While researching this article about Peckham's Prisoner of War camp recently, something stirred in my memory; a rumour that went round my secondary school that it too used to be a Prisoner of War camp.
We wouldn't be the first teenagers to jokingly compare our seemingly-tough schooldays to the punishing regime of a Prisoner of War camp, but in the case of Weald of Kent Grammar School*, it's true.
Unlike in Peckham, I've been unable to find any remaining physical evidence of the Tonbridge camp; no relic tin huts, no information board to tell 21st century Tonbridgians of the past, nothing to show that it ever existed at all.
It's a rather beautiful setting for such a history. The modern Weald site is encompassed by three fairly busy roads, but the situation of the buildings and the perimeter hedging meant that we rarely knew of their existence as we went about our lessons. Looking south-east from the school offers a view of the beautiful Schools at Somerhill building on the peak opposite, a Jacobean manor immortalised by JMW Turner himself. It's safe to say that we didn't appreciate our surroundings in our school days.
|The school buildings and the slope down to the top field|
The camp was known as Somerhill Camp (or Camp 40), as the land it was on was part of the Somerhill Estate at the time. German and Italian soldiers were kept at the camp, and sent out to work on local farms -- including Churchill's country gaffe, Chartwell. There's little information available about what happened to these specific captives after the war, but repatriation programmes nationwide weren't complete until 1948. A rummage around the newspaper archive produced this little gem from the Kent & Sussex Courier, 8 August 1947:
|Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.|
For more on the Somerhill Camp, the excellent Tonbridge Historical Society has a wealth of information.
|A car park and sports centre has been built where the PoW camp was|
* If this school name sounds familiar, it's been in the news recently as it's the school behind the grammar school brouhaha. It's opening the first new grammar school in the country for several years. For the record, as a past student of Weald, I do firmly support grammar schools, but that's another blog post for another day.
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