Rochester in the Great War

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

Rochester has been a militarily strategic town since Roman times due to its position on the River Medway and proximity to London. Together with the neighbouring towns of Chatham, Gillingham and Sittingbourne it was defended by rings of forts which had been built from the 18th century. These forts had various uses during the First World War in addition to their defensive roles, with two examples being the use of Fort Borstal for troop accommodation and to assemble stores for shipment onto the Western Front, and Fort Clarence being used as a recruiting centre by the garrison artillery.

On the Hoo Peninsula, close to Chattenden Barracks, training trenches were built to prepare troops for their posting to the Western Front.

As the War continued, civilians would have become accustomed to seeing flying boats being made by Short Brothers in their new factory on the bank of the Medway. This location was ideal as the flying boats could be launched directly from the factory.

Air raids from both Zeppelins and aircraft were an ongoing threat throughout the War, not just as a result of direct raids upon Rochester but also due to German aircraft targeting London using the River Medway as a navigation aid, especially on a moonlit night. Public air raid shelters were provided in the First World War and there were anti-aircraft gun emplacements established.

Just as was the case in other Kent towns, additional hospitals and convalescent hospitals were established in Rochester to deal with the influx of casualties, as established hospitals such as St Bartholomew’s could not cope.

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. Percy R.J. Wyatt in the Royal Garrison Artillery

Percy Wyatt (my paternal grandfather) joined 2 Coy Kent Royal Garrison Artillery (Territorial Force) in Gravesend as a trumpeter, at the age of 16 on 10 April 1912. He then went on to serve with 12 Anti-Aircraft Company at Beacon Hill in Chattenden until he was called to the British Expeditionary Force in France from June 1917. He served with the 199th Siege Battery until his return in February 1919, then was demobbed a few months later.

I am still researching his time in the Great War on the Western Front, but hope to find out some interesting details.

He returned to Gravesend after the war, where he was a painter and decorator until his premature death in 1942, as a result of suffering from tuberculosis.

Courtesy of Steve Wyatt

2. Rochester Bridge

The postcard below shows Rochester Bridge. The postcard was sent 4th Jan 1915. We have also received another card from the same family (See 332CHA)

333ROC - Rochester Bridge (Front& Back)

The transcribed text reads:

‘Dear Win thanks very much for parcel and we were both pleased with it. Hope you are both keeping well and enjoying yourself. We shall look for you both to call on your way back. Love from mum & Dad & all. Xxxxxxxxxx’

‘Miss G Geck, Bowerland Farm, Chilam Nr Canterbury’

Courtesy of D Price

3. Eastgate House Rochester

The postcard below shows a view of Eastgate House in Rochester. The card was sent 15th Aug 1917

330ROC - Eastgate House (Front & Back)

The transcribed text reads:

15th Aug 1915‘Dear Auntie just a card to let you know I am still at Stroud I am returning to AW tomorrow Thursday by the same train as G and I came up by. How are you getting on? I hope Nan is still getting on alright and that you haven’t had a headache I did have a nice time with you all and must thank you again for all that you did for me. I am glad to say that D and Mere both quite well again. Yours with very best love Winnie.’

‘Mrs Hud, boughton church farm, south street nr Faversham kent 12.8.1917’

Courtesy of D Price

4. Lieutenant Percival M Sharp

This is the story of Lieutenant Percival M Sharp who served in both World War 1 & 2.

130ROC - Lieutenant Percival M Sharp

126ROC - Sharp With Fellow Officers

Below is a video interview with Christopher Sharp about his Grandfather

The following is a transcript of the video:

Well my Grandfather for a while he lived in Rochester and he was in the territorial army in 1914/15 just when the War came and he went off to France and he signed up for the 10th (Service) Fusiliers they were based I think at the Tower of London. I think they were the stock broker regiment they were called.

He managed title of Tenant, he rose to Captain and then just before sometime in July 1916 he was near a place called Poitiers in France. A German shot him in the arm and his number 2, I think they call it Batman, he was shot outright and the fellow officer was killed outright yet my Grandfather survived it. His arm was in tatters and he was told by a French doctor that he had to go to France to have it amputated. But, he was then found out, another officer in the regiment said if you go back to England we can do the job easily. So he went back to England had the operation on his arm I think it was a hospital in John (Radcliffe) Hospital in Oxford where they did the job, patched his arm, he didn’t have it amputated at all, and then he went back to France for a second dose as they say.

He fought at the Somme. He was in the 37th division he went all round all various parts of France. After the War he then enlisted in the Second World War and he went off to Russia when the communists and Russian revolution was on and he managed, had a part in that and then in 1940’s the Second World War he went off to Leeds and helped a page on the Second World War. He got all his medals I think they call it Pip Squeak and Harry or something like that. After the War he made it at Coutts bank, he became a clergyman. He died in 1978 and is buried here in Rochester and I think he did his bit for King and Country and I think he just deserves a mention.

Images and film courtesy of Christopher Sharp.

5. Views of Rochester

Views of Rochester. From the text, this postcard appears to be written from a soldier who has just been stationed in Rochester. The card was sent 15th August 1915.

79ROC - Rochester Postcard (Front & Back)

The transcribed text reads:

Dear W. Just a card to let you know I am getting on allright & hoping you & Ant are getting on allright. We had a look round this place yesterday its all adjoining Chatham just like Boscombe and Bournemouth it a very nice place & plenty of life here. There is six Swanage Boys here in our Corp quite a lot of us, isnt it. How does that old block go hasent give out yet I hope. Goodbye from your friend Shiloh.

Mrs A Pond, 6 Connaught Terace, Pokesdown Hill, Bournemouth

From the collection of D.Price

6. Donald Maxwell

34ROC - Donald Maxwell

'Donald Maxwell was a Rochester based artist. In the First World War he drew some of the first pictures depicting air warfare and, as an officer in the RNVR and later as an official Admiralty war artist, he created an important pictorial record of naval operations. His work is displayed in the Imperial War Museum and Chatham Dockyard Museum amongst others.'

'Donald lived at 144 Borstal Road, Rochester ME1 3BB'

Image and text courtesy of the Maxwell family