Home   Maidstone   News   Article

The life of a Maidstone and District bus driver on the Home Front during the Second World War

We have become familiar with the stories of wartime heroism from our servicemen at the front during the last war, but what of those left at home to Keep Calm and Carry on?

Tony Webb, of Newbury Avenue in Allington, shares this history of his father, Keith Webb, who was a bus driver for Maidstone and District bus company for 40 years - including the entire 1939 to 1945 conflict.

Keith Webb - 40 years a bus driver
Keith Webb - 40 years a bus driver

Born in Hollingbourne in 1903, Keith Webb attended the Duke of York’s Royal Military School in Dover as a child and as result became a man of smart appearance and discipline throughout his life. He joined M&D in 1928.

Tony Webb writes: "As a schoolboy in Maidstone during the 1939/45 war, my first recollection of my father at this period was his being away from home for two weeks, when the company was instructed by the Ministry of War to deploy their fleet of Leyland Tiger Pullman Saloons, which had been converted to ambulances each with a capacity of eight stretchers, to form a mobile column to support various ports along the south coast to receive casualties from the evacuation of Dunkirk in June 1940.

"The livery in fact had changed little with the dark green overall bus colour being favourable to wartime conditions. The roofs were painted matt grey instead of silver.

"A little known fact today is that bus crews had a personal issue of military-style steel helmets, finished in matt grey, which had to be carried at all times when on duty, together with their civilian respirators.

"Also in June 1940, the Maidstone and District and other bus companies made an appeal to their employees to form Local Defence Volunteer (LDF) units to defend bus company depots and property."

Keith Webb beside a Daimler wartime utility bus
Keith Webb beside a Daimler wartime utility bus

"It was at first intended that these units should operate in a static role only.

"On August 23, 1940,the LDV title was changed to Home Guard, with all the bus companies in Kent formed into one battalion and known as the Maidstone and District and Allied Companies Battalion.

"This proved too unwieldy a title and on September 16 it was changed again to the First Battalion Bus Companies Home Guard.

"Then in November that year changed to Twenty Six Bus Battalion!

"Shortly after this, the Battalion was formed into three Home Guard Transport Columns - West Kent, East Kent and North Kent."

An M&D Service 19 stops in Military Road, Chatham, in the 1940s. Picture: Ottakars PLC
An M&D Service 19 stops in Military Road, Chatham, in the 1940s. Picture: Ottakars PLC

"Their role was now as a mobile force to be deployed all over the United Kingdom to transport Home Guard units or battle casualties.

"Members of the battalion were issued with a Tiger's Head sleeve motif to be worn below the title Home Guard on their battledress - as opposed to their contemporaries in the infantry battalions who sported a motif of the White Cliffs of Dover and Dover Castle on their sleeves.

"Sunday, September 15, dawned clear and bright and remained so all day.

"The Webb family spent the entire morning in the cellar of our small terraced house in Maidstone while an intense aerial battle raged overhead.

"Around noon, there was a lull in activities which offered the chance to snatch a bite of lunch before father reported for duty at the garage in Knightrider Street."

Maidstone suffered its share of wartime bombing: this one fell on Albion Place on October 10, 1940
Maidstone suffered its share of wartime bombing: this one fell on Albion Place on October 10, 1940

"His first journey was Service 10 (Maidstone/Ashford/Folkestone) and he later recalled seeing a Messerschmitt 110 fighter bomber which had made a wheels-up crash landing close to the main A20 at Lenham.

"During the wartime years, the movement of civilians was restricted for those wishing to enter coastal areas, and they were only allowed to do so on the production of their ID card to prove their place of residence.

"Drivers of public service vehicles and other essentials services were been issued with an ID card with an endorsement to permit entry together with a certificate of occupation.

"Throughout the war, the buses ran to time, conveying the workforce to and from their place of work. This included the Express service E1 that went from Maidstone to Victoria Coach Station.

"It was mid-October that father was keyed to take the early morning coach to London and on arrival at Victoria Station found he had narrowly missed the consequences of a parachute mine that had exploded nearby."

Keith Webb's parachute bomb souvenir
Keith Webb's parachute bomb souvenir

"He later proved his story by bringing home a chunk of metal from the mine which he claimed "was still hot when I picked it up" - I still have this today!

"As the war drew on, I remember father suffering from really bad headaches which he attributed to driving in the blackout, but they in no way deterred him from carrying on with his duties.

"Another feature of public transport service is private hire and perhaps surprisingly this carried on throughout the war.

"For example the stars of the day - Arthur Askey, Elsie and Doris Waters, Issy Bonn etc - were all conveyed to remote Army camps throughout Kent as part of ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) programmeand there were also late-night pick-ups from dance halls back to military establishments.

"Also prisoners were conveyed on M&D buses from Maidstone and Canterbury prisons to Brixton in South London. The upside of this duty for my Dad was a good free lunch at Brixton before returning home."

Wartime favourite Arthur Askey, left, seen here with Thora Hird and Ian Gardiner
Wartime favourite Arthur Askey, left, seen here with Thora Hird and Ian Gardiner

"By early 1944, the smell of victory was strong, but this seemed again in doubt with the Luftwaffe's launch of Operation Steinbeck on the night of January 21, 1944 (a second blitz, targetting specifically the south of England), when father was again caught up in the action at Hunton Hill between Paddock Wood and Maidstone.

"This was the only time in the war that he, together with his conductress and passengers, had to abandon the bus to take shelter in the relative safety of a roadside ditch until it was safe to proceed.

"He later described it as like a 'gigantic firework display' and 'all hell let loose.'

"By the spring of 1944, aerial activity had lessened, that was until June to September when the V bomb weapons ranged over the Kentish countryside.

"But come September of that year, the invasion of our shores was no longer a possibility for the Germans and the Home Guard was stood down, although the final end of hostilities in Europe was still eight months away in May1945."

Keith Webb
Keith Webb
Telling the story: Keith's son, Tony Webb
Telling the story: Keith's son, Tony Webb

Keith Webb married Bessie (nee Samson) in 1929. Tony was their only child. Keith Webb worked on the buses until 1968. He died in 1993.

Read more: All the latest news from Malling

Read more: All the latest news from Maidstone

Read more:All the latest news from Weald

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More