The re-discovery in 2002 of GKE 68, built in 1939 and the sole surviving "brahn bus", set off a remarkable wave of nostalgia. These buses had been the lifeline for the Medway towns, and Chatham Dockyard's "mateys" in particular, through war and peace. They were part of the local fabric, familiar and re-assuring signs of normality, carrying the unique light green and ginger-brown livery of the Chatham & District Traction Company.
Saturday 1st October 2005 was, to the day, the 50th anniversary of the absorption of Chatham Traction into its parent Maidstone & District (and the 75th of its first day of operation as tram replacement). In November 2004 Roger Davies, Norman Kemp, Mike Hodges, Roland Graves and Richard Bourne met at the Stile Bridge Inn in deepest Kent to consider the viability of a suitable commemorative event. Would it attract enough interest? Would anyone remember Chatham Traction? Could we stage something worthwhile? From soundings in various quarters the consensus was a "Yes", and actions were put in hand to organise "Chatham Traction 50/75".
This commemorative event, held at the Historic Dockyard Chatham, drew an encouraging response from enthusiasts, former employees and the public in general. Treasured items appeared, stories were told, and there was clearly a basis for something more. A subsequent canvass of support during 2006 and a key meeting with early supporters on 28th December of that year led to the formal creation of Friends of Chatham Traction in March 2007. The Friends' principal aim from the outset was to restore the bus for use in the promotion of local history and heritage awareness in Medway.
In October 2009 the Friends became a registered charity. As the organisation matured and the prospects for a self-sustaining Medway Heritage Bus operation began to take shape, a move was sought towards becoming a Charitable Incorporated Organisation. This came to fruition in August 2017, bringing the ability to conduct business in our own name with limited liability. Details can be found on the Charities Commission website - search for the new CIO number 1174323.
- Collecting personal memories and experiences of Chatham Traction and related contemporary events.
- Identifying, and collecting where appropriate, relics, memorabilia, photographs, film and ephemera relating to Chatham Traction, its predecessors the trams, and its immediate successors.
- Bringing GKE 68 back into an operable state sufficient to allow it to be used to fulfil the Friends’ objectives by co-ordinating various repair, restoration or renewal activities.
- Researching and recording constructional features and methods used for the bus, and identifying alternatives where original materials or methods are no longer practical.
- Seeking funding from grant-awarding bodies or local sponsors.
In due course, activities are hoped to include:
- Using the bus as mobile classroom or exhibition.
- Providing a theme for local history education at all levels
- Forming a centrepiece for any heritage-related events around Medway and elsewhere.
- The Friends endeavour to have a presence at events within and around Medway that contain a transport or local history element. Attendance is aimed at increasing awareness of the project, gaining support and raising funds.
Assistance is welcome in any of these areas, especially where relevant skills and experience are available. Use contacts link.