Platt Parish During World War Two

Air Raids & Bombing

As early as September 1936 the parish council had discussed precautions that were to be taken in the event of an air raid, and by 1938 the village had its own Air Raid Warden. Platt Primary School built a shelter in early 1941 that could accommodate fifty children, and who would all be supplied with gas masks in the event of an attack.

Flaunting the black-out was an occasional problem within the parish, with local papers reporting fines (usually about £3) levied on members of the community for ignoring the rules.

Even striking a match during an air raid was a punishable offence. Something Commander John Gidley Derry, RN (Retired) discovered in 1942 when he was caught striking multiple matches outside the Royal Oak pub in Wrotham Heath by War Reserve Constable J Ashdown. Derry took exception to this and lit another match in defiance, before taking a swing at the constable. He later told the court that he was short sighted and needed to the matches to see where he was going; having thought he’d heard the ‘All Clear’. The commander was fined £5 as a result of the incident.

Bombs started to rain down on Platt and the surrounding villages during 1940, with many landing on farms, fields and in surrounding woodland. Wrotham Heath golf course was hit along with Comp and Highland farms. At the latter, a bomb narrowly missed a pigsty containing 100 pigs, whilst in Valley Wood an explosion in the pond near the golf course left it permanently without water.

It wasn’t just bombs that dropped on Platt. People and aircraft also fell from the sky. On one occasion a German pilot was discovered hanging in a tree near the fourth tee on the golf course whilst in another incident, the owners of Highland Farm came across several enemy airmen who had all bailed out, including one who had landed in an apple tree.

Much to the delight of local children, a Polish pilot once landed his plane on the golf course, whereupon he was taken to the club house for refreshments whilst the army removed his craft (to the children’s disappointment.)

Tuesday 15 October 1940

By far the worse bombing raid on the parish in terms of casualties occurred during the evening of 15 October 1940 when a stick of sixteen high explosives were dropped over Wrotham Heath by a raid returning to Germany from London.

In the Royal Oak pub, around 21:37 hrs, whilst a darts match was in progress and other customers were drinking in the bar, a bomb penetrated the roof and exploded in the kitchen. The blast tore through the building, throwing people backwards and showering them with glass and splinters from the bomb. Other explosives detonated on the road outside and damaged several properties including the tea-rooms (now Mings), a filling station and also lighting a gas pipe. Wrotham Heath Place was also hit causing a great deal of damage. Eleven people died as a result of the raid and amazingly, despite the destruction, the pub re-opened for business the following day, serving drinks from the saloon bar whilst workmen cleared away the wreckage.

The Home Front

Residents of Platt were active in a number of schemes to aid the war effort. The Women’s Institute knitted garments for the Merchant Service and had a stall that raised money for the Red Cross and POWs.

The production of food was of utmost importance, and the people of Platt played their part by cultivating their allotments and cottage gardens. Allotment holders in particular were encouraged to take up ‘stern measures’ to protect their plots from trespass, damage or theft. The Women’s Land Army worked the fields and Stonehouse Farm had its own workforce of German POWs.

Other ways of supporting the war effort were through scrap metal drives (not hugely successful based on the Parish Council minutes) and cash collections made during ‘Wings for Victory’, ‘Warships’ and ‘Salute the Soldier’ weeks (more successful.)

In addition to the Home Guard (Dad’s Army) the regular army were based in the area at various times throughout the war. For example between 1942-3, 506 Coy. Royal Army Service Corps (43rd Division) were stationed at the ‘Holmes’ on Potash Lane.

POWs

Leonard Harmsworth, who lived at Walnut Tree Cottage in Wrotham Heath, had been taken prisoner whilst serving with the Seaforth Highlanders in 1940. He was captured at St. Valery and spent five years working in a sugarbeet factory in Poland as well as building prison camps for Russian prisoners. By the spring of 1945 Leonard had been taken into Germany and had marched over 1000 miles through some of the hardest winter conditions. Along with a friend he managed to escape and lived off the land for five days before being pointed in the direction of the Americans by a group of German soldiers hiding in woodland.

Lieutenant Geoffrey Richardson of the Suffolk Regiment was captured by the Japanese in Singapore during January 1942. His parents lived at Pinehurst in Platt.