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The former Startled Saint pub in West Malling to be demolished for houses

A former pub that once served pints to Dambusters leader Guy Gibson is to be pulled down to make way for homes.

Tonbridge and Malling council has granted planning permission for the demolition of a large house at the junction of Teston Road and Kings Hill in West Malling, and its replacement with five new homes.

The building, home to Richard and Pauline Neve, was once The Startled Saint pub and had a unique connection to West Malling’s Second World War history.

Guy Gibson (centre) and others of 617 Squadron
Guy Gibson (centre) and others of 617 Squadron

It opened on December 16, 1940, and had the same landlady, Alice Baker, until 1978. The Whitbread pub was a sister to the Duke Without A Head in Wateringbury and was designed by the same architect.

Because of its proximity to the RAF station at what is now the Kings Hill estate, it was popular with both pilots and ground crew.

Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC, the leader of the 1943 Dambusters raid, was a regular, as was John “Cat’s Eyes” Cunningham.

In his book “Enemy Coast Ahead” Gibson wrote: “... that night we stood by, but the weather was bad, and the Group released the squadron at about nine. Down to the Startled Saint we went, complete with ground crews, to sample the beer, it was good and everyone was happy.”

The Startled Saint pub
The Startled Saint pub

Group Capt Cunningham was a fighter ace who shot down at least 20 enemy aircraft – many at night. To fool the Germans, his success was attributed to a diet of carrots that had improved his eyesight – in fact it was due to the new system of airborne radar that he was trialling for the RAF, operated by his air-gunner Jimmy Rawnsley, who also drank at the Startled Saint.

It is not known if Group Captain Peter Townsend ever propped up the bar at the Startled Saint, but it seems likely. Townsend was Station Commander at West Malling in 1943. He later became equerry to King George VI, and was later perhaps better known for his affair with The Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret.

The Startled Saint had a distinctive sign – the head of St Leonard being “buzzed” by a halo of five Spitfires.

The last pint was pulled in 1992. The site will now become five two-storey five bedroom homes. Two will have detached double garages with a games room over, two will have balconies.

Planning application 18/00574 refers.

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