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Air War over South East Kent - A Schoolboy's Memories (Part I)

by agecon4dor

Contributed by 
agecon4dor
People in story: 
Mr Jeffery Raymond Jordan
Location of story: 
Ashford and Folkestone, Kent
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A6114782
Contributed on: 
12 October 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by a volunteer from Age Concern, Dorchester on behalf of Mr Jeffery Raymond Jordan and has been added to the site with his permission. Mr Jordan fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

I was born on 10 July 1930. In 1931 we were living at Warehorne, near Ashford in Kent. My father, who ran the village grocery shop and post office, had always been very interested in aircraft and it is through him that I learned all that I know now as, before and during the war, he used to take me everywhere with him.

One day, in 1936, we went to an Empire Air Day at Hawkinge, near Folkestone. We left the Air Day about 5.30pm as my father was anxious to get back. We were going down a long hill into Folkestone when we saw these three planes coming towards us flying one above the other. One of them flew straight into the overhead grid, turned into a mass of flame and crashed into the field by our car. Bits of it hit the car. I remember seeing the wing with the roundel on it. Father got out, got through the hedge and pulled the gunner out from the back of the plane (a Hawker Audax) but he was dead; the gun ring was red hot but my father didn’t get burnt. At this moment the man who had a smallholding nearby came running up complaining because the plane had gone through his chicken run.

In 1938, my father was very ill and the doctor told him that he had to take a break. So he sold the shop and our family moved to a rented farmhouse not far away in Kenardington, about 7 or 8 miles from the coast. Lympne Aerodrome was nearby and he joined the Civil Air Guard that was intended to produce a pool of pilots who could take up jobs during the war; the younger ones would go into the RAF and become military pilots, and the older ones went into the Air Transport Auxiliary if they had sufficient experience.

After about 6 months we moved to Folkestone and my father bought a Confectioner’s and Tobacco Shop in the old High Street - a very steep cobbled street that ran down to the sea. My father also bought a house up on the East Cliff at Folkestone and we used to see a lot of planes because Hawkinge Aerodrome was not far away — Lysanders and Blenheims. One day there was an incident there when a Hurricane collided with a Lysander. The Hurricane was out of control and almost crashed on a school before it came down on the golf links; the pilot’s parachute didn’t open and he was killed. We could see from the Leas at Folkestone a Destroyer depth-charging a German submarine. One of the fishing boats was blown up by a mine.

On 2 September 1939, a great number of planes called Fairey Battles flew over Folkestone going to France — several squadrons of them. The Germans started dropping magnetic mines on our harbours and bays. Scientists came up with the idea of degaussing. Coils of wire cable were placed round a ship that affected the magnetic field and made the ship immune to these mines. Tugs towed Lighters round the bay. These Lighters acted as decoys and were blown up instead of the ships.

At the time of Dunkirk we used to go down and watch the soldiers going off on the trains. I remember seeing a French Destroyer in the harbour. It had a massive great clock on the front of the bridge. One of its Class was sunk helping to get our troops out and I’ve always wondered if it was that one. I remember seeing these planes called Swordfish — a dozen or so with bombs on them — being sent out at the time we were defending Calais and Boulogne some days later. I remember seeing three Blenheims — twin-engined bombers — and one of them had a great hole through its wing. The next thing was that the Germans started flying over the Folkestone area at night. We were all fitted with gas masks. Babies had huge ones that they almost fitted inside and I thought how frightening it must have been to be put in one of those. Black-outs had started and it was so dark that one boy I knew got a broken nose when he walked into a lamp-post.

In July 1940 my father decided to send me, my younger brother and my grandmother to stay with my uncle in his cottage at Warehorne. Our journey from Folkestone took us past Lympne Aerodrome and I saw that the whole airfield was covered in French aircraft (Bloch 152s and Potez 63s) — 30 or 40 of them. I was told they were refuelling.

On Saturday 6 July, my father and mother turned up at the cottage. My father had a window catch in his hand and he said that it was a bit of our house! They had been bombed; they were in their bedroom when a Heinkel 111 dropped the first stick of bombs in Folkestone. There had been 4 bombs dropped. Two fell on a sanatorium, one near our house and one house was flattened. The fellow across the road came over to my father and told him that there was a big hole in his garden. This was a bomb that hadn’t gone off. As our house was uninhabitable, my father bought back the shop in Warehorne.

My father joined the Observer Corps in the beginning of 1941 and we lived at Warehorne until after VE Day. In the village there was a house belonging to an army officer who had been called up. A shelter was made for the villagers in the cellar of this house. All the ladies and young children used to go in there and we used to go and tell them what was happening. On Sunday 18 August we saw black smoke in the distance. My father said, “They have just shot down a Dornier 17 and the gunner on it was still firing as it hit the ground”. We got into our car and went to see it. The Fire Service had arrived and there were hoses lying all over the place. I remember seeing them attach a steel cable to the wing tip and then dragging it away with a vehicle to see if they could get to the crew, but the crew were all dead. On the way back we noticed another lot of smoke coming up at Snargate and saw that a Heinkel had come down and was burning. We decided to go and have and look but to keep in the dyke for safety. When we were about half way there we saw soldiers running to it from across the field so we got out of the dyke and ran across the field too. Had we stayed in the dyke we would have found one of the crew who later died. Then a very officious Air Raid Warden appeared and told us to clear off.

On 31 August 1940 we were up in the field above our village that looked towards London and we saw a DO17. It was flying very slowly and my father said there was one fin and rudder missing. He went off on his bicycle to see — it was too far for me to cycle — and later told me that it had still got bombs on it. The two gunners were injured but the pilot was OK.

On Sunday 1 September we saw trails above us and then suddenly there were two planes coming down with trails of smoke behind them. One plane broke in two. It turned out that there was a collision between two Messerschmitt 109s and my father said that the dead pilot, who had baled out, was found hanging in a tree. The engine came down in a field away from the airframe. In Hamstreet, the next village to us, we saw a Spitfire go straight into the ground. I went on my bike and saw a big crater - there was very little wreckage to see at all and the pilot had baled out.

One day my father was talking to an RAF officer who had been grounded and they had put him on the job of chasing crashes up and establishing what sort of planes had been involved by getting some sort of identification. This officer thought that my father could probably be a lot of help to him and after that Dad would take the Serial Numbers down of any planes he saw. However, he had to be careful when doing this as he could have been accused of being a spy.

On Monday 2 September we were out seeing what was happening, when Father said, “There’s a scrap over Appledore”. He walked on in front of me. Suddenly I saw him get down behind a tree and then I heard a crump and a huge cloud of dust went up. Father started running. I followed him. We went through a gap in the hedge and as we did so we heard something humming — it was an aircraft gyro instrument that had been flung out as the plane crashed. We got to the plane and looked for the pilot. We realised that three Hurricanes had been shot down. The one my father had seen was gliding, upside down, quite silently and ended up about 50 yards from where he was standing having just missed a bungalow. It was remarkably intact and the pilot (F/O M K Carswell — a NewZealander with 43 Squadron) had baled out.

On 15 September we were right in the middle of our field looking towards London when there was a roar and a Messerschmitt went over with a Hurricane on its tail. The Messerschmitt was jinking and the Hurricane did the same firing his guns at the same time. I remember seeing the streams of smoke come out from behind the guns. The Hurricane turned round and came back and did a Victory roll over us. The chap he shot down was a German First World War pilot. His plane came down on a farm; the farmer’s wife and child were in the yard and the Messerschmitt hit and killed them. The German pilot was all right but he was very distressed when he heard he had killed a woman — he didn’t know he had killed a child. His name was Hassel von Wedell, the official historian for the Geschwader. In 1943 he was repatriated to Germany and was killed outside Berlin in 1945.

We were out on the village green one evening and a Spitfire came along fairly low and suddenly there were two 109s after it. The one in front opened fire, and the Spitfire flipped over upside down and went away in a shallow dive.

On 12 November 1940 I was at school when we heard the whistling sound of some planes coming. One of the boys said “Spitfires” (after Spitfires had fired their guns they whistled) and then bombs started going off. Later my father told me that two Messerschmitt 109s had tried to bomb the train, but had wrecked a lorry on the road instead. I met a soldier and he said, “That’s my rifle and helmet up in that tree”. There was a hole in the field where we usually stood and watched what was happening. I got down into it and found a nose cap which I have to this day.

On 30 November 1940 the day was very overcast but we heard an aircraft firing above the clouds and then a plane coming down in a screaming dive followed by a loud bang. My friends said they could see a man in a parachute and we went out to watch. He landed about a mile away so my father drove us down to the canal. The bridge was down so we started to wade across; I got soaked and turned back, but my father went on and found the pilot surrounded by soldiers who, not knowing any better, were trying to hack off his parachute. Father took over and undid the release, freeing the pilot who was taken to hospital in Ashford where he later died. (Continued in Part II).

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