Newspapers and Service Records as Tools for Researching the WWI Stockbury Valley Defence Line

Report for the KAS AGM by Alan R. Anstee

An on going research project

The R.E.s have left us a wealth of maps and photos of the fieldworks, so we know that they looked like and where they were. The war diaries gave some information as to which areas units were working in but little more. However there is no real information on the men who built them.

Thanks in no small part to the East Kent Gazette we now know, the names of many of the officers and men. This led to the finding of the service records of a few and through both the newspapers and service records the approximate location of their camps.

What follows is a record of how this was done and what has been discovered to date.

The East Kent Gazette in early 1915

Late in 2013 Dean Coles of the Newington History Group supplied a copy of a cutting from the East Kent Gazette (EKG) of the 9th of January 1915 which told when the R.E.s in Newington (3-1-1915). As this was a poor copy this led to a search for a better one, which led to the discovery of an article telling of a fatal fire in Milton Regis (29-1-1915) which gave the names some of the men, EKG 6-2-15. This also informed us that not all of this unit were in Newington.

Service Record and EKG details of Spr Tapp

One man mentioned in the account of the fire and inquest was Spr Alfred Ernest Tapp whose service record is extant and very informative. This states that he was a very good bricklayer, whilst the EKG (6-2-1915) states that he was an ex-member of the Tunbridge Wells fire Brigade.

Importantly his extant record shows that he was a man who liked his beer; his “crime sheet” is explicit; with 6 drink related offences recorded. It gave names of the C.O, other officers and many NCOs and men.

Also it gave the name of the unit, 2/6th Kent Fortress Company, later the 579th Works Company R.E (6th Kent FC split into two units 1-1-1915). Thus confirming the scant information in the war diary.

Location of the 579th Works Company from EKG & Tapp’s record.

The EKG reported many parties, dances, smoking concerts and the like, put on by or for the company, giving the location. (It did the same for many other units in the area, as well as reporting on inter unit sorting events.)

Every incident in Spr Tapp’s record gave his location, whilst from both his record and the EKG, the unit and/or its sections was reported at Newington, Milton Regis, Stockbury, Oad Street/Borden, Key Street/Keycol and possibly Hartlip.

Capt Griffith, service record and qualifications.

Captain Charles. L. T Griffith was the last CO of the 579th and fortunately his
service record survives. This shows that he had a long history of service in the
Volunteers from 1897 to 1910. This included service in the ranks of the
Queens Westminster Rifle Volunteers and a commission in the Madras Artillery
Volunteers.

Professionally he was an Associate Member of the Institute of Civil Engineers and would seem, both professionally and militarily to be an ideal man to command such a unit. Personally he seemed well connected with a retired Lt-Col of Royal Marine Artillery and a housemaster of Harrow School (his father was an assistant master there) supplying references to back his application for a commission.

The naming of the fieldworks.

The R.E. maps only give the names of some of the works, usually the larger ones, redoubts etc. However the R.E. photos often give the names of the works, including trenches.

These former were often named after their location (Thrognal Redoubt for example) or officers in the company and possibly other RE officers (Boys Trench).

The four Le Feaux Redoubts appear to have been named after Capt Le Feaux, who seemed to have commanded a section of the company. Perhaps that often stationed at Stockbury, not too far away.

Griffith Redoubt, named for Capt Griffith the last CO.

Other mentions of the company’s location.

It would appear that different sources give different names for the same location, a note from 1917 in the service record of Spr Tapp from Capt Griffith re his
demotion from L/Cpl, gives the units location as Key Street Camp. Whilst Form
W.3068/2 on Tapp’s posting to the BEF in March 1918 gives the units station as
Newington nr Sittingbourne, at most a mile from Key Street.

The EKG 10-5-1919 states that German PoWs were taking over the old RE Camp site at Keycol Hill, only a few hundred yards from Key Street. Again on 1-11-1919 the EKG that the German PoWs had left the camps on Keycol Hill and Stockbury and that they were to be broken up.

So where exactly were these camps? Military telephone lines may give a clue as these camps would have needed to communicate. One runs into the grounds of the old rectory, Stockbury, another to the grounds of the isolation hospital on Key Col Hill and another to a building marked as a Brigade HQ in Newington. These May indicate where the camps were but more work is required.

Lessons learnt

Newspapers can point a researcher in the right direction, however they rarely give the full names of either officers or men mentioned. They can though back up other sources.

Service records give a wealth of information if extant and you have the man’s full name but 65% to 75% (estimates vary) were destroyed in WWII.

But newspapers especially MUST be treated with caution as they rarely give their
sources and were subject to censorship.

Finally

Although I have, perhaps, taken the lead in this work it would not have happened
without the involvement of many others. As previously mentioned Dean Coles
and the NHG, together with Teresa & Richard Emmitt, Simon Mason of KCC and
Victor Smith and many others have helped with information and advice, including
the gentleman who passed on copies of his grandfathers service record with the
579th.