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Survivors tell of bombing horror in Kennington

As families prepared for their fourth Christmas of the Second World War, a lone bomber brought death and destruction to Kennington. Robin Britcher tells of the fateful day.

It was three days before Christmas when a German bomber appeared out of low cloud and opened fire on men working in fields near Ashford.

The rear machine-gunner was seen blazing away as the Dornier 217 flew at tree-top height before dropping nine bombs on Kennington at 10am on 22 December 1942.

Two semi-detached houses in Grosvenor Road were destroyed in the bombing
Two semi-detached houses in Grosvenor Road were destroyed in the bombing

The first bomb destroyed two semi-detached houses in Grosvenor Road, killing mother-of-six Edith Smith, 60, known affectionally to local children as Auntie Edie.

One of her sons, who was in the army, came home on leave next day to discover No 35 destroyed and his mother dead.

Rose Williams, of 56 Grosvenor Road, was seriously injured and died 17 months later, leaving two young children.

Grandmother Sarah Gray, who was staying with her daughter at nearby Fleet Villas, was killed by the second 500kg bomb.

Many homes were damaged, but the occupants were in their Morrison table shelters and escaped injuries from flying glass and debris.

The other bombs were 50kg devices.

Another damaged home in Grosvenor Road
Another damaged home in Grosvenor Road

Two fell in Grosvenor Road - one near the Rose Inn in Faversham Road - but failed to explode.

The rest landed in soft ground and caused no damage.

Les Bishopp was cooking his breakfast at 23 Grosvenor Road when the air raid siren sounded.

He said: “I looked out of the window and saw tracer bullets and then the bomb hit the council houses.

"Half our kitchen ceiling fell into my breakfast.”

Les, a Royal Navy gunner, had returned home the previous day after his troopship, Orcades, was torpedoed in the South Atlantic killing 45 of the 1,066 on board.

Les watched from a lifeboat as the ship stayed afloat for two hours before sinking.

He was picked up by a Polish cargo boat.

Peggy Lurcock, living with her grandmother in Ball Lane, heard the bombs fall and set off on her tricycle to find out what had happened.

She said: “I was half way along Ulley Road when Mrs Smith’s sister came running towards me shouting ‘Don’t go down there, your Auntie Edie’s been blown to bits!’

"What a thing to say to an eight-year-old.”

Peggy, who went to Ashford School and lives at Gregory Court, Churchfield Way, Wye, said: “Mrs Smith worked for my grandmother as a domestic help and became a friend.”

"Half our kitchen ceiling fell into my breakfast" - Les Bishop
"Half our kitchen ceiling fell into my breakfast" - Les Bishop

Children at nearby Kennington School, in Upper Vicarage Road, were in the playground shelter when the bombs fell.

Those from Grosvenor Road were not allowed to go home for dinner and were fed from the school’s emergency stock.

Seven-year-old John Mercer went to his granny’s in Faversham Road.

He said: “The windows were blown out, there was plaster dust and debris everywhere and I was told there was no hot food.

"As I returned to school a policeman hurried me past a large pile of fresh soil near the Toll House in Faversham Road.

"I found out later there was an unexploded bomb.”

A plaque in Bybrook cemetery
A plaque in Bybrook cemetery

Peter Mannering, who was 12 at the time, said: “The second bomb landed in front of our house, 82 Grosvenor Road, and bounced into The Fleet (a boggy area) where it exploded. My mother ran under the stairs.

"When she came out there were flames all the way up the road — incendiary bombs had set fire to the hedges.

"My bedroom window was wrenched off its hinges by the blast and landed in the garden, but the glass wasn’t broken and it was refitted.”

Air raid warden Miss Kynaston saw the Dornier flying at rooftop level before it released the bombs.

She told KentOnline the plane wobbled from side to side and disappeared when anti-aircraft guns in Sandyhurst Lane opened fire.

Mrs Smith and Mrs Gray were buried in Bybrook Cemetery.

They are commemorated on the Kennington War Memorial and on a plaque in the cemetery which remembers Ashford civilians killed in the war.

  • Robin Britcher’s book, Kennington at War 1939-1945, is on sale at Bella’s (Savers Newsagent) in Faversham Road, price £5.
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