World War II 1939-1945
The fear was growing that Britain would again be involved in a war. As early as 1935 the Government had sent a circular to county councils setting out the need for local authorities to form a Civil Defence organisation. Bromley Borough Council began to implement plans as part of the London Civil Defence region. The HVA took an active interest and its small sub-committee set up to watch over the official arrangements for Hayes was absorbed into the Council’s Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Committee in 1938. In spite of complaints that it was all proceeding too slowly a great deal had been achieved by the time war was declared on 3 September 1939.
The Old Rectory was designated as a damage and casualty centre and a sub-fire station. The fire appliance was kept in Hayes Garage which was across the road.
The Old Church School was set up as a first-aid centre after the Borough Council in June 1939 approved the expenditure of £2000 to convert it. It would be manned 24 hours a day. The Clubroom was later fitted out with showers for a gas decontamination centre.
Gadsden, which had been bought by the Kent County Council in 1928, had not yet become a school and it became the centre for ARP activities. Gas masks were assembled and distributed in 1938 from here and the Old Church Schools. It became the base for local ARP rescue units. Later, in May 1940, it was also used as a Reception Centre for a large number of refugees arriving from the Low Countries.
Preparing for War
By October 1938, 240 had volunteered for training either in the Old Church Schools or the Village Hall.
Drills were held and a major exercise took place at George Lane School in April 1939 to test the first aid and communication teams. Later, in June, there was a mock air raid in which the ambulance service was called to Gadsden where several people had been hit by fragments of anti-aircraft shells, there were injured people by the Station, incendiary bombs needed to be extinguished and in the open space at Pittsmead and Chatham Avenue, a high explosive bomb defused. Hayes Boy Scouts were amongst the casualties who, with a label tied to their coats giving details of their injuries, were sent to various parts of the village to await the rescue squads.
Training continued and it was all useful practice for what was to come.
A Metropolitan Police air raid siren was installed in March 1939 at the junction of Hayes Street and George Lane next to a blue police box.
ARP arrangement instructions were issued in July 1938 to all householders.
Shelters, both public and private, started to be organised. The Borough Council designated the basements of four shops in Station Approach, Nos. 42 to 48, as shelters. Slit trench shelters were constructed in the grounds of the Old Rectory and Knoll Park for 200 and 150 people respectively.
The War Office requirements for Hayes Common
Negotiations began in May 1939 with the War Office who wanted to use Hayes Common as part of the defence of London. The Army later clarified its needs as an anti-aircraft site for 4 heavy mobile guns near the SE corner of the junction of Baston and Croydon Roads, with 4/6 huts placed to its west. The guns would require concrete foundations and a prepared roadway. An agreement was reached and construction work began for the guns and 6 huts. Negotiations also took place to mount a searchlight battery on the Common near the junction of Croydon Road and Hartfield Crescent. By August it was in place. Interestingly the formal agreement was not signed until April 1941 by which time there had been some changes in the number of guns.
The Civil Defence arrangements for the area were confirmed by the Bromley Borough Council on the outbreak of war. Hayes was District No. 5 and had five wardens posts situated at Socket Lane, Courtlands Avenue, Chatham Avenue, Knoll Park and Gadsden. On 3rd September the District Warden was William Melville and 86 men and women were listed as wardens, although the personnel changed as the war progressed.
ARP & AFS
Fire watch was an important ARP task. Considerable training was given to deal with fires caused by incendiary bombs which might fall and be trapped in roofs and gutters etc. In 1940 the training was put into action, the number of the fire watching parties increased to 40 by the end of the year and was organised in squads of ten or more so that three people could be on duty each night.
In addition, there were volunteers for the AFS and the Light and Heavy Rescue sections of the ARP.
Water supplies were augmented to cover any disruptions to mains supplies by building Emergency Water Supply tanks. One, which held about 100,000 gallons of water, was sited at the junction of The Green and Pittsmead Avenue and another at the junction of Station Approach and Pickhurst Lane.
Outbreak of War
There was an immediate increase in the preparations for the defence of Hayes as soon as the war was declared. Many householders had either Anderson or brick-built shelters installed. Shelters were set up in schools but some, like the one at Hayes Council School, were not completely finished by April 1940. Plans were put in place for the evacuation of some children and families to safer areas but the arrangements for children to go to Canada ceased after the torpedoing in September 1940 of the SS City of Benares on which ten-year-old Michael Brooker of Bourne Vale was one of the casualties. In 1941 indoor Morrison shelters could be purchased.
Conscription was introduced and all men aged 18 – 41 had to register for military service, apart from the medically unfit or those in essential services. Conscientious Objectors had to appear before a tribunal and if their case was agreed were allocated to a non-combatant role. Wilfrid Batten of Hurstdene Avenue was to serve full time in the AFS, ARP or on Land work and Leonard Wilkes of Trevor Close to join the RAMC. Unmarried women and childless widows aged 20 – 30 were not liable to be called up until the end of December 1941. By this time some had already volunteered for one of the services or the Land Army.
A Local Defence Volunteer Force (the Home Guard) was announced on 14 May 1940 and there was a rush of men to register for service. Hayes was covered by the 51st Battalion of the Bromley Home Ground, Company B. At least 173 volunteered including some for a mobile unit. The Battalion, together with No 52, was inspected on 10 August 1940 at West Wickham Cricket Ground by King George VI.
The headquarters was set up in an empty shop, 24 Hayes Street, where guns and equipment were stored and training lectures were given on the Mills grenade and the intricacies of the machine gun. One of B Company’s first tasks was to construct a ‘strong point’ in the front garden of No.210 Hayes Lane. A second was erected at the entrance of Socket Lane but was constructed with sandbags only.
A mini-rifle range was established on land at Baston School, where the Home Guard practised their skills with 0.22” rifles. Drills were held in the main hall at Hayes School, George Lane and on the Common. Other tasks are undertaken by the Home Guard, much of it potentially dangerous, included defending strong points and the anti-tank line in the event of invasion, sentry duty and manning anti-aircraft guns, guarding unexploded bombs and crashed aircraft.
The anti-Aircraft site and army camp
The Anti-Aircraft site was manned by 302 Heavy Anti-Aircraft (HAA) Battery Royal Artillery (RA) and replaced by 303 HAA Battery in October 1939. Over the next five years, the gun site was occupied continuously by 23 different RA units. Searchlight batteries were also deployed on the Common. The areas chosen by the army gave them a commanding view of London and the City.
By June 1940 the Battery had also established its HQ at the vacated Hayes Court, which was shared with units of the Royal Corp of Signals. To accommodate them, Nissan huts were erected. The role of 2 Artillery Signals Section, Training Branch, was to defend their base and to deny the area around West Common Road to enemy parachutists in the event of invasion. No. 4 Air Formation Section later occupied Hayes Court to provide communications between the various army and air force units in the area.
Hayes was protected by the Army’s 2nd London Defence Division, which included the 20th & 24th Brigades of Guards.
In May and June, with the growing threat of invasion, all road direction signs were removed and proposed physical defences were surveyed by army specialists. A linear defensive line, known as the ‘Anti-Tank Line’, designed to stop/delay enemy advance into London, was to bisect the northern part of Hayes.
The Line made use of all available features, for example, houses close together were considered effective tank obstacles and anti-tank ditches were dug or large concrete blocks constructed in areas of open space. A series of sunken sockets were set into road surfaces in which bent rails could be inserted on the approach of enemy vehicles.
The Line followed Stone Road, from Bromley South, across Hayesford Park, to Cupola Wood and Pickhurst Green, where the Royal Engineers dug a section of anti-tank ditches. From Pickhurst Green the Line crossed Pickhurst Lane, where road slots were installed for rails to be inserted and a pillbox was erected in the front garden of 117 Pickhurst Lane. It then ran west behind Hilldown Road (the houses in Pickhurst Rise forming a ‘natural’ obstacle) to Hayes Hill and then crossed the railway line at the footbridge where a single tank-trap was built (and remains).
From July 1940 the air war started in earnest and by September was causing great difficulty for the villagers. The first casualties occurred with the death of the three inhabitants of 101 Bourne Way on 5 September but bombs had fallen previously damaging houses in Baston Road, Pickhurst Rise, Hayes Hill and Meadway. The day recognised as the turning point of the Battle of Britain, 15 September 1941, saw several air raids on Hayes. The first destroyed two houses in Bourne Vale. In the second a bomb fell in Station Approach near the Cinema, causing a large crater, a fractured gas main and debris was thrown onto houses in Pickhurst Lane. In the third raid, one bomb destroyed the New Inn killing two people and causing considerable damages to the nearby shops and the houses in Hayes Garden. Another bomb hit the Railway Station destroying the stationmaster’s office, ticket office and the south side of the concourse and associated shops.
The air raids continued unabated in the following month and three people were killed in Southbourne. The worst raid occurred on 16 April 1941 when Hayes suffered 19 separate incidents that amounted to over four tons of bombs, excluding incendiaries. Two people were killed, many were injured and damage was extensive. There was a lull between June 1941 and April 1942 but then the enemy used ‘tip and run’ tactics and many bombs fell on the parish. It was in 1944 that more deaths occurred. On 25 March incendiary bombs, some of which contained explosives, were dropped over Station Approach and Hayes Garden. Many shops and businesses were damaged and sadly two young girls Pamela Mote and Patricia Crowhurst were killed and several people were taken to hospital.
June 1944 saw the start of the Flying Bomb campaign. The first V1 to crash in Hayes was on 21 June in Constance Crescent causing widespread damage but only light injuries. During July there were only two days when V1s did not pass over Bromley. One fell and destroyed the lodge at Baston Manor on 3 July but three more caused no serious damage. On 3 August a V1 fell north of Pickhurst Mead. Three people were injured and Whites Cottages and homes in Pickhurst Mead were badly damaged. Houses in Pickhurst Lane, Crest Road and Mounthurst Road were slightly damaged.
The last enemy attack to affect Hayes occurred on 9 February 1945 when a V2 rocket crashed onto Grandfield’s Hayes GardenNursery, West Common Road, killing four, injuring many others and damaging over 300 homes.
In total in Hayes, there were 24 civilian casualties, over 50 houses had been destroyed and well over a thousand damaged.
A German invasion was avoided but the plans were in place to repel the invaders should it occur. In 1940 the first of the Canadian troops arrived in the area. The 1st Canadian Division was part of the defence forces for the south of England, 1940-44. Units were deployed in Hayes, Coney Hall and at Wickham Court in 1940 and 1941. At various times Hayes Common, particularly around the Oast House and The Grove, was used, as was Baston Manor for transport repairs. Three Canadian Army units were in the area between 1942 – 1944.
- No.11 Detachment of the Canadian Postal Corps, arrived in Coney Hall in November 1942 made their headquarters at 46 Queensway and stayed until early 1944.
- 6th Canadian Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment Platoon (RCASC) occupied Coney Hall during the first six months of 1943.
- 82nd Canadian Anti-Aircraft Brigade Company, (RCASC), arrived in August 1942 and remained until 26 May 1943.
Many Canadians were billeted with local families as well as in empty houses around Coney Hall and Hayes. Eight local girls married Canadian soldiers in the Parish Church (3 in 1941, 1 in 1944 and 4 in 1945).
Support for the war effort
Many of the residents of Hayes waited eagerly for news of their loved ones who were fighting in the various campaigns. Letters and parcels were sent. Knitting groups were started and there was considerable fundraising through concerts, dances and direct appeals. The Spitfire Appeal in 1940 and Warship Week in 1942 are two examples.
Savings Groups were formed and Mrs Reginald Stevens received recognition of the special achievement of her group in Bourne Vale and Chatham Avenue during the ‘Wings for Victory’ Campaign in 1943.
Ivy Cottage was used as a United Services Canteen and staffed by volunteers. Other women helped at the gun-site mess.
The WVS established their district office in an empty shop at No.27 and a clothing store at No.11 Station Approach.
Food rationing affected everyone but encouragement was given to inhabitants to supplement their rations by growing vegetables and fruit in their gardens or on allotments. Unused land that had been sold for development became allotments such as the former Fixteds Farm, the land around Pickhurst Green, land in Bourne Vale and Constance Crescent, Redgate Drive, Bourne Way and Tiepigs Lane. Other allotments appeared at Gadsden, on the Glebe land behind the Village Hall, the grounds of the Old Rectory and the land attached to Street House. The village had its pig club in Bourne Way and individual families kept chickens in their back gardens.
The shortage of all sorts of personal and household items led to the ‘Make Do & Mend Slogan’. People were encouraged to save waste paper, rags, aluminium and anything that was capable of being collected and recycled.
Hayes School, George Lane, was not initially ready for possible air attacks. The school was closed and teaching took place in individual houses which had a shelter. By March 1940 one of the two shelters had been built and the three top classes now attended on a half-time basis; a fortnight later all juniors were taught in the same way. A start was made on the Infants’ shelter and the closets were finally installed by the end of May. Meanwhile, the head, Miss Page, received instructions that from 1st April all scholars were to attend full time and she made arrangements for the 303 pupils on the roll to attend school. In the event of an air raid, the top class and boys of the second class would disperse to houses in George Lane, whether or not they had Anderson shelters. Classes III and IV used shelter No. 2 in which Infants’ tables were used as seats, Classes V and VI, Infants and Class II girls used shelter No.1 where 100 chairs were put. Eventually, all were able to use the shelters.
The main difficulty was the lack of lighting in the shelters as they just had five storm lanterns and four carriage lamps. Gradually benches and improved lighting were supplied. Although the shelters were not fully equipped, the children practised evacuating the school as quickly as possible and by 15th August managed it in one minute. The shelters were frequently used, particularly between 30 August 1940 and 31 January 1941 when there were constant air raids; these continued spasmodically until May 1941. On 24 September 1940, a large crater was made in the school field by a bomb during the night and on 23rd October damage occurred to the ceilings and the front door as a result of bombs falling in the neighbourhood. In November 1941, 213 pupils’ gas masks were tested in the visiting gas mask van.
In January 1945 Gadsden was used by the two older forms as the pupil numbers had grown to over 400 and it was difficult to accommodate everyone in George Lane. It was fortunate that there were no pupils on the school grounds at the time when the V2 fell on Grandfield’s Nursery in February. It was a Friday evening and by the Monday repairs had been carried out to the building and the pupils were expected to return as normal.
Barnhill School for Boys in Pickhurst Lane continued to operate, advertising its modern ARP shelter in which teaching could be given. Colonel Sir William Waldron, at the Annual Prize Giving in December 1941, mentioned the difficulties created by the war, the evacuation of some boys and damage to the building by a bomb. He praised the headmaster, Mr P Austin, for the fact that the school had not closed its doors or suffered the loss of one day of its educational work. Behind the scenes, however, the school was in financial difficulties. The reduction in pupil numbers resulted in the school going into liquidation in November 1942. It was bought by Dame Eliza Waldron and continued to operate with Arthur Collier and Cecil Askey as the main tenants.
Baston School for Girls at first continued in Hayes and also advertised that it had a large shelter but as the situation became worse it was decided to evacuate. In November 1940 pupils and staff moved to the Grand View Hotel, Hope Cove, Devon. In July 1942 new premises had to be found when the hotel was requisitioned. The school moved to Barrow Court, Galhampton, Somerset owned by Colonel Boles, MP for Wells. Three happy and successful years were spent there until the end of the war when they returned to Hayes.
Loss of life
Twenty-nine civilians died, of whom 24 were killed in Hayes in eleven separate incidents. Five of the casualties were children under ten years of age. Some 82 servicemen and women connected to Hayes died during the war. Five were buried with full military honour in Hayes churchyard.
Decorations and awards
- DSO: Captain R L Harmer, Wing Commander D Martin Butcher, Wing Commander Robert Pattinson (also DFC), Brigadier Henry Thicknesse
- DSC: Lt George B Honour RNVR
- MC: Major Richard Frost
- MM: Flight Lieutenant John Billett and Leading Aircraftsman Clement Jeans
- George Cross: Herbert Frewin
- Mentioned in Despatches: Section Leader Jean Gray, Wing Commander C J Hutton, Charles Wake Norman
- Commended for Gallantry: D H Carlill,
- DFM: Flight Sergeant W M C Herrick, R D Price
- DCM: Sergeant Kenneth Alec Scott
- BEM: Sergeant H F Parker of the Home Guard, John Norman Duthoit
As soon as victory was declared in Europe the Rector on 8 May 1945 held a service of Thanksgiving. Street parties were organised in Bourne Vale, George Lane, Hurstdene Avenue Pickhurst Mead and Pittsmead Avenue as well as on many other roads in Hayes. The largest party was probably held at the Warren when 400 children attended.
Victory over Japan came later on 15 August 1945 when once again parties were held. The Bromley official celebrations were deferred until June 1946 – by which time the majority of serving men and women would have returned home. The bell ringers at Hayes Church rang a peel of 720 changes with other local churches.
How VE Day was celebrated in 1945
More than seventy-five years have passed since the ending of the Second World War but there are still people in Hayes who recall the tremendous sense of joy and relief when peace finally came. The Wilkins family were among the crowds who went up to London and joined the crowds making their way along the Mall to Buckingham Palace. They remembered, “it was a very exciting time and there was a tremendous atmosphere”. In 1995 Joy Palmer recalled her memories of the 8th May. She was rushed to Orpington Hospital for an emergency appendicitis operation. When she came round she thought she was in heaven, the lights were brilliant, the blackout had been removed and outside she could see the flames of a huge bonfire. “People were singing and laughing and the nurses who I had thought were angels were handing round glasses of sherry to the patients but passed me proclaiming ‘the War is Over, the War is over, but I’m sorry you can’t have any sherry’”. George Austen who was home on leave congregated with many others on the wasteland near the public shelter at the entrance to what is now Norman Park where a very large bonfire had been built. When towards the end of the evening the bonfire showed signs of going out someone had the idea of pulling the wooden bunks out of the air-raid shelter and committing them to the flames – a fine sight.
Mixed with the excitement was the sadness felt by many families who had suffered the loss of their loved ones either in direct attacks on Hayes or in fighting overseas. Many of their names are on the War Memorial in St Mary’s Churchyard. Other families would have to wait until later in the year for the return of Prisoners of War and for the ending of the war with Japan before they too could share in the celebration that took place. Over a thousand houses in Hayes had been damaged or destroyed, lives had been disrupted but for the moment there was relief that the war was over.
Plans had already been made in anticipation of peace and now the arrangements were quickly put into action.
On the morning of VE Day the newly appointed Rector of Hayes, Revd Eric Smith, took a service at the anti-aircraft gun site on Hayes Common. The Church bells were rung immediately after the Prime Minister’s speech in the afternoon. There was a well attended evening service and the following morning there was a United Service of Thanksgiving on the Common at 11 am with Revd Eric Smith and Revd Harold Edwards of the Free Church.
The school children rejoiced that they had two days’ holiday. When the school in George Lane reopened on 10th May services were held for both Infants and Juniors. The Mayor of Bromley and the Chairman of the Education Committee visited the school in the afternoon and each class then held its own party.
Further parties for the children took place on Saturday including one for 50 children in George Lane with plenty of dancing and singing. About the same number attended one for the children of Hurstdene Avenue where in addition to the tea there were sports, a fancy dress parade and a visit from the Mayor and Mayoress of Bromley. Bourne Vale had a street party and the fire watchers of Dartmouth Road, Southbourne and Northbourne provided a party for 60 children. Here as well as enjoying a tea each child was given 1/6d (7½p). It was from this party that the organisers decided to form a club, named the Victory Social Club, which survives to this day. The biggest party was at the Warren attended by over 400 children. There was also the opportunity for a visit to the Rex Cinema where the ‘Quips Concert party’ gave a free show.
The numbers attending the Thanksgiving Service on Sunday included members of the Home Guards, Civil Defence, British Legion, Red Cross, WVS, Scouts and Guides. The congregation was so large that the service was relayed to the Village Hall and some people still had to stand outside. Peace had come, thanks were given and then it was time to rebuild and look forward to the future.
A range of material exists and includes the records of Hayes Church, Hayes Village Association Minutes, Hayes Primary School Log Book. Newspaper reports, ARP records, lists of Civilian Casualties and World War II photographs of damage may be found in Bromley Historic Collections.
- Lewis Blake, Bromley in the Front Line, 2005
- LDV, The Bromley Home Guard: a history of the 51st Kent Battalion, 1945
- Civilian War Dead of the United Kingdom Vol ii, London 1954
- John Ruler, Hayes Allotment Holders Register,
- Trevor Woodman, Wartime Hayes, 2000
- T C Woodman, Hayes in the Spring of 1941, Bromleage May 1991