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Eythorne and Elvington. Preparations for war, 1938 and 1939.

During the First World War, Britain was bombed by Zeppelins and Gotha bombers and as a consequence, it was predicted that large-scale aerial bombing of the civilian population would feature prominently in any future war. Airships made 51 bombing raids on Britain during the war in which 557 people were killed and 1,358 injured. Aeroplanes carried out 52 raids, dropping 2,772 bombs killing 857 people and injuring 2,058. Although Eythorne itself wasn’t bombed, many Kent towns were including Dover, Ramsgate which was said to be the most bombed British seaside town in WWI, and Folkstone for which one raid on 25 May 1917 resulted in 71 deaths and over 96 injuries. On 13 June 1917 the first attack on London by a squadron of aircraft occurred resulting in 162 civilian deaths and injuring 432 people. Dr Edward Bruce Payne of Shepherdswell, then a Captain in the RAMC, was in a saloon railway carriage at Liverpool Street Station when it was hit by a bomb in this raid but he escaped with severe shock and bruising.
With the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany’s remilitarisation during the 1930s, a Home Office committee, the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Department, was created in March 1935. This department took overall control of the British response to passive air defence. In December 1937, the British government passed the Air Raid Precautions (or ‘ARP’) Act, requiring local authorities to ready themselves in case of air attack. Coming into force on 1 January 1938, the Act required that every local council then became responsible for organising its own Air Raid Precautions, not only its ARP wardens, but also ambulance drivers, rescue parties and liaison with police and fire brigades.
From 1938 the Air Raid Precautions Department was tasked with supplying every single person in the UK with a gas mask. This included babies, children, adults and those in hospitals and people with conditions requiring a special respirator. This would mean the production of 38 million respirators. The fear of German raids using poison gas was high and casualties were expected to be extremely large. In addition to the issue of gas masks, the ARP and civil defence services were therefore trained in dealing with the casualties of raids involving various types of poison gas and chemicals. In fact, the first handbook issued covered the treatment of gas casualties. Cigarette cards on Air Raid Precautions were, and an album to put them, in were issued in early August 1938 by WD & HO Wills (see pictures).
On 8 September 1938, local ARP Wardens attended at 5, Chaucer Road, Elvington, to be given and a demonstration of gas-proofing a room. The room was then kept as a demonstration room and open for inspection by residents of Eythorne and Elvington between 6 and 9pm on Tuesday 13 October and then every evening (Saturdays and Sundays excepted) afterwards. Gas masks were also available to be tried. At the same time it was reported that census of the parish was being undertaken and that once it was completed and masks have been fitted to everyone, they will, if the necessity arises, be available to everyone within 24 hours.
Following the crisis of 17 September 1938, when Germany started a low-intensity undeclared war on Czechoslovakia, and culminating in the Munich Agreement of 30 September 1938 (also known as the Munich betrayal), a special meeting of Eastry Rural District Council was held on 4 October 1938 to discuss its emergency measures. The measures naturally involved Dr Bellamy in his capacity as the Eythorne village doctor, but also as a first-aid and St John’s Ambulance trainer.
The Chairman of Eastry Rural District council reported that a meeting of the ARP Committee had been held on 26 September, and that as a consequence of the international crisis, the Committee had discussed various emergency measures, and authorised the summoning by telegram of a meeting of Head Wardens of parishes for the following Tuesday evening 4 October which was fully attended. The numbers and location of first-aiders and St John’s Ambulance members, both men and women in the parish, and the needs for further training were noted and discussed. The names and locations of doctors (including Dr Bellamy in Eythorne), as well as areas covered, were also recorded. It was stated that anti-gas training for first-aid personnel would be given when instruction in first-aid had been completed. Adaptions of the first-aid post at the pithead baths, Snowdown Colliery (as a first aid HQ for the Parish) were put in hand. Arrangements were made for the supply (at short notice) of improvised stretchers. A list of vehicles in the rural district was obtained, and suitable vehicles were earmarked for certain cases (including water carts). A schedule of static water supplies was prepared. Lists of first-aid stores in the local chemists’ shops were obtained. The Surveyor was authorised to install forthwith the red reflector discs obtained for the purpose of providing aids to the movement of traffic in the absence of street lighting in time of war. The telephone was extended to the power house at Tilmanstone for the purpose of providing a public warning system. Bells operated private lines from the fire station were installed in the houses of firemen at Wingham. Arrangements were made for vehicle decontamination depots at the works of the Wingham Engineering Company and at the collieries. Head wardens were asked to provide a demonstration of gas-proof rooms in all the larger villages where that had not already been done (Eythorne had already done this). Posters were issued on 3 October throughout the rural district, warning people to take great care of their respirators. Estimates of parish respirator requirements (divided into large, medium and small) were prepared for parishes in which the census had not been completed, and bulk deliveries were made to the larger parishes during Tuesday.
On the evening of Monday the 16 January 1939 Mr WJ Bailey Chairman of the Eythorne Parish Council, presided at a meeting of the local air raid wardens, which was held in the Church Hall. A letter from Mr C Evans, ARP Officer, Eastry Rural District Council, was read out regarding certain arrangements which it was thought should be carried out in the Parish. A discussion on the proposals took place with the result that the Head Warden, Mr H Lynch, was instructed to reply to the effect that the wardens “are very disappointed at the lack of progress made in connection with ARP by the Eastry Rural District Council”. In essence, the arrangements and scheme set out by Mr C Evans in his letter of 6 January 1939 were no different from those they sent out in 4 October 1938. From local knowledge, the Wardens still consider this scheme as being the minimum necessary for the protection of the district, and already have the necessary voluntary trained personnel to assist in putting it into effect, subject to the necessary support and assistance forthcoming from the Eastry Rural District Council. The list of persons in the Parish who have already qualified as wardens includes 9 in Eythorne and 20 in Elvington.
Despite the Munich Agreement of 30 September 1938 seemingly removing the immediate threat, Britain’s preparations for war continued as the danger posed by Hitler’s ambitions increased. Public meetings were held in Eythorne in late February and early March 1939 in order that residents could learn what steps have already been taken, and what steps were proposed to be taken in the future, in connection with ARP The first meeting on Thursday 23 February 1939, was held at Elvington Institute. Mr WJ Bailey (Chairman of the Parish Council) presided, and Mr DT Jenkins (deputy head warden) outlined the precautions taken already by the Parish Council and the air-raid wardens. Mr JJ Evans (parish councillor and local representative on the Eastry Rural District Council) outlined a scheme of protection, which included the construction of bomb-proof tunnels both at Elvington and Eythorne. The meeting decided that the scheme should be carried out, and a call for volunteers was made. It was also decided to send a resolution to the responsible authorities, stating that the meeting did not agree that the area could be considered a safe area, and, therefore, it could not agree to the scheme for billeting children from evacuated towns in the parish.
Mr WJ Bailey also presided at a second meeting held at Eythorne School on the evening of Wednesday 1 March 1938. Mr DT Jenkins was again present and he explained that it had been arranged for a warning siren to be blown at Tilmanstone Colliery in the case of air-aids. It was reported that twenty-nine wardens were now fully trained in anti-gas measures, and Mr. Bailey, who was superintendent of the Tilmanstone Colliery Division of the St John Ambulance Brigade, had undertaken to train wardens in first-aid. It was stated that anyone who wished to become a warden could take this first-aid course, and arrangements would be made for them to take the anti-gas course afterwards. All wardens would be fully insured, and would receive wages if and when they were required for actual air-raid duty. A central first-aid station had been arranged at Snowdown pit-head baths, but less serious cases would be dealt with at the Church Hall (Eythorne) and the Welfare Hall (Elvington). Thirty ladies had been trained in first-aid, and more classes could be arranged. One ambulance and one car would be allotted to get casualties to the first-aid stations, and ladies were required to drive them and also act as attendants. A fire brigade would have to be arranged, and de-contamination squads, etc., were being trained by the Rural District Council. 71,000 sandbags had been stored by the Rural District Council to be used as protection for ARP buildings. Traffic discs had been installed on bends and corners to assist motorists during black-outs. Several evenings had been spent by the wardens in examining gas masks and issuing containers to store them in and the condition of the masks was considered very satisfactory.
Mr JJ Evans said that most important point was to make arrangements for protection. Nothing had been done regarding protection from incendiary and high explosive bombs. There were only two fire engines available in a district which covers the area from Whitfield to Reculver, and it had been suggested that trailer pumps be used for the larger villages, and it was agreed to purchase one as soon as permission was obtained. With regard to high explosive bombs, the authorities thought that towns all over the country were vulnerable and that villages were not. The view was that the authorities had not taken into consideration the geographical position, and from experience gained in the last war, the East Kent area was in a direct line with the continent and in the path of any likely air raids. It was suggested that two tunnels, each 100 yards long and 30 feet deep, and gas-proofed, should be constructed. Two sites were available at Elvington, and the Council had a suitable one in view at Eythorne. Both would be near the schools in order to provide immediate protection for school children, but it was up to the meeting to decide whether they wanted them or not, and if the men were willing volunteer to carry out the work. Such volunteers would be protected by insurance. The whole meeting voted in favour of the construction of a shelter, and the Chairman stated that lists for volunteers would be posted at Mr Bradley’s shop and at the Crown Inn. Mr H Lynch (Head Warden) stated that apparently some of the people at Elvington did not appreciate the position, as the list posted at Elvington had been rather abused and only a few names had been put on it. A good number of men had personally asked him when the work was likely to start, and he had gathered from that that a ready response would result if the appeal for volunteers would be made. Note that these preparations were put into effect even though war hadn’t yet been declared.
On 1 September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland from the west and two days later, France and Britain declared war on Germany, beginning World War II.
Just prior to the declaration, volunteers had been busy digging dug-outs and covered trenches at Elvington, at various sites, as protection against flying sprinters in case of air attacks, and a scheme was in hand for trenches at Eythorne. The school teachers had been recalled from their holidays in order to make preparations to receive about 300 children from evacuated areas. On Tuesday 5 September 1939, an Auxiliary Fire Service Brigade was formed with Mr A Rising as Captain, and a full complement of volunteers started training on the Wednesday.
On Friday 8 September 1939, an appeal was made for volunteers to put their names forward to compile a list of blood donors for the Victoria Hospital, Waldershare. The announcement went on to say “It will be realised that those men and women who may be called on offer their services for urgent cases should be should be quickly available. Hence the call is made for volunteers living in Elvington, Eythorne and Waldershare only. All particulars will be given on application to Mrs Bellamy, West End House, Eythorne, on Mondays, from 2 till 3pm”. It was realised that the Royal Victoria Hospital in Dover would be vulnerable in the event of war and the patients were therefore promptly removed to Waldershare Park Mansion and away from the coast.

Vince Croud

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