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15 October 2014
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Standing alone, putting a brave face on it

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Archive List > The Blitz

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BBC Southern Counties Radio
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David Bell
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Contributed on: 
03 August 2005

Canterbury had no particular strategic or military significance as a target, except that it did have a large military garrison at the Wemyss Barracks in Sturry Road (now a housing estate) and the Howe Barracks above St. Martin's Hill on the Sandwich Road. Sporadic air raids occurred nevertheless, causing some damage or destruction to property and civilian casualties. The city was under a main bombing route for the Luftwaffe and bombers which had failed to find their targets and still had a bomb load and sometimes let them loose on their way home over the defenceless City. My school friends would relate how their homes had been destroyed or damaged in a raid and how friends or family had been killed or injured. Some of my friends lost their father, brother or other close relative, who had been killed on active service. Very occasionally, we were called to order by our teacher in class at the beginning of the day and informed that one of our number has died in a raid on the previous night. We stood in silence for one minute in remembrance of our departed friend. That is an experience I shall never forget.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon in early July 1942,just before the commencement of the school summer holidays, I was playing with two friends, ages 6 to 8, in St. Lawrence Forstal, just off the Old Dover Road, near to the St Lawrence Cricket Ground and the Kent and Canterbury Hospital. Suddenly, the general air raid siren started to wail. Everything happened so quickly that German bombers were over us before we could get anywhere near to a shelter.

We did as instructed and lay face down flat in the gutter of the roadway with our hands covering the backs of our necks. I looked up (I was supposed to keep my head down) and could see the German air crew through the bulbous
glass fronts of their Junkers or Heinkel bombers, as they flew over our heads at a very low altitude. We learned later that the reason for there being no warning of the raid was that the raiders had flown in at sea level over Pegwell Bay under the radar screen up the valley of the River Stour and arrived at Canterbury unannounced. As they flew over us, we saw the surface of the road ahead being tom up by cannon fire. As soon as the first wave of aircraft had flown over, we ran to an air raid shelter in the garden of a nearby house. The raid was heavy and continued for some time.

We learned later that the main target of the raid had been the Canterbury South Railway Station, from which ran the Elham valley line to Folkestone. The line was being used to transport military goods and equipment and was operated by the army. A steam train at the station, being driven by a military crew, was attacked and the driver and several military personnel killed. The raid was vicious and fairly widespread, causing a lot of damage and some loss of civilian life. On the following Monday at school, we were called to order by our class teacher, Miss Riley, who informed us that one of our number, Billy, age 7, had (contrary to all the rules) been riding on the footplate of the steam engine at Canterbury South Station with the soldiers on the previous Saturday afternoon and been killed in the raid. We all stood in silence for a minute to remember our friend. He may have been a bit mischievous but what boy of his age could possibly have resisted an offer of a ride on the footplate of a steam engine?

This story was added by a volunteer to the site on behalf of David Bell. David fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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