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,...

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The Startled Saint

Posted on Jun 17, 2018

The Startled Saint, St Leonards Street, West Malling The Startled Saint used to be the local pub for the airmen stationed at nearby RAF West Malling during and after the second World War. The original Landlady, Alice Baker, claimed it was opened on the day WWII started in 1939. The Pub’s most famous client was Wing Commander Guy Gibson (centre) who led the famous Dam Busters Raid in 1941. Unfortunately, due to it’s remoteness from West Malling, it closed in the late 80’s early 90’s and is now a private dwelling. The pub sign, above, a copy of which still adorns the front of the house, depicts St Leonard being ‘buzzed’ by several Spitfires. Images collected from various unknown locations if it is yours let me know and I will add a...

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Royal Air Force West Malling

Posted on Mar 26, 2018

PORTAM CUSTODIMUS (We Guard the Gate) Airport type Military           Owner Ministry of Defence           Operator Royal Air Force       Location West Malling Kent          Built 1917           In use 1917–1918 and 1930-1969 Elevation AMSL 308 ft / 94 m           Coordinates 51°16′16″N 000°24′09″E Royal Air Force West Malling or RAF West Malling was a former Royal Air Force station located 1.6 miles (2.6 km) south of West Malling, Kent and 5.2 miles (8.4 km) west of Maidstone, Kent, England. Originally used as a landing area during the First World War, the site opened as a private landing ground and in 1930, then known as Kinghill, home to the Maidstone School of Flying, before being renamed West Malling Airfield, and, in 1932, Maidstone Airport. During the 1930s many airshows and displays were held by aviators such as Amy Johnson and Alan Cobham, flying from a grass runway. As war approached, the airfield was taken over by the military, to become RAF West Malling in 1940, serving in the front line against the Luftwaffe. The station saw further service after the war, first with some of the RAFs first jet squadrons, and later as a US Naval Air Station. After closure as an operational air station in 1969, West Malling acquired a more civilian guise, hosting several major Great Warbirds Air Displays during the 70s and 80s, until eventually closing completely as an airfield. The site is now developing into a new village community of mixed residential, commercial, and civic amenities, but still retains several features of its military aviation heritage. First World War The airfield was as a landing area during the First World War. Second World War RAF West Malling was not fully operational during the Battle of Britain, suffering from several damaging bombing raids, but did play an active part in the later stages of the air campaign, becoming a premier night-fighter base. Maidstone Airport was taken over in the prelude to the Second World War, and the RAF station was formed in June 1940, now with a concrete runway. Designated as one of two RAF Fighter Command stations assigned to C Sector, and designated as an advanced aerodrome for RAF Kenley and RAF Biggin Hill. The first aircraft arrived on 8 June 1940. These were Lysanders of No. 26 (Army Cooperation) Squadron, used for photo-reconnaissance sorties over occupied Europe. No. 51 Wing arrived at the same time, and the airfield was provided with anti-aircraft and searchlight batteries for airfield defence. Twitch Inn  Douces Manor was the Headquarters and Mess for officers flying from RAF West Malling (now Kings Hill). The cellar bar was frequented by many brave young fighter pilots and, typical of the dry sense of humour of the time, became colloquially known as the ‘Twitch Inn’, due to the nervous affliction that affected many pilots. This noticeable twitch that many displayed was a result of the immense stress, strain and...

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