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Kent's Blitz Spirit - keeping calm and carrying on

Eighty years ago, we faced a crisis like never before.

1940 saw the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, and the Battle of Britain fought in the skies above Kent.

Then from September, the county was dubbed Bomb Alley as it was relentlessly targeted by German bombers during the Blitz. It was our darkest hour, yet we emerged stronger than ever before.

Today, the coronavirus presents us with a different kind of challenge. While during the war we could still go to the pub or the cinema, we are now on lockdown. Back then we embraced the mantra to "keep calm and carry on". In 2020, we are just as determined to "stay home, protect the NHS and save lives".

The Covid-19 pandemic has already sparked some fantastic examples of kindness and community spirit. Here, we look back at some of the incredible stories and pictures which show how the people of Kent coped the last time we were faced with an unprecedented crisis...

Kent's 'determined chin'

Just 22 miles across the Channel from the French coast, Kent was on the frontline during the Second World War.

Nowhere was worse hit than Dover - which became known as Hellfire Corner.

Dover became known as Hellfire Corner after relentless bombing in 1940
Dover became known as Hellfire Corner after relentless bombing in 1940

H. R. Pratt Boorman, the then editor and proprietor of the Kent Messenger, paid a visit to the town in 1940.

In a book about his experiences, he recalls how an East Kent bus employee, Driver Share, summed up life in the area: "This is Hell's Corner and we live in it."

Mr Boorman wrote: "Kent has a chin, a determined chin. It juts out into that 20-mile stretch of Channel, in defiance of the Greater Reich. That chin is Dover, with its castle, the Key of England, surmounting its white cliffs.

"It is true the chin is a bit double, and Folkestone, as well as Deal, share with Dover a position so protruding that they invite punishment.

"But can they take it? Yes, they can, and what is more they punch back as hard and as often as they get, it harder and more often nowadays, for the RAF controls the Channel."

Major HR Pratt Boorman
Major HR Pratt Boorman

Dover and her people, he wrote, had sat tight.

"The mothers still remain at home to look after their homes and their husbands in spite of the authorities, in spite of bombs and shells, and in spite of the danger of invasion."

Sir Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister, and General Smuts, pose for Kent Messenger photographer, Mr E Jeffery, at Kearsney Station during their visit to Dover in 1942
Sir Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister, and General Smuts, pose for Kent Messenger photographer, Mr E Jeffery, at Kearsney Station during their visit to Dover in 1942

Another who would not move was Jim Cairns, who had been Mayor of Dover for five years.

"They say that if invasion comes now, if the Day of Judgment comes, he will still be sitting in the mayoral chair, if Dover people want him."

Two years later, undaunted by the relentless bombing, the Prime Minister Winston Churchill, his wife Clementine, and America's First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, paid a visit to Hellfire Corner.

In a telegram to President Roosevelt, marked personal and secret, Churchill reported that Mrs Roosevelt's visit to Canterbury and Dover had been very popular. She had refused to reduce the number of her engagements, noting that Canterbury had been bombed the day after her visit.

Blitz failed to put butcher out of business

Plenty of meat was still available at Boorman's butchers in the aftermath of the blitz
Plenty of meat was still available at Boorman's butchers in the aftermath of the blitz

In the early hours of June 1, 1942, the upper storeys of William Boorman's premises - on the corner of Broad Street and Church Street St Paul's in Canterbury - were destroyed by a bomb.

Luckily, as there was no incendiary fire, his ground floor butcher's shop remained intact, from where he continued to trade in the 'business as usual' spirit, which was typical of wartime Kent.

In the immediate aftermath of the blitz, he even sold meat from his private house at nearby No 9 Longport.

Brewing through the war

Bottling at Shepherd Neame during the Second World War
Bottling at Shepherd Neame during the Second World War

Shepherd Neame kept on brewing beer throughout war - despite rationing of ingredients.

The fortitude of the British people was typical of our dogged stoicism but morale was aided by a variety of pleasant distractions such as hop-picking and beer.

As beer was one of the few items not rationed during the war, Shepherd Neame was kept especially busy, supplying the much-appreciated ale but with fewer members of staff and working with rationed ingredients.

By 1940, 75 employees were away in the forces although efforts were made to recruit replacements.

Dorothy Shuttle, for example, who worked in the brewery's wine and spirit department, was promoted to forewoman when foreman Charlie Derby joined the RAF.

Enjoying a Shepherd Neame pint during the war
Enjoying a Shepherd Neame pint during the war

Other members of staff served in the Home Guard and the Royal Observer Corps, while some worked as special constables or fire-watchers.

Two fire-watchers were stationed on top of the brewhouse in Faversham every night, charged with keeping a keen look-out for incendiary bombs and to extinguish any early fires with hand-operated stirrup pumps.

Three bombs fell on Faversham during the Blitz, destroying homes. But the brewery remained untouched.

In all, 25 per cent of Shepherd Neame pubs were damaged in the war. Three were destroyed - the Coach & Horses in Canterbury, the Freemasons in Canterbury and the Westcliff Tavern in Ramsgate. The latter wasn't rebuilt until 1962.

The Sportsman in Seasalter forged a place in history when it became involved in the last battle on British soil on September 27, 1940, when soldiers exchanged fire with a downed Luftwaffe crew close to it. The soldiers from the London Irish Rifles would later take their unhurt prisoners for a drink at the pub.

Bomb blast was no big deal

Mr C Beadel with his six-month-old baby in his arms, standing in a crater caused by a bomb which fell in his garden at Wordsworth Road, Maidstone, September, 1940
Mr C Beadel with his six-month-old baby in his arms, standing in a crater caused by a bomb which fell in his garden at Wordsworth Road, Maidstone, September, 1940

This picture show Eric Beadel as a baby being cradled by his father, Clifford, and his elder brother Charles, 12, in the front garden of their home.

The night before, a bomb had fallen on their neighbour Rita Roger's house in Wordsworth Road, Maidstone, in 1940.

She said: "I can't remember the bomb coming down. All I have in my mind is Mrs Beadel's six-month-old baby bawling his head off. The poor baby - his face was black but I can still see the white streaks streaming down his little cheeks."

Eric remembered the family having an Anderson shelter and an indoor Morrison shelter and that luckily his father had encouraged Mrs Rogers to come into their shelter that night.

He said he didn't remember it having been a very significant event in his family's history. "There were so many things going on in the war; this was just one of them."

Risking it all for iconic photo

Tragedy came to the historic city of Canterbury on June 1, 1942. Picture: Anthony Swaine
Tragedy came to the historic city of Canterbury on June 1, 1942. Picture: Anthony Swaine

Architect Anthony Swaine risked imprisonment by taking the now iconic photograph of Canterbury city centre on the morning after the Baedeker raids.

He climbed the Bell Harry Tower of Canterbury Cathedral and took the picture with a box camera he had retrieved from his flat in The Buttermarket.

Anthony Swaine looking at his iconic photo, taken from the Bell Harry tower
Anthony Swaine looking at his iconic photo, taken from the Bell Harry tower

Mr Swaine said: “I knew it was forbidden by the government to take pictures but I just could not believe what I was seeing.

“I went to the Kent Messenger office and got this picture and some others printed in a dark room. There would have been no other way to get them developed.”

The raid on June 1, 1942, followed by two smaller ones the following week killed 49 civilians, wrecked more than 500 buildings and left 697 people homeless.

Despite the devastation, Mr Swaine remained in Canterbury and was made a Freeman in recognition of the great contribution he has made to conserving the fabric of the city during and after the war.

Faversham digs deep

A Sunderland flying boat taking off from the Medway
A Sunderland flying boat taking off from the Medway

In the Second World War, the people of Faversham, in common with the rest of the county, endured the ongoing and severe privations of conflict.

Rationing, shortages of just about everything, family life disrupted, homes flattened, loved ones lost, the constant fear of attack from the skies.

Yet the town’s capacity for giving remained incredibly strong. In the summer of 1943, the local Wings for Victory Week opened at the Institute in East Street.

All manner of events and collections were held that week in the hope of reaching an ambitious target of £100,000 to fund the purchase of two Sunderland flying boats.

Faversham dug deep and raised an incredible £150,688, enough to buy three flying boats with money to spare.

A big party to end it all

VE Day party in Sittingbourne. Picture: Terry Scott
VE Day party in Sittingbourne. Picture: Terry Scott

When the war finally came to an end on May 8, 1945, the people of Kent could at last go out and celebrate.

Patricia Crayford was only seven on VE Day.

Her memories of the war are of frequently being afraid, sheltering under the stairs during bombing raids and watching the Wesleyan Church in Sittingbourne High Street burning when it was hit by an incendiary bomb.

But her brothers regarded the five years of war mainly as a big adventure, she says.

The photo above shows her tight-knit, happy community in Eastbourne Street, Sittingbourne, holding a street party to mark the end of the long battle.

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