Star Hill Camp

A curious Saturday evening online search revealed a postcard for sale. Neither the subject or the recipient were or particular interest, but the address from which the postcard was sent piqued my interest:

For those that are familiar with Fort Halstead, you may know that the road to the west of the site is called Star Hill Road, and it leads to the village of Knockholt.

Dear EJH,

Having a fine time.
Fun day Sunday.
Today Monday practically a cold day.
Hope all are well.
430 here Sunday
130 Monday

The postcard was sent on 7 August 1916, well within the period of the First World War, when Fort Halstead was still under War Department ownership, and indeed the building of a laboratory inside the fort demonstrates the continued use for likely ammunition storage and processing. But was there also a form of camp on the WD land?

Large swathes of land were requisitioned for wartime use between 1914 – 1918, including implementation of an amended defence of London scheme of earthworks and trenches to protect the capital in the event of invasion. I can find no record of a camp being located at Star Hill or Knockholt during this period. It may just be that the land was used on a temporary basis for troops on manoeuvres or training. A canvas camp may have been established to undertake munition work, this is yet to be established.

When the fort was sold off in 1922 to Col Bradshaw, it was noted that he “used the site as a camp for Territorials, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and as a home for destitute refugees.” It is wholly possibly that the use of the site as a camp was a continuation of this use, and that for the years preceding the purchase territorials, scouts and guides had already been using using the site. This might also explain the camp at Star Hill.

Looking at the contents of the postcard doesn’t help much, Any official military postcards sent during the war by soldiers would have been heavily redacted, so the information contained within them would not have given much away, and the tone of the letter is very short sentences, perhaps just keeping in touch with and updating the recipient. It was sent to an EJ Hawkes at an address at Manor Park, Lee, in London. If being sent to a sibling, this could also be the residence of the sender, it is unlikely this is a letter to a parent if the Esq suffix is used.

Is this maybe a scout master who is on a summer camp? The postcard was sent in August after all. “Fun day Sunday.” Is this referring to a fun activity day at the camp? “430 here Sunday. 130 Monday” could refer to the number of people on camp, highlighting a large number of people for the fun day.

Whatever the circumstances around the postcard, it will take some more information to piece together the story behind it. I like to believe that there was an annual scout and guide camp help on the War Department land at Star Hill and that Col Bradshaw continued to permit camping on his land after it was sold off. With stunning views over the Weald of Kent I can think of no better place to camp.

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