Newchurch Village > History > Newchurch in WWII > Remembering the War

Remembering the War

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Brian Lancaster, a 
schoolboy resident, shares his memories of Newchurch at war

Click here to read his story


Douglas Palmer

An RAF Ground Crew Member stationed at Newchurch in 1944

I was a young RAF ground crew member stationed at Newchurch through April-August 1944. Our living conditions were very Spartan, just tents in a field. Our main job was to deal with the V1 flying bombs. The V1 campaign started just after the ‘D Day’ invasion on June 6th and more or less ended in September when our armies overran the launching sites in France and Belgium.

Looking through some old correspondence I found the letter from Mr. Stickles, who I believe is the son of the farmer who owned the Newchurch Airfield. He said the occupants of the cottage damaged by the V1 who we helped from the cottage (I had jumped in the ditch at the time) were ‘Waggoner’ Will Punyer and his wife. I understand from Mr. Stickles he was a man of status in the village and his cottage was called ‘Black House’. He died in 1947 and his wife about ten years later. As a young lad of about ten Mr. Stickles watched us refuel and rearm the Tempest aircraft. 

Our Wing HQ was in the existing cottages on the east side of the road towards Oak Farm and our tented accommodation alongside the garden of the cottages, now the site of a house. We used the churchyard in the village for our motor transport depot and the airmens’ mess and cookhouse was in the farm buildings of Brooker’s Farm. An army gunsite was located at the north end of the airfield and we had several machine gun mountings near our tents for use against the V1s.

The Spitfire could only just keep up with a V1 but the Tempest, according to our Wing Commander Roland Beaumont, could make 530mph in a shallow dive. Roland did a very good job at Newchurch, keeping all the squadrons operational and ending up with the wing destroying 638 V1s. He went on to a career in test flying. Once he tried to break the altitude record during the time of ‘The Cold War’. The people on the ground were anxious to know the height he had attained, but  Beaumont was cagey as the Russians could have been listening in He just said “there’s no one else up here.”

Syd Goodsell SidGoodsell.JPG

A local resident 

I remember the many times I saw the ALG in operational conditions while cycling around the marsh. Edward G. Robinson, the American film actor of yesteryear and Ernest Hemingway, the author, both lived under canvas there at the Newchurch airfield, probably on journalistic missions at the height of the  flying bomb period. I also remember ten or twelve of these flying bombs flying across the marsh at Newchurch all at once.

On 31st August 1940 I saw the Dornier bomber that had crash landed astride the Bilsington Road and the anti-aircraft gun and searchlight unit established at the junction of St.Mary’s Road and Pickney Bush Lane.

 

Click to read extracts about the war from the Newchurch School diary dated 1939-1944.  It seems the school was not immune to the ravages of war overhead.

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E.A. Hearl

Serving with the Field Ambulance Company in Newchurch in 1940

It was in November 1940 when The Field Ambulance Company I was serving with stumbled into The Old Rectory for a few hours sleep before getting ready to meet the expected invasion from across the Channel. My memories of Newchurch and the surrounding countryside in those days is one of extreme bleakness. My warmer memories are of the welcome given to us by the people of the village and their valiant efforts to entertain us when we were off duty.

The barn which was the centre of most of the social activities was minus it’s tiles. The barn dances that were organized were a masterpiece of improvisation but how we enjoyed them.

The new village store is built on part of the field used for our morning P.T. and where we played football matches. One such match was a very much interrupted affair and a fight between British and German planes developed right over our heads and seemed to go on for a long time. We scattered off the field taking refuge in the dyke several times, as it seemed we were becoming the target for straffing.

Some of us were housed next to the pub and I remember being shaken out of a deep sleep when a stick of bombs landed in the fields not very far away. If they had not been dropped a few seconds later there would not have been a lot of Newchurch left standing.

Part of my time in Newchurch was spent serving in the Officers’ Mess which was located in a very tumbledown cottage by the side of the dyke, now a very attractive home which has had some additions to it.

E.A. Hearl, 4 August, 1974

Ivy Homewood IvyHomewood.JPG

A Newchurch Villager

Apart from a few enemy planes over us, it really started during the withdrawal from Dunkirk. It looked as if a fog was rising over France, all the washing on the clothes-lines was spotted with black smudges, as were the daises in the garden. We could hear the gunfire and the trains going into Ashford for a fuel stop. It seemed to settle down with only a few droves of enemy bombers on a mission to bomb London for a while.

Then came The Battle of Britain, lots of roads had gun emplacements, barbed wire was placed on all the sea walls and many bridges were blown up and cards issued so you could enter Romney Marsh past checkpoints. A letter arrived from the Air Ministry stating they would take 199 acres of our farm for a runway for a landing ground. This came into action in the spring of 1943. We would watch the Spitfires go off and counted them on their return. Sad to say, some never returned.

The next year was the invasion. We knew something was up as all the planes had their wings painted in black and white stripes, then at night they were all washed off and then repainted. There was a pipeline laid through the village and under the sea (P.L.U.T.O.) to carry oil to our troops in France after they made a landing. We could hear the guns and tanks rumbling across the water from France.

Then there were the flying bombs. The first one passed over at night and we thought it was a plane on fire. They came over on all days and when the engine stopped we all ran for cover. We saw one of our Spitfires turn a bomb over and it came down close to the village. When the flying bombs stopped, it was quieter and life began to get back to normal.