Published: 06:00, 18 June 2021
Fifty-four years ago, the quick-thinking action by former Paratrooper Bill Millen saved a baby's life.
This week, that "baby" returned to her home town of Maidstone to lay flowers on the grave of the man who saved her.
In 1967, Claire Sharp had been staying with her grandparents,Victor and Betty Freeman, at their home at No 9 Quarry Road, in Tovil.
Claire, aged around two-and-a-half at the time, had been left in the charge of her 12-year-old aunt.
Somehow, and to this day, it is not clear exactly how baby Claire fell out of the attic window of the home and slid down the tiled roof.
She got caught on the gutter.
An astonished group of neighbours witnessed her predicament and pandemonium broke out.
Bill Millen, 28, was then working a night shift at Alabaster Passmore's factory on Farleigh Hill in Tovil. He was in his back garden at the time and heard screams.
His son, also called Bill, says that the way his dad told the story, he raced round the side of his house and jumped the garden fences of the intervening homes to get below the child, just in time.
Bill said: "Dad said she seemed to be holding on with her hands, but had slipped over the edge.
"Suddenly she fell backwards and Dad caught her in his arms, squatting down as he did so to lessen the impact."
The baby was unharmed and once she was back with her family, Mr Millen snr returned to his gardening.
Baby Claire grew up and at 19 moved away from the area.
She said: "Obviously I was too young to remember anything about it, so what I know is just what I was told by my family years later when I was a teenager.
"Even now the story is not clear. My aunt has never spoken to me about what happened and I still don't know how I came to be put out the window, or where my mother was while all this was going on.
"I became a military wife and moved around lots of places before finally settling in Yorkshire.
"It was only recently that my brother Stephen (Cullen) began sending me links to a Facebook page, Maidstone Past, that I began thinking about it again."
Mr Cullen, who is now based in Ashford but went by the name of Stephen Gobel when he lived in Maidstone, found his grandparents' names listed on an old street directory posted online, which prompted him to search for any Millens still living locally.
Karen Millen, Bill Millen's widow, saw his posts and got in touch.
She said: "Sadly my husband died in 2005 from cancer. He was only 66.
"I wasn't with him at the time of the incident, but he sometimes talked about it – though he was a very modest man.
"It doesn't surprise me that he was a hero in this way. He was a real larger-than-life character. He was a very proud man – even a bit vain – but very funny and much loved.
"More than 400 people came to his funeral at St Margaret's Church in Barming."
Mrs Millen, 64, lives in Sutton Road.
She arranged to get together with Claire and the two families met for lunch in Langley this week before going to Maidstone Cemetery where Claire and her brother laid flowers on Bill Millen's grave.
During the course of their lunchtime conversation, Stephen Cullen discovered that at one time both he and Bill Millen had worked together at Paynes Fruit Farm in East Farleigh, without either one making the connection about who they were.
He said: "It's such a small world."
Mrs Sharp was accompanied on her pilgrimage by her brother Stephen, his wife, Anna Cullen, and her 18-year-old daughter Morgan Prothero.
She said: "I'm sorry I never got to meet Bill. From what Karen has told me he was a wonderful man, and I probably wouldn't be here today if it weren't for him."