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- Peter Faggetter
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- 23 January 2004
Although I very well remember the German air raid on Croydon airport during the early evening of 15th August 1940 – the first air attack on a Surrey target in fact – and without any siren warning sounding to alert some still working factory personnel – many of whom were killed or injured as a result – was actually intended as a Kenley raid by the participating dozen or so Messerschmitt II0 fighter-bombers which had failed to locate the well camouflaged downland airfield, it’s the famous 18th August lunchtime raid by Dornier bombers on my beloved Kenley aerodrome that holds the most vivid memories of the Battle of Britain months.
It was a well executed and skilful raid by German chaps who had never flown to Surrey before; men who after skimming past the white cliffs near Seaford, stuck to their brilliantly navigated low level task all the way to Kenley to complete a master-stroke. It was a legitimate military target of importance to the Germans, and to prove that nothing was indiscriminate – in spite of air gunners sighting many people along the way – including my brother and I as we stood dumbfoundedly amazed in our avenue a mere 100 feet beneath one of the nine bombers wings, the Germans fired not a shot till warding off and intercepting Hurricane fighter over Caterham, a mile from their target. It was a day to remember, and no mistake. (For full story see my local history booklet ‘Kenley’s Open Door’)
But it’s the early 4th November incident at Caterham that held the tricky key to my; door. By the end of October the great B of B daylight raids had slowly faded away; the German hopes of an invasion during 1940 hadn’t proved possible due to our RAF resistance. Now the shorter days and autumn weather would, or was, hindering formation bombing, so the Germans were having to resort to small sections of planes or, on cloudier days, the single raiders. Such were difficult to keep track of or, even known about for in cloud they could meander with impunity until the time came to strike.
It wasn’t a good day at school for lessons, and the dull November clouds only added more grey to what would be miserable morning. Due to air raid danger we were only schooling in the mornings – till 1 p.m. but I’d refuse to go.
With my mother finally tiring of all my grumbles of not feeling well, and having a headache, she eventually gave in and crossly told me to stay in bed. Soon after the hour that would see the others leaving school the sound of an aircraft drew me outside our country bungalow. It was the first aeroplane I’d heard all morning, which wasn’t surprising considering the low, drab cloud base and that the sirens had remained silent. Assessing the passage of the in or above cloud aircraft’s movements in the direction of the Guards Barracks, I stood watching and waiting to see if it would appear. With the sounds of the twin-engine machine now moving to the right – and all within the space of two minutes, a Dornier dropped below the cloud in a shallow dive towards Caterham Hill, and then disappeared from my view behind the nearby obscuring tress. Seconds later sharp bomb detonations ripped through he air and tree branches from a mile away. In those moments a schoolmate I often walked part-way home with had one of the bombs explode almost alongside him. The bomb had landed in the road mid way between two well known little shops, one selling broken biscuits to the right lads and the other the sweets and fireworks specialist. The good man who I’m sure on occasions busted biscuits for the fun watching kids delighted faces was killed when, on hearing the bomber had rushed outside to pull my friend to safety. Another shop man was killed too, plus some kids injured. That was a ’banger’ to break more than all the biscuits, and battered the fireworks shop to a shambles.
So my morning refusal had paid off; as id by some extrasensory perception I’d given the Germans the slip. I certainly consider it as one of my great escapes for not only had my bored school instincts dictated my morning attitude to the day, but I was to actually spot the Dornier that carried the bomb with my name on it. Had I not that day been walking alongside Ray, I’d have been nearby and with the third member of our trio of classmates heading for westward homes. What’s more, I had heard it’s searching approach, then its reversing course, as if it had first overshot my usual whereabouts. And by another strange quirk of fate the other 13 yr old boy had been turned back at exit time by the awful science master, and to go up and clean a work surface in the science room; he’d brook no argument to the contrary either, apparently. More than a bit peeved, the lad was nevertheless glad and thankful when five minutes later he easily saw both the bomber and straddle of bombs exploding about where he would have been walking with Ray. He’d naturally wondered why I’d stayed off school that morning too. He thanks GOD for his most lucky escape, and coincidently – and learned when I was sixty years old – he married my school girlfriend! Ray’s injuries were quite severe for he had broken bones and lost and eye, and I never saw him again.
Most people thought the bomber crew had been indiscriminate, but with the pilot needing the cloud shield against fighter attack, for perhaps he knew Kenley was close at hand, I’m inclined to think that he misjudged his timing to emerge from the cloud for an attack on the barracks
Another very odd twist to this Caterham bomb incident came about a few days or even day before the firework night in 1938. (No fireworks in 1939 due to war). Very short of money due to the creeping war outlook, I got talked into stealing some bangers from the mentioned shop. Luckily I was the outside ‘watch’ partner, another took up the doorway position, while the deaf one got detailed into the prime roll of actual ‘lifting’. With no helpful and planned dropping of bagged broken biscuits to create a diversion, the not stupid lady shop keeper twigged the light fingers trickery and from a hidden glass panel viewing point, rushed into the shop to nab our ’snatch and grab’ pal with pockets already half full.
To some now very urgent sounds of ‘caught’ red-handed, I quickly upped my regularly reworked leather soled shoes and scorched them for home-woodlands like a two-bob Skyraider. Only a motor could catch me. And the sequel to that story didn’t end there, and nor did I ever go in that shop again; the guilt felt was too strong, although I’m sure the woman shop owner never knew of my involvement, nor saw the dusty wake heading westwards.
The other haunting sequel came about in the summer of 1945. War had just ended, and following my six months of army training my brother and I had managed to get leave together from the Forces. Bob had easily joined the Navy – his choice of Service from his very young days – and found his telegraphist vacation in submarines to avoid the curse of seasickness that plague him aboard small anti submarines ships. I had found my way into the air element by volunteering early in 1945, but not for the hoped for R.A.F. but he Parachute Regt, and acquire my wings in July.
Digging out an old tent, Bob and I set off by train to reacquaint ourselves with dear old Bexhill – the seaside Sussex beach of our fine boyhood. Having ascertained that sand and shingles were still where we’d left them in 1938, we walked along the sea front in order for me to buy some cigarettes. On entering the first suitable shop, I was stunned into immediate immobility! – Behind the counter and serving two customers was the very woman who had owned the bomb-blasted fireworks shop at Caterham!! Quick to turn tail, I’ve yet to ‘chance’ another shop at Bexhill, while to my surprised and foot trampled brother, after confirmation over the shop doorway, I was “… a bloody jinx!”
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