The JFK Memorial

Brad Scott

On the south east corner of the village hall is a plaque commemorating the visit of the US president J.F. Kennedy to Forest Row in June 1963, less than four months before he was assassinated. He was the guest of the prime minister, Harold Macmillan, whose country house was at Birch Grove in Chelwood Gate. Kennedy's visit to the village was occasioned by the fact that Forest Row Catholic Church was the closest to Birch Grove.

Memorial plaque, Forest Row

The memorial plaque

The visit was noted in The Times the following day:

Except for the 300 policement, the American security men lurking behind every boulder, police dogs baring their teeth at all the entrances, helicopters hovering overhead and journalists jammed into every telephone box, this could have been any away-from-it-all weekend in the country....

For two all-too-fleeting moments, in ... Forest Row, Mr. Kennedy was seen today on his way to and from Mass by hundreds of villages lining the lanes that led to the Church of our Lady of the Forest. From before 7 a.m. there were people waiting, television cameras on the roof tops, security men under every bush....

[S]uddenly down the lane came two of the most enormous Cadillacs that anyone had ever seen. Car GG300, from "the nation's capital, District of Columbia" came first with the president, smiling and waving under a glass roof, followed by GG 308, full of enormous men with crew hair cuts.

The president went into church for the ticket-only service and sat, as is apparently his custom, in the centre of the congregation with a security man on either side, one in front and one behind....

The service lasted 40 minutes and then Father Charles Dolman escorted the president to his car. Just as though it looked as though the crowd had seen the last of Mr Kennedy, there came the best touch of the day.

The president suddenly jumped out of the car and walked briskly towards the cheering crowd, who were a little fed up with security by this time.

"Oh, my God, he's done it again", said a horrified bodyguard, leaping from his seat like a stricken rabbit. By now Mr. Kennedy was shaking hands with everyone in sight. It lasted only a minute, but it won everyone over....

The rest of the day was something of an anti-climax. A handful of nuclear disarmers stood and shouted at the gates of Birch Grove and two or three carloads of Empire Loyalists drove by periodically yelling "Hands off the Royal Navy".

1 July 1963

Ten months after Kennedy's death, Macmillan visited Forest Row to unveil the commemorative plaque.

Macmillan unveils the memorial plaque

Harold Macmillan unveiling the memorial plaque

PM Macmillan in front of Forest Row village hall

Harold Macmillan outside the village hall

Do you have any pictures or memories of either JFK's visit or the unveiling of the plaque? If so, please let us know.