John Wilkinson, from Glasgow to Hothfield

Photo:John kindly donated his helmet to the History Society

John kindly donated his helmet to the History Society

Photo:John Wilkinson (right) with John Nicholls and David Bull at the site of the former REME camp

John Wilkinson (right) with John Nicholls and David Bull at the site of the former REME camp

Now the Ashford North Holiday Inn

Served with the Royal Engineers at Hothfield, and came back to stay

By Chris Rogers

John Wilkinson joined the Royal Engineers 160 Railway Construction Company in WWII.  From their base at Longmore they travelled the length and breadth of the country in support of the war effort building railway lines.

In 1942 the Company were billeted at Cowlees Hotel on the Maidstone Road (now the ‘Hop Pickers’ public house and the Ashford North Holiday Inn).  From there each day the soldiers were transported to the south coast around St. Mary’s Bay to build railways in defence of the south coast.  (The Dunkerque evacuations had taken place in 1940 followed by the Battle of Britain in the skies above Kent.  The UK was now engaged in defending itself against invasion and was now being subjected to heavy bombing of towns and cities.)

John’s stay at Hothfield was short and found the journeys to the south coast tiring and uncomfortable as well as the work itself being strenuous.  Before the Company left the area John had managed to get himself a Chef’s job in the cookhouse which was in a long hut to the east of the hotel.

During their time at Hothfield, John recalls that there was a fight amongst a few of the railway workers, some of whom were Irish, and one of them was shot dead during the brawl.  John was not involved in the fight but was sadly engaged in clearing up the aftermath.

After nine months at Hothfield the Company then moved on to Redhill and Glasgow in 1943 (amongst other places).

The area to the south of the hotel was owned by Chester Beatty who owned Cale Hill.  On the site, to the south-west of the hotel, was a swimming pool which was accessed via a path which led directly from the hotel (the path shows up on the 1946 aerial photographs.)

After the War

After the War John returned to Hothfield, although it was not his native area, and met a girl who lived in the row of cottages on Maidstone Road who he eventually married.  John moved initially into a Council House near the bottom of Coach Drive but was later to swap houses to School Road where he lived for many years.  John’s house was originally one of the show-homes when the Council Houses were being built.  Two developers, both from the Folkestone area, built the houses:  Jenners and Clarkes.

John spent most of his working life connected with the railways around Ashford.  For three or four years he worked for Headleys who were a local factory making train wheels (the wheel shop eventually closed in 1993), and also at the train maintenance depot at Chart Leacon.

This page was added by Chris Rogers on 20/10/2013.

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.