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Doodlebugspotting in Kent - A Near Miss

by D Peter Randon

Contributed by 
D Peter Randon
People in story: 
Peter Randon
Location of story: 
Panthurst Farm, Weald, Sevenoaks, Kent.
Article ID: 
A1993142
Contributed on: 
08 November 2003

Panthurst Farm, Weald near Sevenoaks was my first job as a 14-year-old fully trained farmers boy in 1940. It was a mixed dairy and arable farm of 400 acres, run by Mr & Mrs Muddle, their son Henry and daughter Marjorie. He also had a partner Mr Wellbeloved a butcher from Deptford High Street, and each Sunday he drove down in his black automatic Armstrong Siddely to discuss the business. We had all endured the Battle of Britain, the night bombing by the Luftwaffe, and the arrival of Hitler’s V1 doodlebug was just another exciting and sometimes irritating adventure. The best bits came when it was pursued by a Tempest or Typhoon Fighter at full throttle trying its hardest to catch up, with either eight machine guns or four cannons blazing away spitting fire.

The Tempest and Typhoon fighters were quite new and were the only aircraft able to catch the dreaded doodlebug in level flight. Except of course the twin engine
Mosquito, but they were too busy elsewhere doing their pathfinder stuff and low-level high speed bombing runs. Spitfires and Hurricanes had their day, they always needed the altitude above, and when they spotted the doodlebug, they dived to build up speed to catch their foe. A dangerous situation you may think, but the doodlebug usually blew up in mid air. Our danger on the ground was the shrapnel and small arms fire that rattled on the slates of the farm buildings around us. About half a mile behind us the hills were covered with trees, it was called Beechmont Woods. On the top of the hill there was also a large mansion called Beechmont House standing in its own grounds, situated on a road running along the crest of the high ground. D Day was just around the corner and all the area was used to hide lorries, tanks, bren gun carriers and a whole host of secret paraphernalia ready for the D Day invasion, and Beechmont House had been commandeered by the military to house eighty or so ATS girl drivers. There were some fields up there, they were used to graze our in-calf heifers, and we had a track from the farm through the woods to the top.

About six of us were standing on the back door step of Panthurst Farm house. We were watching the doodlebugs go over on their way to London, they tended to come over in droves, and were not programmed to land where we were so we felt quite safe. We were quite high up and could see as far as the South Downs forty miles away. We knew when a doodlebug was on its way; the area round it in the sky was covered in puffs of smoke in the distance from the exploding shellfire. We could see one of these horrible things heading in our direction, and although we had had a few crash and explode in our area we had no reason to be alarmed the Germans had twiddled all the knobs, and they were programmed to fly overhead and attack London. First they had to endure the fighter aircraft, anti aircraft gunfire, small arms fire, and the barrage balloon defences with their curtain of hanging wires designed to tilt the doodlebug and confuse the gyros. It was about one thousand feet high and had almost reached overhead; we all had our heads craned backwards plotting its progress hoping something would blast it out of the sky. Suddenly the engine stopped, it quickly lost speed and hovered for a second, eventually the weight of the high explosive loaded in the nose had tilted it downwards, and it was crashing in our direction. We were all taken by surprise and Henry shouted. “Look out the engine’s stopped, quick get in doors it’s coming down!”

This was a situation we were not ready for, nobody had ever thought about what we would do in an emergency such as this, nobody had ever thought of what if`? We all thought we were safe, we had no air raid shelter or slit trench; we were caught out in the open with our trousers down. Except for Henry, he was a corporal in the Home Guard and trained to capture German Paratroopers, Fifth Columnists, and Nazi Spies perhaps that was the reason for his well-worded and quick response. The engine had stopped just before it reached over-head, we all knew its nose would dip and dive straight down; the chances were we were in line for a direct hit. Quick as a flash Henry’s experience as a home guard kicked in with his direct order and the six of us, and the two farm dogs scrambled in the back door at the same time.

We all followed Henry through to the hall and quietly stood there quivering, and shaking waiting for the inevitable bang and the house to crumble around us. With hindsight a better place would have been under the substantial kitchen table, but there was no time for discussion the dreaded weapon was on its way down. We had all seen the newsreels in the Odeon cinema in Sevenoaks of the devastation in London, the craters, the fires, and the carnage. The close relations standing on the edge of the craters, waiting for the rescue teams to recover their loved ones. All this was vividly flashing through our minds as we all stood huddled together in the hall, petrified and unable to move. What we should have done was to have built an air raid shelter or slit trench close by, at least that would have been some protection. If we get through this I may mention it to the guvnor Mr Muddle, we could dig one in a week. If I get out of this, I’m not watching any more doodlebugs, I’ll be the first one in the slit trench.

Too late now the dreaded weapon was nearly there, it was so close we could almost smell it. I was reliving the smell of the bomb that landed in our back garden in Erith 3 years ago; it was all flooding back to me. The V1 did not change its mind and go back up again it seemed like an age and I hoped perhaps the on board computer had realised its mistake. `We`re supposed to bomb London, that’s Panthurst farm down there`, re-started the engine and continued on its way. There was no panic, we had all resolved to accept the ultimate challenge, if we all got wiped out, they would miss us in the village for a while, but time would heal the wounds and we would all be in the forgotten past. May-be they’ll erect a monument on the village green near our bodies in the Weald village graveyard, next to the shot down and killed German Dornier bomber pilots buried in a corner. Whose idea was it to run indoors? If it lands within a hundred yards the blast will flatten Panthurst Farm, we will all be dead and ten feet under the rubble. We should have run and got behind a wall, or better still dived in the farm pond with the Aylesbury ducks. Moments later there was a loud `ker-rump`, all the plaster cascaded around us and Henry said. “That must have been in the garden behind us”. We all ran out the back door, past the stable, the chicken shed, the dung heap, the pig troughs, the horse rake and hay sweep to make our way behind the farm house. We looked up the hill in the direction of Beechmont House and there was no sign of it, just a cloud of dust, it had been a direct hit, it was razed to the ground.

The bad news was, Beechmont House was a fine old building with many treasures, and they were all destroyed

The good news was the ATS girls were not in it; they had gone off some distance
away for breakfast.

doodlebugspotting.com

peter@randon.fsnet.co.uk 1324. words.

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