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All over England in August 1914 queues of young men lined up to enlist. Kensington was no exception, so much so that the Mayor, William Davidson, offered to raise and equip an extra battalion. They became part of the 22nd Royal Fusiliers better known as the ‘Kensington's’. By November 1915 this mainly citizens’ army was sent to France. The Fighting 22nd were involved in every major battle, and the casualties were appalling. Colonel Barnett Barker, Commander of the battalion, wrote to Davidson after the battle of Oppy Wood, “The regiment doesn’t now exist …only 40 men returned with me. They fought and died as heroes. This murder of heroes is appalling”. In March 1918 General Barker was killed in action at Gueudencourt. William Davidson was elected Mayor for the fifth time and knighted for his war services, later becoming MP for Kensington South Division.
During WWII civilians suffered great hardship and many casualties with some 800 deaths and 40,000 injuries. A huge army of civilian volunteers was raised, including Auxiliary Fire Service, Red Cross, Air Raid Wardens and Rescue Services. During the Blitz much damage was caused by explosive and incendiary bombs, especially along Chelsea’s riverside. But worse was to come in 1944 with the arrival of the V2 rockets, or flying bombs. Among the buildings either destroyed or seriously damaged, usually with terrible loss of life, were Chelsea Old Church, Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer, Our Lady of Victories, St Mary Abbots, St Stephens and St Mary Abbots hospitals, Sloane Square station, World’s End, the Royal Hospital and Holland House.
The Mayor of Kensington reviewing the troops before their departure for the war front
Members of the Warden's Post 23 displaying their rescue services equipment