Whilst Whitstable did not hold any great military
significance, it did require fortification against possible
invasion and it did lie alongside the air and sea lanes into London. As
a result, an army presence was required.
This chapter attempts to identify some of the main
billets and highlight specific
installations and their function. It also shows how the troops were welcomed
and became a part of the local community.
troops arrived at the outbreak of war but others appeared after the German
army's drive across western Europe and the evacuation of British forces from
Dunkerque. It was quite a memorable event when you happen to be pre-school age.
Bill Dancer kicks us off....
My first recollection is of a column of troops
and vehicles coming for days north along South Street from Radfall. It
turned left across South Street (locally known as Spencers) railway
crossing heading to places unknown.
I suspect this must have been part of the Dunkirk
evacuation and that route was one that the then well wooded areas
provided maximum cover.
I would have been 3 or 4 at the time and
helped mum take cocoa out to the troops as far as rations would allow.
We talked to the officer billeted at this junction who called me
according to family legend" little man".
Occupying the High Ground...
It seems that a
significant number of troops were based on
high ground at the southern edge of town... in the open
spaces of Grimthorpe Avenue Borstal Hill, Duncan Downs and Bellevue Road.
View Today: Duncan Downs
with Bellevue Road on the horizon
The lofty terrain provided a clear view of aircraft
and shipping movements in the Thames estuary....
View Today: Thames
estuary from Duncan Downs
Many of the soldiers were deployed
on specific installations associated with spotting and intercepting enemy
Some of the bases were sophisticated... and,
|Whitstable was used as a radar site and this was located off
Grimthorpe Avenue at Borstal Hill. It had excellent views over
the Swale. The old bunkers were still there in late 1958.
I can confirm Cliff
Cuttelle's message re radar in Grimthorpe Ave - now covered by the
Sherwood Estate. The female workers were billeted at the top of Borstal Hill and the
men worked in the underground sites.
I have my cousin to thank for this information. At the same time,
she reminded me that our grandparents worked in the Red Cross
(Grandmother) and Fire Brigade (Grandfather). Her mother worked with
Sterling Bombers in the Medway and my Mum worked on Fire Watch at the
Castle, watching for incendiary bombs.
However, it seems that the Grimthorpe Avenue
equipment may not have lasted
The only thing I managed to find
out about the radar installation was that it was damaged and made non-operational during an air
raid on the 30th/31st of August 1940.
Other bases were more straightforward taking the form of
searchlight and anti-aircraft batteries.....
I wonder how many recall the army hut(s) built on
the crown of the Down. There were two but one wasn’t there for long.
were wooden weatherboard huts with the larger of the two overlooking the
‘toboggan runs’. I
think that hut had two rooms but do not know its purpose other than to
serve the anti aircraft guns stationed there.
In front of that hut was what appeared to be a well.
Perhaps it had been dug to take any waste or perhaps rainwater
from the hut. It always had
water in it but gradually it became filled with bricks and rubbish after
the army left.
latter period of the war, we Stanley Road kids were playing around the
site when we saw a Viper near the well.
That immediately attracted a few shots from my catapult and
sundry missiles from other kids. The
Viper slithered into the well where our bombardment drove it under
The snake didn’t
re appear so about half an hour later we left assuming our bombardment
to be successful. During
all my later roamings through Benacre, Willow and Clowes woods, behind
the Downs and around the Bogshole valley I never saw another Viper.
We Swire Boys remember well the searchlight detachment that was at
the top of the cemetery on Bellevue Road.
We had to pass it every time we went to town or school. The
Generator truck would drive down towards the top of Douglas Ave
trailing its cable to power the light.
The personnel were billeted in the farm house next to our house.
Tin Can Bay
Local buildings were
used as billets for army personnel and some soldiers were impressed by what they found....
At the Windmill...
I do not remember anything about the war at all but knew that my
father, who was in the army, was stationed at the Windmill at the top of
the soldiers could have the families move to be near them. So, we were
moved down from London and stayed with a family near Duncan Downs. I
seem to think their name was Manning.
I was so impressed with the Windmill that, when I got married, we
had our reception there. It seemed to me that it was part of what had
bought my family to Whitstable, for which I will always be grateful.
needed to be trained and kept active. The mixed and relatively
rough terrain of the Borstal Hill and Duncan Downs areas provided a
when you have a military presence so close to civilians for any length
of time, there is always a danger of relationships becoming strained
- particularly if the younger members of society are involved....
|Part of our wartime
playground was the field behind Duncan Downs - between the Gorrell
stream and Benacre Woods. It was an elongated triangular area of
woodland stretching from the coastal road (Thanet Way) towards
Millstood Hill and it was used as an "occasional" army
training ground - often for mortar practice . As a result, it became
pock marked with trenches. Sheets of corrugated iron were used to
cover occupied trenches during such practice.
Today: The Downs with Benacre Wood in the distance
A couple of us were
walking across to ‘the Woods’ one day when a khaki clad arm shot
out from under one of those covered trenches. It grabbed my friend and
it was accompanied by a "Come here you silly young buggers.
We’ve got shelling practice under way!" from its sergeant
Those same woods were
used, as we understood it, for commando practice. Certainly, there was
a rope suspended from one of the larger trees and a long extension
ladder against another. The lower knotted end of the rope hung near
the foot of the ladder. We would climb the ladder, rope in hand, swing
the rope away and, as it swung back into reach, grab it, jump onto the
knot, swing away from the ladder and let go at the end of the swing.
The main challenge was to
graduate up the ladder to the top. Few were game enough to launch
themselves from the top few rungs. A "little over half way
up" was doing pretty good.
One incentive to quickly
graduate to at least half way was the bramble bush beyond the foot of
the ladder. ‘Sissies’ swinging from the lower few rungs were
guaranteed at least bramble scratched legs and perhaps bottoms. In
retrospect, I wonder how some of the girls explained their scratched
bottoms or torn knickers to mum when they got home.
Below the Hill....
Of course, whilst high ground may be good for spotting
things and undertaking military exercise, it is not necessarily the best
place to billet significant numbers of troops or store vital mechanical equipment. Thus
a camp was established at the foot of Borstal Hill where it utilised an
existing garage. It was here that any strained
relationships with the young could be repaired by deploying a few delicacies in a world of
|During the war, Cage’s site (at the foot of Borstal Hill) was a
camp where the army were stationed. I remember going there to get
chocolate and other goodies.
Tin Can Bay
... or offering
on a hitherto inaccessible form of transport....
|Gordon Rd. had a far more interesting feature for me in wartime.
The garage opposite Gordon Rd. at the bottom of Borstal Hill (mentioned
by Joe Gibbens 7/5) was taken over by the Army. Their lorries, Bren gun
carriers & gun tugs were parked out of enemy sight under those large
trees which once graced the Canterbury end of Gordon Rd.
Suppers of cheese sandwiches with seemingly inch thick slices of
fresh bread & 1/2 inch slices of cheese were a delight to me. But,
they paled in the light of driving a bren gun carrier. Well, the
Sergeant said I was driving & how could a 9 y.o. argue with an army
The high ground wasn't the only area
to be used extensively by the military. The coastline was another key
location and none more so than West Beach where the army occupied the
flat seaside links of Seasalter Golf Club....
|My most vivid memories of the war were the arrival of the
Monmouthshire Regiment in early 1944 before D-Day; the anti-aircraft
battery stationed on the golf links; and the V-2 missile attack which
happened when I was at Westmeads.
GC - Once the site for a searchlight & AA battery
During the period the Mons were stationed in the region, we all
became very attached to them. They became familiar faces at the Churches
and in our living rooms. As a young boy of 5, I was particularly taken
with their uniforms and friendliness. Many of them were from Wales.
It was Emlyn Edwards who taught me to swim from the tank barriers
set up all along West Beach.
One consequence of the anti aircraft battery was the effect the
searchlight had on the local starling population. The poor birds would
be blinded by the light and each morning we had to pick those that died
flying into the houses along West Cliff.
During the war, the golf
links were overgrown and the dykes and fairways became a source of
extraordinary adventure for young boys
Once again, the same considerations arose in terms of
billeting and training....
|Along West Beach, soldiers were billeted in the large wooden
buildings opposite the Boating Lake. That whole area and far end of
the Golf Links were used for small arms practice, particularly 2"
mortars - not the high explosive kind but smoke bombs and parachute
Not all military installations were static. At the western end
of West Beach, the railway line trims the waterfront....
View today: The rail line
at Sherrins Alley, West Beach
..... and this piece of geography was used for a rather curious
and ingenious train service.....
|Occasionally, an armoured train would come down the line, stop
at Sherrins Alley and practice firing at targets out at sea.
Army operations also utilised the flat, less populated
spaces of Seaslter where they commandeered some existing buildings....
|The pre war Holiday Home for children
owned by Shaftsbury Homes became a war time army depot.
The commandeering of local facilities also occurred in
the town itself ....
| Brian Smith has mentioned the use of the
Borstal Hill garage by the army.
Probably, not many will remember the Northwood Road Garage. This
was located just around the corner from Tower Parade. At the start of
the war, this garage was also taken over by The Army. There were
lorries and bren gun carriers - all parked down the side lane behind
However, this close mix of army and civilians posed
dangers. As John Harman will explain in our "Bomb Strike" chapter,
that Northwood Road garage suffered a direct hit and a substantial fire.
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