be pieced together.

Originally enlisting in the Royal West Kent Regiment, he (was) transferred over to the Royal Defence Corps, and served on home soil.

On Sunday 2nd April 1916, Lance Corporal Larkin was on guard at a gunpowder factory in Faversham, Kent. As the Ministry of Munitions reported at the time:

During the weekend a serious fire broke out in a powder factory in Kent, which led to a series of explosions in the works.

The fire, which was purely accidental, was discovered at midday and the last of the explosions took place shortly after two in the afternoon.

The approximate number of casualties is 200.

Thanet Advertiser: Saturday 8th April 1916.

William was not killed during the incident, but Boxley Parish Council (who covered the Weavering area) carried out research on the names on the village war memorial. According to that research, William “developed cancer after the ‘Faversham Powder Works’ explosion”. He died two months later, on 8th July 1916. He was 53 years of age.

Lance Corporal William Larkin lies at rest in the graveyard of St Mary & All Saints Church in Boxley, Kent.

The 1916 explosion at Faversham was the worst in the history of the British explosives industry.

At 14:20 on Sunday 2 April 1916, a huge explosion ripped through the gunpowder mill at Uplees, near Faversham, when a store of 200 tons of trinitrotoluene (TNT) was detonated following some empty sacks catching fire. The TNT and ammonium nitrate (used to manufacture amatol) had exploded.

The weather might have contributed to the start of the fire. The previous month had been wet but had ended with a short dry spell so that by that weekend the weather was “glorious”, providing perfect conditions for heat-generated combustion.

Although not the first such disaster at Faversham’s historic munitions works, the April 1916 blast is recorded as “the worst ever in the history of the UK explosives industry”, and yet the full picture is still somewhat confused.

The reason for the fire is uncertain. And considering the quantity of explosive chemicals stored at the works – with one report indicating that a further 3,000 tons remained in nearby sheds unaffected – it is remarkable, and a tribute to those who struggled against the fire, that so much of the nation’s munitions were prevented from contributing further to the catastrophe.

(Information about the explosion drawn from Wikipedia.)

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