- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Roger Ewart Stevens
- Location of story:
- Maidstone, Kent
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 09 May 2005
A Town Under Attack
A life-long resident of Maidstone, the County town of Kent, I was three years old when WW2 started. I understand that Maidstone had the unenviable distinction of being subjected to a greater variety of attacks that any other town in the British Isles. Damage and casualties were caused by high explosive, incendiary and oil bombs; by crashing aircraft; by machine gun and cannon shell fire; by long-range shells; and by flying bombs (V.1s) and long-range rocket (V.2s).
Incidentally, early on, when Hitler made his threatening “Last Appeal to Reason” leaflet drop over this country, Maidstone’s consignment landed, most appropriately, in the grounds of the local mental hospital !
The following are some personal memories:
Kent being in the direct flight path between Nazi Germany and London, some of my earliest memories are of our Spitfires engaging German bombers in the skies over my old home during the Battle of Britain. I remember my father and our next-door neighbour often ignoring the air-raid sirens and standing in their respective back gardens, intently watching the drama overhead. “Here come some of ours” and “Come on, get those ‘Jerries’ over there” were typical of their excited comments.
One day we discovered a sizeable piece of shrapnel in our back garden and kept this for some time as a memento of these crucial days.
One vivid memory is of an evening, after dark, and the sound of a very low- flying aircraft. The noise became more and more deafening and, as it passed overhead, the whole house seemed to shake and vibrate, whilst inside we cowered wherever we could, expecting the worst. Later we discovered it was a German bomber which had been shot down. The side wall of a house in the road behind ours bore a scrape mark left by the plane’s wing- tip, prior to it crashing on another house minutes later, killing the elderly occupant.
At Home and At School
I remember the ‘blackout’ curtains or blinds having to be drawn at every window after dark, before we dared switch any light on, and the raucous bellow of the air-raid warden to “Put that light out!” if one dared to open the front door a mere crack without first remembering to extinguish all lights.
My own father was engaged in the ‘Dad’s Army’ of the day and one of the earliest phrases uttered by my younger brother was “Home Guard — sore feet”, bearing eloquent witness to some of their activities!
I recall, too, the old iron railings being removed from the low walls surrounding all our front gardens, together with our gates (for the ‘war effort’ we were told) and, in a strange way, we somehow felt more vulnerable with our iron ‘defences’ stripped away, leaving only a few pathetic inches of metal protruding from the wall. Eventually, most of the railings were replaced by wooden fences and the old iron railing had disappeared for ever as a feature of our streets.
We all carried our gasmasks to school and, as we were in and out of the air-raid shelter as the sirens sounded, lessons were frequently disrupted
Travel and Food Restrictions
No unnecessary travel was allowed and certainly no seaside holiday. One treat was an isolated day trip to Gillingham Strand and, even then, we were kept well away from the actual water’s edge, whilst the sky above was dominated by the massive barrage balloons which formed part of wartime Britain’s defence system.
Many food items were in short supply or entirely absent. Home vegetable growing was encouraged and even front gardens were often so used. Oranges were a rare treat, only obtainable at Christmas, and I clearly recall my mother struggling to explain to me exactly what a banana tasted like! Saccharine tablets were often used in tea instead of sugar, whilst a ‘sweet-toothed’ family would readily buy sugar from a neighbour who needed the extra cash. Joints for Sunday lunch would be something cheap, such as breast of lamb, rabbit or even pigeon.
The V.1 Flying Bomb
One morning, during the summer of 1944, several of us children were stopped on the way to school by fellow-pupils on their way home. Excitedly, they explained “We all have to go home for the day. There are pilotless planes coming over and no-one knows what they are!” In reality, it was the start of months — it seemed more like years — of attack by the V.1 flying bomb (or ‘doodle bugs’ as we soon called them).
From then on, we would frequently watch the cross-shaped rocket traverse the sky, London-bound, with its flaming exhaust and its own peculiar droning sound. That is, until the engine abruptly cut out and, in the eerie silence that followed, we would watch as it began to nose-dive and, if seemingly coming our way, would rush for cover and await the inevitable explosion. This would be accompanied by the shattering of windows over a wide area and many house at that time could be seen with individual panes boarded up. In fact, whenever I drew a house as a child, I remember I always included some blacked-out window panes!
As children at that time, I don’t recall us ever feeling any fear. To us Hitler was an evil monster, whom we often ridiculed, and the prospect of beating him (and of this we had no doubts!) was all very exciting. I don’t think we ever gave a thought to the very real danger we were in but, instead, looked forward to the victory that we just knew was coming one day.
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