Isle of Sheppey in the Great War

Welcome to the area page for the Isle of Sheppey. Explore your area map to discover people who lived in your area during the First World War.

Although the Isle of Sheppey was quite sparsely populated, it played a significant role since all three armed forces had activities there during the First World War. This had an impact on the civilian population as the island was one of two prescribed military zones in coastal Kent during the First World War (the other being Dover): there were restrictions on access, and the law required civilians to show passes.

The dockyard at Sheerness had a long history and had initially been developed due to the fact that it provided deep water anchorage. Its construction included dry dock facilities for repairing and refitting ships. One of the naval events of the First World War which had a considerable impact on the local dockyard workers was the explosion of HMS Princess Irene on the 27th May 1915. The ship completely disintegrated in this explosion, killing the entire crew and also many dockyard workers who were aboard. 78 of the dockyard workers who died were from Sheerness.

The island was also an important base for aviation during the First World War, with pilot training taking place at Eastchurch, and Leysdown airfield being the base for Short Brothers for the  manufacture and testing of aircraft.

During the War considerable defence works were built due to the importance of the military activities on the island and also to the strategic importance of the island with its proximity to the River Medway and London. These defence works were part of a larger project which stretched as far as the Medway towns.

Please add information to your town page by clicking Upload Your Story. Tell those important stories about your relatives – share their experiences to help build a picture of your community during this period. Don’t forget to check out your local clubs and societies, and whilst you are exploring our site take a look at the other towns around the coast to discover more about Kent’s rich history during the First World War.

1. Minster, Sheppey

Minster, Sheppey

2. A Postcard about Sheerness

This postcard also shows Sheerness along the Esplanade. The card was sent 17th July 1916 but again there is no barbed wire along the beach so the picture is assumed to be from earlier.



277IOS - Sheerness, better than Dover (Front & Back)

The transcribed text reads:


‘Dear Dolly, I like this place very much, it is a lot better than Dover. With love From Charles’



‘Miss Andrews, 258 Seven Sisters Rd, Finsbury Park, London’



Courtesy of D Price


3. The Sands Sheerness on the Sea

This postcard shows The Sands at Sheerness On the Sea. The card was sent 15th July 1915



275IOS - Sheerness On the Sea (Front & Back)

The transcribed text reads:



‘Dear Glad. I thought you would like a card from here. I’ve been here a fortnight now + it looks as though I shall be here for some time. I like being here alright but it’s such a long way from Jen + all of you in London. Remember me to all I hope Aunt Marion is much better. Yours ever Reg.’



‘Miss Gladys Nolan, 5 Jravers Rd, Holloway, London N’



Courtesy of D Price


4. The Aers Family Mad Dog Postcard

'This was the last postcard home from my Great Grandfather circa 1914/15 before he was killed on HMS India off Norway.'



302IOS - William Aers Mad Dog (Postcard) (Front & Back)

The transcribed text reads:



'Sunday - Dear Will [my grandfather & his son] I am pleased to know you have joined the scouts. I hope you will get on well in them. Tell Fred [my grandfather's brother & his other son] that I won't forget him on his birthday. I will do the best I can for him. I will be anxious to get a reply from Mum to my last letter. Love you all from Dad xxxx'



'The letter is addressed to W-m [William] Aers, C.G. [Coastguard] Station, Rye Harbour, Sussex. The stamp is showing George V circa 1914/15.'



'I have found out some information on HMS India though and have discovered that some of her log book entries have been scanned online. It clearly shows on her log books that she was operating from Sheerness on the 29th April. Unfortunately there's no date on my Great Grandfather's post card, but it is reasonable to presume that my Grandfather was aboard her at this time as according to the log book she later operated from Glasgow and was sunk a few months later around the 8th August, 1915. When my Great Grandfather died, My grandfather was sent to the Royal Naval Hospital at Greenwich as a Naval orphan.'(See Below)



325IOS - William's Gradfather

Image and text courtesy of William Aers


5. Harold Herbert Back

320IOS - Harold Herbert Back

321IOS - Harold Herbert Back serving with The Lancashire Fusiliers between 1886-1904 (2)

War Memorial at Sheerness

Images and information Courtesy of the Dymchurch and District Heritage Group

6. Gotha Air Raid

Gotha Air Raid

On the 5th of June 1917 a German Gotha plane was aiming for the Dockyard at Sheerness and missed. It did leave several shrapnel marks in the historic Dockyard wall and blew up the site of the Criterion Hotel and Criterion Music Hall. The Music Hall has been restored by volunteers from the Blue Town Heritage Centre and is now holding seasons of Music Hall



Part of the Blue Town Heritage Centre collection

7. James McCudden

James McCudden was one of the most decorate aviators in the First World War. He received the Victoria Cross. His family lived in Sheerness and he and his brothers lost their lives as some of the first aviators to go to war. There is a small commemorative plaque in the Catholic Church in Sheerness.



83IOS - James McCudden

Image and information courtesy of the Sheerness Heritage Centre Website & Blue Town Heritage Collection

8. Barbed Wire Island

82IOS - Barbed Wire Island

The Isle of Sheppey lies in the mouth of the River Thames opposite Southend. It has stood guard as a defence for the Dockyard at Chatham and the city of London since the 1800’s. The Royal Naval Dockyard was the centre of activity for the preparation of ships for battle. The Royal Naval air station was at Eastchurch and all the aviation activities for the country were organised from Sheerness Dockyard by Captain Scarlett. There was also a military barracks at Blue Town. Internal passports were issued because this was an area of high security.

An exhibit from the Blue Town Heritage Centre

9. Sheerness Esplanade

This postcard was sent 1st December 1917 but it is not known when the image was taken however there is no barbed wire on the beach so it is probably 1914. It is interesting that there was a shortage of postcards as evidenced by the reference to visiting 5 shops. The x on the photo marks the beach shelter where the recipient of the card sat with “S”.



56IOS - Sheerness Esplanade (Front & Back of Postcard)

The transcribed text reads:



‘Dearest, Glad you’ve started but couldn’t get the PC. you wanted just been to five shops. Show this to P & tell him you sat there with J. Fancy snow, tell your friends we haven’t even seen a drop of rain for weeks, and despite the fact that it is December 1st there’s a blue sky over the head of your own, Kiddie Lines’



‘Miss K Cauley, ‘Claverley’, Victoria Road, Louth’



Courtesy of D Price

10. Sheerness Dockyard from the Pier

This postcard was sent 4th Oct 1919 but it is not known what date it was produced. This an interesting view of the dockyard with possibly a Naval Vessel behind the pier.



55IOS - Sheerness Docks from the Pier (Front & Back of Postcard)

The transcribed text reads:



‘My Own Jessie, I arrived at Sheerness all serene about 10:30 P.M yesterday. We are just off to southend Via London. I had to travel right thro’ London yesterday, we have been, when we finish the journey today, since Tuesday about 436 miles. I will have a lot to write about tomorrow. Excuse card dear love Ted.’



‘Miss J.Holton, ‘Field View’, Edge End Rd, Broadstairs, Kent’



Courtesy of D Price