uring the war my father was too old for the army (or maybe unfit because he had been blinded by a cricket ball in one eye when he played) so he joined the National Fire Service. He was supposed to put out fires if anywhere locally got bombed. I don’t think he ever did have to squirt a stirrup pump in anger. As cricket ball making was a luxury he was also taken away from that job and went to work at Cardens Factory next to the station making fencing. This fencing was used by the tanks in the desert so that they could travel in the sand quickly. I don’t know how long he had to do this – two or three years.
When I started school it was the early part of the Second World War which started in 1939, I started school in 1940. To children this was quite an exciting time, probably because we were not fully aware of the dangers. Charcott was right next door to Penshurst aerodrome, not in full use except by reconnaissance Auster army aeroplanes, but was an emergency landing strip.
Prior to the war the field was used for playing polo
although I do not remember that. My
earliest recollection of the war was when a German Messersmidt coloured bright
yellow crashed on the side of the airfield and my father and I went to see the
pilot being taken away by the Royal Air Force.
He had the inevitable moustache shaped like a couple of paint brushes
across his top lip. Around the field we
had gun emplacements and barrage balloons.
Other than the Auster planes the only time we saw others on the airfield
was when they crashed. On one day two
Spitfires came down during a “dog fight”, one at each end of the field – both
pilots were killed and my friend Kevin and I received a board game each from
the two planes (called Sieg Heil). We
have not yet found out why these were in the planes. On another occasion a Dakota crashed at the end nearest
a Liberator close to the side of the road after the crew had baled out over Hildenborough, and a Flying Fortress right in the middle of the airfield.
The American air force towed the Liberator and Fortress to the field immediately outside our house and dismantled them both. Kevin and I used to play around their tents, letting them down and getting biscuits and chewing gum thrown at us.
The Dakota, I believe, was also dismantled, but was not moved first. In the village we had a club run by the wife of the local landlord (squire not pub landlord). At the time of the crashes we were trying to sell bunches of lavender from the landlords gardens (probably for some charity) and I recollect a group of us had photographs taken sitting on the wing of the Dakota with several of the Americans who were working on it.
When the D-day landings were happening I know we stood outside of the house and watched hundreds of aeroplanes towing gliders all converging above us from all directions. It was a sight never to be forgotten.
My Grandmother lived in a small village called the Compasses and we used to visit her every Sunday which meant a walk. The army were at check points at the corners of the airfield and one day in the fog we arrived at the junction where we would normally turn right but my parents insisted we should bear left. I had a great argument with them and got quite scared because I though they were enemy agents trying to kidnap me but there were no soldiers on duty that time for me to tell. Eventually they admitted they were going the wrong way and we got to the Compasses.
As we had no car, very few people had, we used the public transport, rail and bus. On our return from Tunbridge Wells on the bus one day we heard a noise which can only be described as terrifying, this was a doodlebug – officially known as a V1. As soon as we arrived at the Church where we usually got off, instead of going across the Airfield footpath we hot footed it to The Compasses where my grandmother lived as we had heard the engine stop – this meant that the bomb tipped up and went down.
The doodlebug or flying bomb dropped down right by the side of the railway line in a hop garden perhaps 300 yards away from my grandmother’s house but everything was OK.
We had several sticks of bombs drop around us during the war, one lot consisted of seven bombs along the road in front of the house which did not even break a window but the blast caused quite a bit of damage to the farm house a quarter of a mile away.
Protection from the bombing was either a shelter built in the garden or an iron table erected in the house. One was called a Morrison Shelter and the other an Anderson shelter – I believe the outside one was the Morrison Shelter but cannot be sure. We had the iron table – angle iron legs with cross bars both at the top and bottom with wire mesh sides and ends. The top was one iron sheet and we slept under this in the living/dining room. The windows had to be blacked out at night so that the German fighters and bombers could not see us and this was either done with wooden framed black paper inserts for the window frames (mostly upstairs) and downstairs we had a large board with legs to lean against the front window as well as heavy curtains. This had to be put in place every night before putting on a light. At school there was a large brick building in the playground which had a very thick concrete reinforced roof and when the siren went we had to scramble out of the classrooms and accumulate in the shelter. I vaguely remember we had lessons whilst in there but I cannot remember what.
There were barrage balloon emplacements round the airfield and I remember one day when one of the balloons broke free and the cable dragged right over the roof of the house. Often the doodlebugs would hit the cables of the balloons and turn round and start back from whence they came but ran out of fuel before they could get back. We would stand at the rear garden gate and watch the Spitfires and Hurricanes try to turn them back as well, or shoot them down, or have “dog fights” with the German fighters. I am afraid it was all a game for us kids.
On one occasion when we were going to Sunday school, we went across the aerodrome footpath to get to the Church, a German fighter came across the airfield and machine gunned us – we ran like hell and got to the farm next to the Church, and Mum must have been aware of the situation as she also ran across the aerodrome to find out if we were OK.
Not far away from Charcott, towards Sevenoaks Weald, there was an army camp, known as GAZA Barracks, and once a week one of their buses would call round the local villages and collect people who wanted to go to the cinema. They had their own projector and obtained films to show so we were able to go to the pictures once a week for free.