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The History of Kent

Copyright Kent Past 2010

Memories of Kingsnorth Airfield

By Frank Beckley

The Advanced Landing Ground at Kingsnorth near Ashford, Kent was built in June 1943. I was 14 years old and lived about half a mile away from the airfield. I have no photographs of the airfield as I had neither a camera, nor permission from the station commander.

The excitement of the Battle of Britain was long gone with less enemy activity there were a few sneak raids on the airfield and Ashford Railway Works, which was an important target. My mother was in hospital at about the time the 2nd Tactical Air Force Squadrons arrived at the airfield, and I would write telling her about the movements of the aircraft. I recall the letters MT and YT, although, it was a long time ago, and could be wrong. The flying ace Paddy Finucane was a wing commander with one of the squadrons, and was killed just before they were due to move to Kingsnorth.

On top of Colyers Hill, which was about half a mile from the airfield, there was an army post with a tall wooden look-out tower and a Bofors gun. I frequently visited this site because of the splendid view over Romney Marsh. The German fighter bombers flew in low over the Marsh and then up and over the hill to attack the railway works or airfield. The purpose of the post was to warn the railway works of an impending attack, although the enemy aircraft reached it quicker than the spotter could notify them.

I often spent time talking to the soldiers who would sell me cheap cigarettes for my father. One day when I was there an enemy plane came over and I had to dive into a dugout. I do not remember the Bofors gun ever being fired in anger.

One of the Guard positions was at the top of Gill Lane, Mersham and I frequently went there to chat with the RAF men who were on guard. It was close to the runway often used by the Spitfires to take off. When the Americans took over, I would talk with their soldiers. I was there one day when an American came along the road on a bicycle, and stopped by the junction because he could hear a Thunderbolt running up its engines. The Guard told him it was O.K. to proceed along the road and across the runway. The man on the cycle was not convinced and stayed still, with a worried look. He asked again if the guard was sure, it was O.K. `Yeah, go for it man’ replied the guard. The man still sat there, before finally deciding to go. He had not gone far when the Thunderbolt revved it`s engine - I have never seen a man pedal so fast - the Guard and I fell about laughing. We would talk a lot and some of them visited our home and that of my uncle, who lived nearby.

Often in the evening, I watched as Flying Fortress’ and Liberators circled the airfield waiting to make emergency landings. They would have one or two engines stopped or pieces of the wings or tail planes missing. Occasionally red flares were fired to signal there were injured on board. On one occasion I had the opportunity to look round a B17 Flying Fortress, which had landed in an emergency. There were many bullet holes in it and most of its rudder had been shot away. Both tyres had blown, although the undercarriage was still intact. I was not allowed inside as it was in a restricted area. It had just been pulled off the runway and left, however it was gone when I returned a couple of weeks later.

When the Americans moved out they left a B25 Mitchell bomber parked on the grass and a friend and I would climb inside and pretend to be flying it.

On one occasion, I was sitting on my bicycle at Cheesemans Green, which was near the end of one of the runways, when two P47 Thunderbolt aircraft with a bomb under each wing took off. As they lifted off they touched wings and both crashed. I remember there was dead silence immediately afterwards, although I am glad to say both pilots survived.

The airfield has now been returned to farmland, although sometimes, I can still see that airfield. My interest in Second World War aircraft has stayed with me from those exciting days and in my twilight years; I have retained that interest with involvement of the Aeronautical Museum on Romney Marsh, of which I am the chairman.

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