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Whitstable at War - World War II 

.... Roles & Duties

 

Duty in the  Armed Forces....

   

Many local men and women left the town to serve in the armed forces. Given the town's maritime traditions, I suspect that a fair few opted for the Royal or Merchant Navies and saw action at sea. 

 

Duty in Other Services....

 

Older members of the community, those unfit for service and people in reserved occupations were drafted into other services.... such as the Home Guard (based at the Drill Hall in Cromwell Road), the ARP, medical services and Observer Corps. Some of these are described below....

 

Reserved Occupations... 

 

Some people worked in Reserved Occupations including vital duties in the emergency services such as the fire brigade. However, this could involve disruption and dangers....

 

Dad was a railway man at Whitstable railway station during the 1930s.... which is how he met my mum. Her garden backed onto the station platform in Railway Avenue.

By the time the war started, he had been promoted to a goods shunter - a reserved occupation. He was moved to one of the big marshalling yards in SE London where he witnessed intense bombing raids. 

One of the problems was that the yards were targetted by the Luftwaffe and the staff couldn't shoot back. Anyway, some nights, he and other railway men decided to take action. If Hitler could make a noise... so could they! 

During a few air raids, they grabbed all the cookery tins and sang and danced in the lobby - clattering the tins together!

Dave Taylor
Whitstable

     

The Home Guard....

 

The Home Guard used the Drill Hall in Cromwell Road as their base. Now, thanks to Alan Hadler, we can provide some details of the unit...

 

Home Guard - Whitstable 

 

This is a photo of the time my Dad was in the Whitstable Home Guard back in October 1944. I have listed the names of local men....

  

 

Top Row
(L to R):
Cpl. Harvey, Cpl. White, Pte. de- Buriate, Pte. Rigden, Pte. Priest, Pte. Hardy, Pte.Freeman, Pte Killick.
Mid Row:
Pte. Maflin, Pte.Cambell, <Not Known>, l/cpl. Carden, Pte.Longford, Cpl Porter, Pte. Norman, Pte. Osbourne.
Front Row: Sgt. Leney, Sgt.Barden, Sgt. Grantham, Lieut. C.Gann, Lieut. Jones, Sgt. Morrell, Cpl. H W Hadler (dad).

   

The scan below is taken from the arm flash on his jacket.....

 

  

They used to be up on the Tankerton slopes at Priest and Sow corner as our first line of defence. 

As they say on Dads Army,  THEY DONT LIKE IT UP 'EM.

 

Alan Hadler
Whiststable

 

Fire Brigade & Medical Service..

   

Apart form the defence of Britain, many people played vital and dangerous roles in rescue and medical services....

 

My cousin reminded me that our grandparents worked in the Red Cross (Grandmother) and Fire Brigade (Grandfather). 

Christine Punter
Auckland
New Zealand

   

Observation....

   

Although Britain operated radar, less sophisticated means of "spotting" were needed to provide backup and detailed observation.... 

   

My father-in-law was born with no fingers on one hand and was refused entry into the main services. He served the war in the Observer Corps after receiving training in aircraft identification. 

Dave Taylor
Whitstable

 

Due to their prominent locations and design, church towers were often used for aircraft observation. In Whitstable, All Saints Church provided one such location.     

  

Firewatch...

  

There were other forms of watch duty needed to alert local emergency services....

 

My Mum worked on Fire Watch at the Castle - watching for incendiary bombs. 

Christine Punter
Auckland
New Zealand

    

In fact, as you will see from our other pages, special arrangements were introduced for incendiary bombs and Whitstable did suffer such attacks. 

  

Industry and Agriculture....

 

Whilst Britain's island status helped to protect it against invasion, it also posed a threat in terms of lines of supply. With Europe occupied by enemy forces, those lines stretched across an entire ocean in which German U-Boats were proving a deadly threat. It was vital that the country stepped up home production of raw materials, equipment and food. 

With so many young men drafted into the services, problems arose in keeping vital industry functioning. Thus, many women took their place in the factories to produce vital equipment for the war effort....

  

My cousin's mother worked with Sterling Bombers in the Medway area. 

Christine Punter
Auckland
New Zealand

   

Every piece of suitable land was used for food production and many young women played a vital role.... in the Land Army.

  

Vital Role of Women...

   

Apart from the roles mentioned above, many young women joined the armed forces and played vital roles in a wide range of activities including driving military vehicles and manning guns....

 

An Aunt was a sergeant in charge of an AA battery....

Brian Smith
Hoppers Crossing
Victoria
Australia

 

They also  undertook secret and (sometimes dangerous) intelligence operations. 

  

Duty of Mums

  

With so many men away on active duty, women held families together and single-handedly guided their children through testing times. Some of the problems involved in this task are discussed in our Family at War chapter.

  

Emancipation?

  

It is worth pointing out here that the war laid down a major stepping stone in the path towards equality of the sexes. Emily Pankhurst may have kick started the process but the years from 1939 to 1945 gave emancipation a big push. Things would never be quite the same again.  

  


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