"MEMORIES" by Marilyn Stephenson-Knight
remember being afraid. We just got on with it.” War-time Dover
had a gritty fatalism. If your number wasn’t up there was a job
to do. My own mother was blown off her bike by an exploding
shell. Rescued from rubble, she went home for lunch and was back
at work straight afterwards.
The Dover War
Memorial Project remembers all Dovorians who stood firm in the
dark days of war. Very many, like Fred Hayward, are not on the
Town Memorial. In 1940 he was stopping a gas leak when he was
killed by an unexploded bomb. Little Francis Hall, 8, was one of
seven killed in an air raid in 1916. He was on his way to Sunday
Brading, relieving Leros island, Greece, was mined at sea in
October 1943. It was his 23rd birthday. Sergeant
Lewis King laid down his life for his friends. In Belgium in
1916, he helped them put on gas masks. It was too late by the
time he fixed his own.
There are many
stories. But they’re not all of casualties. Many people remained
in Dover during the wars. From the lady who remembers the lamps
flickering in Oil Mill Caves while she sheltered as a child in
the Great War, to my uncle who scattered his 1940s school class
by taking in an unexploded incendiary bomb for “show and tell”,
there are countless memories.
remembers well being a young lad in World War II Dover. He kept
a canny eye on the skies. Death could come within seconds.
Walking along Cambridge Road, he heard a rat-a-tat-tat. He dived
into a doorway as bullets screamed up the street. An enemy
plane, cheated, roared away overhead.
Worse was what
he couldn’t hear. Later came the flying bombs, the V1s. The
drone was fine; they were still flying. But when it stopped “you
ran like hell”. The V1 was coming down to explode. A lot of V1s
passed over the town, and guns on the cliff tops blew many out
of the sky. To this day John is amazed by the skill of the
Spitfire pilots. Coming out of a steep dive they would edge
their wings within inches of a V1 wing. The changed airflow
turned the bomb away. Sometimes the V1s flew back where they’d
come. Up on the cliffs or down on the front, John and his
friends would cheer loudly.
He’d cheer the
pilots on in the dog fights too. He fell silent once. It looked
bad for the Spitfire, chased into clouds over Dover Castle.
Moments later the Spitfire burst back. Trailing smoke, the enemy
plane was now the quarry. The German pilot baled out into the
Many came down
on land. John and his friends would rush to the Police Station
in Ladywell. “For you the war is over!” they chanted, while the
Home Guard, with fixed bayonets and stern faces, escorted the
pilots and crews into custody.
John went with
his landlord to deliver bread to the POW camps. Discipline was
strict in the German camp, but the Italians bounced John on
their knees, laughing “bambino! (little child)” They waved him
goodbye with a present of a wooden whistle.
Dover was full
of strangers. Service men had guided trips around the castle.
John and his friends tagged on, and learnt the tours.
Entertaining troops was a popular job; rewards were precious
sweets and chocolate, and, when the GIs came, gum too.
the lads weren’t welcome. In the castle moats they discovered
assault-training courses, suspended high above the ground. A
favourite was the Burma Bridge; two ropes for hands and one for
feet. Army instructors chased them away, fearful of injury.
They weren’t to know John’s future career was formed up in the
moats. Many years later he became an Army Physical Training
after the war, evacuated children were fascinated by the debris.
There was quite an industry of swapping prized bits of metal.
John still has a piece of shrapnel and a bit of gun shellcase to
remind him of his childhood in war-time Dover.
burn deep. Not a week goes by when John doesn’t think of his
best friend Freddy Spinner. Aged 9, he was killed by a shell at
the Priory Station in 1944. Freddy is buried in an unmarked
grave at St Mary’s. Him, and the many others not named on the
Town Memorial, the Dover War Memorial Project remembers.
If you have
someone to commemorate, or memories of war-time Dover to share,
do call us on 0787 624 0701. Or visit the forum on our website.
www.doverwarmemorialproject.org.uk. There are many more
This article first appeared
in the Dover Express, 30th November 2006, under the title
"Unsung heroes come to life in memories"
Reproduced with permission
Priory Gate Road, 1942, courtesy Dover Museum