Gillingham in the Great War

Welcome to the town page for Gillingham. Explore your town map to discover people who lived in your town during the First World War.

Gillingham has historically been important in a naval context. Although the Dockyard is known as the Chatham Dockyard, due to the proximity of Gillingham to Chatham a large proportion of the site falls within the boundaries of Gillingham. However, the military presence in Gillingham was not confined to the Navy: it also included the Kent Fortress (Royal Engineers) Submarine Mining School, which had its base in Gillingham prior to the First World War, and the Brompton Barracks, built within the Brompton Lines to defend Chatham Dockyards. Fort Darland, completed in 1900 as part of the defensive network of Chatham Dockyard, became home to the 1st Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment in 1914 until the end of the war.

The Medway Maritime Hospital in the town was originally opened in 1905 as a Royal Naval Hospital, replacing the Melville Hospital (Naval) to cater for the increasing numbers of Naval personnel in the area. Personnel were treated there throughout the First World War, and the Admiralty reserved a part of the Woodlands Cemetery to serve the Hospital. It is the final resting place of servicemen who died in the first night air raid on Gillingham and Chatham in September 1917. This section of the cemetery also holds the graves of those who died after the explosion of HMS Bulwark off Sheerness in November 1914, those of HMS Princess Irene which exploded – also off Sheerness – in May 1915, and those of HMS Glatton which exploded in Dover Harbour in September 1918.

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. The Royal Naval Barracks

This postcard was written in 1910 but shows what the Naval Barracks at Chatham/Gillingham would have looked like. The Barracks were positioned on the Great Lines between Chatham and Gillingham so was often referred to under both towns.

314GIL - Naval Barracks (Front & Back)

The Transcribed text reads:

‘Many happy returns of the day, Stuart.’

‘Mr W Bean, 5 St Catherines, Place, Dover’

For more pictures of the Barracks see The Royal Naval Barracks Chatham

Courtesy of D Price

2. St Chretienne Convent School

This postcard shows a picture of St Chretienne Convent School in Gillingham. There is no date on this postcard, but this is what the school would have looked like during the Great War Era.

313GIL - St Chretienne Convent School. Gillingham

Courtesy of D Price

3. The Royal Engineers Band

This postcard shows the Royal Engineers Band in Gillingham.

311GIL - R.E. Band

The date of this postcard is unknown as no message was ever written upon it, but we believe the picture was around the Great War Era.

Courtesy of D Price

4. 2 Postcards of Gillingham Park

A postcard showing Gillingham Park from the entrance. The card was sent about a month after War broke out.

316GIL - Gillingham Park From Entrance (Fornt & Back)

The Postcard simply reads:

‘From Maureen, Sept 15 1914’,

The Postcard below also shows a picture of Gillingham Park but was sent 30th August 1917.

312GIL - Gillingham Park (Front & Back)

Unfortunately we have been unable to transcribe the text fully but the following is what we could make out:

‘Wednesday Dear Mrs L very pleased to tell you have had a visit from one of the G ship mates they are in Port quite safe having the usual... G. ... ... .... I hope you have received ... safely. I did not ... ... station ... .... Yours S.G. ....

Hope you will have a nice time with your cousin .... Thank you for your P.C. B and A were out when Tubby came.’

‘Miss .... 50 Woodstock Walk, Bradford Park, W. 4’

Courtesy of D Price

5. The Royal Naval Hospital

This picture shows The Royal Naval Hospital in Gillingham which is now the Medway Maritime Hospital.

315GIL - Royal Naval Hospital (Front & Back)

The transcribed text reads:

‘Dear Aunt P. B arrived home on Monday. So if it is fine on Wednesday we will walk down in the afternoon. I hope you have got over the head ache and hope Granny and Grandfather are both well. What nasty weather we are having love from us all Do Fridd.’

‘Miss P Fridd, Boughton ...., South Street, Nr Faversham, Kent.’

Courtesy of D Price

6. St Mary Magdalene Church Gillingham

The Postcard below shows an image of St Mary Magdalene’s Church in Gillingham. The card was sent

310GIL - St Mary Magdalene Church, Gillingham (Front & Back)

The transcribed text reads:

‘Dear Mrs Osbourne. Just a P.C trusting this will find you much better and all your folks quite well as I feel better already the air is so strong here but I love it, and it is also very lively plenty of places to see and places of amusement I went to the pictures Monday night as I had to stay in all the afternoon because of the rain love to all Louisa.’

‘Mrs Osboure, Hartridge House, Cranbrook, Kent’

Courtesy of D Price

7. A memorial to those who died in the Chatham air raid 3rd September 1917

There was a considerable loss of life on the 3rd September 1917 when the Royal Navy Barracks at HMS Pembroke in Chatham were hit during a night raid by Gotha bombers. This memorial was erected in memory of those who died.

202GIL - Memorial

Image courtesy of William Aers

8. Rosanna Forster the Chimney Sweep

Rosanna Forster, Chimney Sweep

Pictured here is a photograph of Rosanna Forster, a chimney sweep in Gillingham in 1917. Rosanna is Grandmother to the neighbour of Victor Chidgey who can be seen talking about Rosanna in the video below.

The following is a transcript of the video:

A neighbour of mine, her grandmother - her name Rosanna Forster, she used to help her husband in her chimney sweeping business. He worked as a boiler-maker at Chatham dockyards, but she used to assist him on a part time basis.

Every year without fail she was pregnant. And then her luck changed for both of them; he got sent to Bermuda as a boiler maker oh dear what a shame what a terrible place to be sent in the middle of a war and she was left here on her own but she thought well she has no income she would carry on with the business so she carried on cleaning the chimneys and having her babies and she said to me that was the best time of her life when he went to Bermuda because she wasn’t pregnant that year. She had a break. And then after the war in 1919 he came home again and their life resumed”

Image, film and text courtesy of Victor Chidgey.

New Information courtesy of Rosanna Forster’s Granddaughter Susan Borer:

'Rosanna was pregnant in the picture above and gave birth the day after. When her Husband came home from the war he was unwell and so Rosanna carried on sweeping. The couple stayed together and went on to have 6 more children after the war and Rosanna carried on sweeping into the Second World War. Rosanna was known to everyone as ‘Sootie forster’ and she was also the local midwife. Everyone went to her with their problems. Rosanna died in 1960 at the age of 72.'