A little piece of West Malling’s World War 2 History is about to be demolished!

Posted on Jan 9, 2019

THE STARTLED SAINT The house at the corner of Teston Road and St Leonards Street was formerly “The Startled Saint” Pub. It was the local pub used by airmen and ground crews stationed at close by RAF West Malling (now the Kings Hill estate) during the second World War. Under a recent ‘Planning Application’ approved by Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council, it will be “bulldozed”, and replaced by 5 Houses. Thus, suffering exactly the same fate as its identical sister pub “The Duke Without a Head” at Wateringbury. The original “Pub Landlady” Alice Baker, claimed it was opened on the day WW2 started in 1939. Other reports suggest it was built later in early 1940. Whatever its origins the pub with its unique sign “a portrait of Saint Leonard being buzzed (or startled) by a Halo of Spitfires” was a haven to countless RAF fighter pilots flying from the airfield 1940-45. ln his book ‘Enemy Coast Ahead’ , Guy Gibson (later a VC for his Dam Buster raid) says of West Malling ‘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’. Guy Gibson after flying over Kent also wrote – ‘the Garden of England, with its green trees and green fields was cratered with thousands of white chalk bomb holes, in the area known as ‘Bomb Alley’. Other famous pilots and crew who flew from the airfield, and possibly leant against Saint’s bar, included John “Cats Eyes.” Cunningham, who supposedly ate carrots to improve his night time vision. His staunch navigator / radar operator ‘Jimmy Ranwsley’ co-authored the book ‘Night Fighter‘. By the time he came to West Mailing as Station Commander in 1943 Group Captain Peter Townsend was already a ‘Battle of Britain’ fighter ace. Later becoming equerry to King George 6th, he said ‘I was a professional airman with an irregularity of conduct and character which doomed me from high office’. Unfortunately, he became better known for his relationship with HRH Princes Margaret the Queens sister in 1950s. Not just Fighter Pilots were successful! In early 1943 the West Malling duty controllers managed to lure 3 brand new German Focke-wulf 190 Aircraft to land by error, on the airfield in thick fog. Thus, capturing one of these new fighters completely intact! In June 1944 the ‘Doodlebug Flying Bomb’ was launched against Britain. West Mailing became the main base for coping with the menace. Its’ Fighter Pilots, learnt the dangerous tactic, discovered by Roland Beaumont (later a famous test pilot) of flying within inches of the bomb’s wing to disrupt its flight and send it crashing to the ground. Maybe the “the new developers” can find some way of creating a memorial here, not just Pilots,...

Read More »

Little snippets from yesteryear

Posted on Dec 10, 2018

Uses of West Malling Accommodation Block at airfieldHi,I was reading through the history if the airfield on your site. It was very interesting and I do remember when the Ugandan asian fefugees where homed there for a while. I had made best friends with one of the young girls that been relicated there with her family. I often went to visit her before her family were rehomed. Families had been seperated by hospital curtains in large rooms. They all used to eat in a large mess room.When the mill where my father worked in Snodland closed, my family became homeless because we were in a mill house.My mother, myself and brother were homed at Kinghill airfield in what I assume now as being (officers?)airmen quarters. I was only 5 at the time. Each family had two small rooms. One living area and one bedroom. We had to share other facilites with all the other families in the block. No men were allowed in the blocks…so we were seperated from our father. He had to find his own accommodation as a lodger in Maidstone.He didn’t drive, so we didn’t see him often.The large gates were locked at night to prevent intruders and keep us in. The milkman used to give crystal jelly for our bones, cod liver oil and malt syrup.We had mice holes in all of the rooms, where my mother used to have to put mousetraps out all the time. The sound of the traps snapoing in the night used to wake us up,as they were under our beds too!We lived there in the hostel, as it was called then in 1964/65 until the housed were finished being built in Larkfield.Hope this little snippet fills a gap in the history of the...

Read More »

Fundraising Page

Posted on Nov 22, 2018

  Please help support The Malling Society by shopping online. Use easyfundraising to shop with over 3,300 retailers including Amazon, Argos, John Lewis, ASOS, Booking.com, eBay, Boden, and M&S. Every time you shop, you’ll raise a free donation for The Malling Society every time, it’s that easy! Find out more: https://www.easyfundraising.org.uk/causes/themallingsociety/...

Read More »

Archaeology the Musical

Posted on Nov 21, 2018

Archaeology the Musical

Tuesday 12th March Archaeology the Musical An illustrated talk with songs and slides by archaeologist Kevin Fromings in aid of BBC Children in Need.

Read More »