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Ashford School’s links with a British WW2 Regiment in Canada

Date Posted: Friday 29 November 2019

Ashford School has been commemorating its links with a World War 2 Army Regiment from Newfoundland, after discovering that the School housed many of its soldiers in the 1940s. Below is the intriguing story of how this discovery came about.

Friend of Ashford School, Judith Holloway, whose father served in the 1 BR Corps in World War 2, regularly visits the grave where he is buried in Bybrook Cemetery in Ashford.  During her visits, Judith noticed that a soldier from Newfoundland in Canada – Walter Pike – is also buried in the cemetery.  Assuming that this soldier has no family in the UK, Judith always pays her respects at his grave.

As the 100th anniversary of the Armistice approached, Judith decided to find out some more about Walter Pike and embarked on a mission to discover his family.  She wrote to the local paper in Newfoundland, who managed to track down Walter’s brother, who lives in St John’s, Newfoundland.  Having only been told that Walter had died ‘somewhere in England’, his brother was overcome by the knowledge that someone had been visiting the grave, which he had never been able to visit himself.

Having heard from Walter’s brother, Judith felt compelled to find out more about his time in England.  She looked in the cemetery’s Book of Condolence, where she discovered that he had lived in Ashford School for Girls at the time of his death.  The 59th Newfoundland Heavy Regiment had been billeted at the school from 1941, when it was commandeered by the Army for the Royal Artillery.  There were still pupils in the school at this time and so the Headmistress, Miss Brake, needed to quickly reorganise the school.

Judith compiled a huge amount of information about the regiment for Walter’s family, including photos of the school and East Hill.  Earlier this year, she took this information to St John’s in person and showed it to the family.  During her visit, she met the family members of a few soldiers who had served in the 59th Regiment. They were overwhelmed by all the information and were incredibly touched that the regiment is still remembered here in Ashford.

As a result of the newly established links that Judith had formed between Ashford and the Newfoundland regiment, Ashford School decided to dedicate this year’s Remembrance Service to the soldiers.  We were very pleased to welcome Judith to the service in St Mary’s Church, where she told us her story of discovery.

Whilst our Remembrance Service is always a poignant day in our school calendar, this years’ service was particularly moving as it commemorated soldiers with such a close connection to our school. A picture, which was hand-drawn by the regiment on the walls of the school, still hangs in the senior school. Following this years’ service, it has extra significance to us all.