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Sip up the Spitfire heritage in Kent

Combine insights into regimental derring-do with a lighter, liquid tribute to the great WW2 Spitfire.

Immerse yourself in the story of a famous local regiment at the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment Museum, housed within Maidstone Museum. Through the Great War 1914–1918, the Royal West Kent saw action in France, Flanders and Italy, and you can find out about their dramatic and harrowing exploits during the Siege of Kohima in WW2. Among the many treasures on view are four Victoria Crosses, the highest military decoration awarded for valour in the face of the enemy.

For a little light refreshment drop in to Shepherd Neame Brewery in the market town of Faversham, where Britain’s oldest brewer features ‘Spitfire’ among its award-winning tipples. The 4.5% abv premium Kentish ale was first brewed in 1990 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, in which the Spitfire played a crucial role, and to raise money for the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. Go behind the scenes at the brewery to learn a little of the ancient art and 21st-century techniques of brewing – and wet your whistle as a prelude to delving further into Spitfire heritage tomorrow.

By the way...

Keep a look out all across Kent for Shepherd Neame pubs, if you fancy another glass of Spitfire with a bite to eat. Meanwhile fans of flying history might make a small diversion to the Isle of Sheppey, the ‘Birthplace of British Aviation’, and the Memorial to British Aviation that recalls the early pioneer airmen and events that took place here. Blue Town Heritage Centre, in a former music hall that was bombed in WW1, highlights the social history of Sheppey, which also has strong maritime traditions.

En route between the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment Museum and Faversham, you could additionally pay a visit to Kent Life, near Maidstone, where you can step back in time to period buildings that include an Anderson Shelter in case of air raids and a WW2 cottage (notice the sticky tape on the windows to reduce shatter and the water-ration line on the bath tub). Operations for the secret Petroleum Warfare Department, established to develop flame-throwing weapons during WW2, were directed from Leeds Castle, also near Maidstone. As the Len valley is a natural fog trap at Leeds there were experiments to perfect FIDO (Fog Investigation Dispersal Operations). Later, the historic castle was used as a military hospital.

The 4th Lord Harris, living at Belmont House and Garden, near Faversham, may have been too old for active service in WW1, but he was County Commandant of the Kent Volunteers Corps and served on the Executive Committee for the Kent War Memorial, which was erected at Canterbury Cathedral. The 5th Lord Harris, a Captain in the Royal East Kent Mounted Rifles and an ADC in the 25th Division, was awarded an MC in WW1, and during WW2 he took many photographs of war preparations, people and damage on the home front. His wife worked for the Red Cross and with Land Girls on the estate. An R.E. company was stationed at Belmont in 1940, largely confined to buildings in the stable yard, while Lord and Lady Harris lived for much of the time in the old kitchen area instead of the main house.