Bombs flying!

Dog fights over Dover and meeting Churchill

By Nicola Benge

Photo:Don father in uniform

Don father in uniform

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Bombs flying!

Dover was covered with barrage balloons on steel cables, there to try to stop low flying aircraft. Messerschmitt 109s used to shoot down the balloons, and they'd collapse in flames. They were filled with hydrogen. The flames would have gone by the time the balloon hit the ground, but there were steel cables everywhere in the town.

The Stukkas Junker 87s would scream over the town, and no wonder it was called 'Hell Fire Corner'. It happened every day. They hit the stern of a destroyer in the harbour, once, and it continued going round and round in circles.

They dropped one on the swimming baths, I remember, and it killed the Mayor. Hit the skating rink, too.

But you were so tired... all those bombs. Always awake.

They had three or four huge guns in Calais, you know. Enormous great things that sent 15 inch naval shells over the Channel. They reached us easily. We had two big guns at St Margaret's Bay, and we used to fire at them, to find out where their guns were stationed. But those naval shells could reach Canterbury, Hythe, and Folkestone... I think that was their most easterly range. They fired them high, and they came in a parabola over the Channel. They took 90 seconds to reach us. And there was no noise. No whistle... they were going too fast for that, they were faster than sound.

But when they went off you thought it must be the end of the world.

At first sight

The first time I heard one, I was walking a girl home... June Worthington, her name was. We stopped to chat through a front window with a friend of hers... people used to chat through front windows back then... and suddenly, there was this incredible noise. I can't describe it. Like nothing on earth it was.

And the window was empty. They were OK though... they'd all run through to the shelter in the back.

Our planes used to bomb and bomb and bomb those Calais positions. They finally got them, but not before they did an awful lot of damage.

There's still a piece of armour-plating on Dover seafront, and it's inscribed... it says that 2226 of these naval shells landed in the area.

I remember we would see their planes taking off from Calais when we were off duty. There'd be a batch of fifty, then another batch then a third. They'd come at us in a line, three blocks of fifty... then they'd split up. And we'd see a few little Spitfires going out to meet them.

There really were only a few. They are called 'The Few', aren't they? I really don't know how they ever won the War.

But I tell you something. People nowadays moan about the planes going in and out of Shoreham, but it was places like that... the mechanics from Lympne who loved to fly... they just signed up to help,  and then they were the lads who ended up flying. And if it happened again, they'd be the ones who'd join up, I bet.

Dog Fights

We used to watch the dog fights, and yell,

"There's one behind you!"
"Shoot 'im down!"

People say it was bad to wish someone dead, but this was wartime, and they were the enemy...

They used to crash on Romney Marsh, you know.  And we used to get out there fast, try to get a few souvenirs. Machine guns, cameras, things like that. You took anything you could get away with.  It wasn't always easy when they posted sentries on guard.

We were on guard up on the cliffs once... on King's Down, near Deal. In a pillbox, right on the edge of the cliff. I looked over the top, and there, far below on the rocks, there was a big black mine. One of those with horns all over. I thought one of those would make a good souvenir.

Well, we scrambled down, went along the beach, and I caught hold of one of those horns, and tried to bend it.

They are made of lead, and inside there's a tube of picric acid. When the horn bends enough, if it touches a ship for example; the tube breaks, and the acid sets off the detonator. Boom!

Anyway. I caught hold of this horn, bent it, and there was this hissing and sizzling noise. And we ran! How we ran! If it had gone up we wouldn't have stood an earthly... It didn't go off.

There's a spring inside, attached to the mooring cable. If the thing is trying to float, it arms the mechanism. If it is static, it's disarmed. Golly, I was lucky. I went back the next day and got one of those horns.

Then we had a kit inspection, and out it went. All that effort for nothing!

Churchill's visit

Another chance...a chance missed... was when Churchill came to visit Dover Castle.  I saw him. A big bloke. You felt confident when you saw him. He was a real presence. Not like the one we've got now, he's a dwarf in comparison.

But Churchill dropped his cigar. I could have picked it up, and I didn't. I'd be a rich man now, if I had, I dare say!

This page was added by Nicola Benge on 16/01/2008.

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