The family history trail – Part 2

The family history trail – Part 2
Gillingham, United Kingdom

Gillingham, United Kingdom


I mentioned that our Dad served in the Royal Engineers a few years after the end of World War II. His father had also served with them and had been posted overseas during the war.

One of the places we wanted to see while we were in England was the Royal Engineers Museum in Gillingham, Kent (not to be confused with Gillingham, Dorset – they seem to be pronounced differently – maybe this is so people know which one you’re talking about. Gillingham is about an hour train ride from London Victoria Station.

The history of the Corps of the Royal Engineers (RE) can be traced back over 900 years, but the Corps of Engineers was officially founded in 1716. Our father was a sapper – that is a builder of a sap. Sapping was the name given to the process of digging trenches in a zig-zap pattern at progressively deeper levels.

According to his journals, he was conscripted in 1950, after the end of World War II and underwent his training at 3 Training Unit in Cove. We found a picture of that facility from 1960 in the museum.

It was a really interesting place to visit. We didn’t expect to find anything about our father in there, but it was nice to see some photos of areas he would have been in during his service.

I got some information from one of the area’s visitor centres before we left and they said there wasn’t much to see or do in Gillingham. This turned out to be the case, so we got back on the train and headed back towards Rochester. This is another really old town, like Salisbury, with a beautiful Cathedral and a real Castle.

We had to see this! It was a short walk from the station through the beautiful old street to Rochester Castle. The original castle is believed to have been built by William the Conqueror. The new stone castle was built after a siege, by Bishop Gundulf, who had also built the White Tower in the Tower of London.

It was a fascinating place and we heard about the construction and use of the castle, and the story of the great siege of 1215. The rebels had taken the south eastern tower, so the King had ordered wooden props be fired with the fat of 40 pigs that were too fat for eating, and the whole tower and parts of the walls were brought down. The rebels hung on for a few days more before surrendering due to starvation.

The tower was rebuilt several years later in a rounded, rather than square design. This was our first visit to a castle. Very exciting!

And there was a pub right outside it. Who could ask for more? After a couple of ales, we made our way back through the old street, passing Eastgate House, which is “Westgate” in Charles Dickens’ novel Pickwick Papers and “the Nun’s House” in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

We returned to London on the train accompanied by some people who sounded like they’d been given a leave pass from the kids to go out for the night and were going to make the most of it. We then had an exciting adventure on the tube when the train got to our station and the doors didn’t open and we were trapped on the train!

We got off at the next station and had dinner on the way back to the hotel. It was a good day.

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