The horror of war is, for the vast majority of us, something we only see on our television screens in distant lands.
Scenes of destroyed buildings, smoke billowing and landscapes altered.
Bomb damage during the Second World War in Dover
But many towns and villages continue to bear the scars of the aerial bombardment we suffered during the Second World War – damage which would forever reshape the communities we know today.
We take a look at some of the significant buildings in Kent destroyed, or badly damaged, during the conflict – and what stands in their place today. You may never look at the sites in the same way again…
During the Second World War, much of the German bombing was strategic – aimed at key sites the destruction of which would be seen to hinder the nation’s war effort.
Ashford was a town widely developed due to its railway industry; it was a major interchange as well as housing plenty of rail depots along and around the town’s track.
So it was perhaps little wonder it was a target for the Germans.
Yet their bombing was so indiscriminate that when the bombs fell on March 24, 1943, huge areas of the town were decimated.
Beaver Road School was destroyed in a devastating raid in March 1943. Picture: Steve Salter
The wave of German fighters flew in low towards the town, obscured by the sun. It meant the air-raid warning siren in the town sounded just minutes before the bombs rained down on the town.
The more pressing ‘attack imminent’ alarm was heard just seconds before the attack and gave people on the ground precious little time to reach bomb shelters.
Among the buildings hit hard was Beaver Road School’s site on what was once the intersection between Victoria Road and Beaver Road, close to the railway station.
Speaking to KentOnline several years ago, survivor David Webb remembered: “I joined school midway through term so my desk was at the back of the classroom. This meant I was always the last one out on a drill.
“On the day of the attack the first siren went and we all stood up but our teacher Mrs Williams, immediately told us to sit down. We were missing too many lessons so we were only allowed to vacate on the final warning. As she was speaking the final warning was heard.
The school was left in ruins following the attack which had targeted the town’s railway works. Picture: Steve Salter
“We all immediately stood up and scarpered from the building, across the playground, to our shelter. There was no shouting or screaming, it was all very orderly but we knew it was serious.
“Just as I was going into the shelter, it was like somebody lifted me up under my arms and I was thrown in by the blast along with rubbish, rubble and thick dust.
“We were in the shelter for quite a while, we didn’t know what was happening. The lights went out so we were in semi-darkness, but the teachers were really good and tried to keep us calm.
“When we were finally let out, the top of the school building had virtually disappeared, the playground was covered in bricks and rubble. The shelter was covered in bricks and debris and was sagging under the weight.
“We got counted up and sent off home. There were mums running up Beaver Road really worried about us but we were just over the moon that we got a day off school.”
When we were finally let out, the top of the school building had virtually disappeared
Remarkably no child at the school was killed.
But the cost to the town was huge – around 60 were killed, 250 people injured, 60 homes destroyed and 700 damaged.
Around the town centre, huge damage was caused – particularly to housing – much of which now sits beneath what is now the County Square shopping centre.
Taking a stroll in Canterbury city centre will, almost inevitably, lead you past the entrance to the Marlowe Arcade. It is a long-standing modern complex in a medieval city.
Yet the next time you are window-shopping while walking through it, consider that you are walking where the likes of Charles Dickens once stayed.
Because prior to one of the Second World War’s most notorious Germany bombing raids, it was the site of the Royal Fountain Hotel – a celebrated destination which attracted the great and good and, indeed the murderous, throughout the centuries.
It was the site of the city’s first pub, charting its history – and under a variety of different names and owners – to 1029. As a consequence it was, during its lifetime, the city’s oldest pub – and a contender for the oldest in the country. It couldn’t however, survive an aerial bombardment which would forever change the shape of the city around it.
The tavern’s history saw the author Charles Dickens stay there in 1861, while in 1299 it played host to the German ambassador who was en route to attend the wedding of Edward I while in 1170 it was apparently a stopping off spot for the knights despatched by Henry II to rid him of the “turbulent priest” that was Thomas Becket. Slaying Archbishops of Canterbury is, apparently, a thirsty business.
All that was left of the Royal Fountain Hotel
In its last years, the Royal Fountain Hotel was a popular central location for visitors and tourists.
But its long and illustrious history would come to a brutal end on the night of June 1, 1942.
Stinging from the carpet bombing of Cologne days earlier by Allied forces, Hitler was out for revenge.
Switching from strategic targets, he aimed to hit Britain’s cultural and historic heartlands – instructing bombing raids by consulting German tourist handbook Baedeker Guide.
Thus Canterbury joined the likes of Bath, York, Exeter and Norwich at being targeted by enormous bombardment.
The Royal Fountain was devastated by the Luftwaffe in 1942. Picture: Rory Kehoe
Amid widespread destruction in the Kent city – the cathedral was damaged by fortunately not badly damaged – the Royal Fountain Hotel was destroyed during what became know as the Baedeker Raids.
If you’ve ever had the misfortune of being called to stand before Margate’s magistrates bench, the chances are your mind will be on other things than the footsteps in which you step.
But on the site which now stands the court, library and Thanet District Council offices, was, for nearly 200 years, a pleasure palace.
Its first incarnation was as the Royal Assembly Rooms, a sprawling venue built in the mid 18th century, which included a huge, ornate ballroom for dances.
Yet it was left an empty husk after a blaze ripped through it in 1882. The inferno which destroyed it was named “the most alarming fire Margate had ever known” in the local press at the time, destroying a number of neighbouring buildings yet, remarkably, claiming no lives.
The interior of Margate’s doomed Regal cinema. Picture: MargateLocalHistory.co.uk
Rebuilt, it was renamed the Grand Theatre and was welcoming back visitors in 1898 with a huge stage and orchestra pit.
Taken over and given yet another new name in 1905, the Hippodrome boasted all mod cons, for the era, including electric lighting.
As tastes changed, the theatre gave way to cinema, and by 1929 it was dedicated to the silver screen. But not for long. A large 1,300-seater cinema was built next door – and so the former theatre was revived and laid on variety entertainment.
However, the new cinema, the Regal, would meet a sticky end during the Second World War.
An event outside the Hippodrome, with the Regal cinema next door. Picture: MargateLocalHistory.co.uk
On September 7, 1941, a screening of Kipps starring Michael Redgrave was interrupted by an air-raid siren.
Moments after everyone had cleared the building, a German bomb destroyed the Regal.
While the Hippodrome was able to reopen in 1946, as a cinema, the entire, ornate complex was demolished in 1967.
All that was left of the Regal cinema following the attack
Eventually, in its place was built the council offices, library and magistrates court we know today.
The clean-up operation following the aerial bombardment Kent was subjected to during the Second World War was considerable and, in many cases, stretched for many years.
But, sometimes, the damage caused by war needs a lasting reminder – which is why you can still visit the ruins of St Mary the Virgin church in Little Chart, near Ashford.
The parish place of worship had been popular – counting among those who joined its congregation the author HE Bates; perhaps best known for his Darling Buds of May books.
The medieval church had also been featured in a book, The King’s England, by the acclaimed author Arthur Mee – the man behind the famous Children’s Encyclopedia. He described the church in the guide to the nation’s counties, as being “exceedingly rich in sculptures”.
How the St Mary the Virgin church in Little Chart looked before the war. Picture: Paul Tritton
Sadly, however, they would be destroyed on August 16, 1944.
A V1 flying bomb – often referred to as a doodlebug – sailing over the county was shot down by a fighter at around 8pm that evening. As it fell it exploded into the church demolishing most of the building.
Fortunately, there were no injuries, but the days of it being a place of worship were over.
Its churchyard was restored, however, after the war, with graves dating back to the 17th century.
The remains of the church today – the damage caused by the bomb in 1944. Picture: Paul Tritton
The remains of the church itself were left untouched – a reminder to all that Kent suffered considerably during the conflict. It can still be visited today.
Folkestone’s Victoria Pier was once part of the popular resort town’s premier line-up of attractions.
A postcard picturing what was once the Victoria Pier at Folkestone
Opened in 1888 to mark the previous year’s Golden Jubilee for Queen Victoria, at its heart was a 700-seater pavilion – ideal for a host of entertainment most notably, in its early years, variety performances.
As the years passed, it played host to everything from wrestling to beauty pageants and jazz bands. It eventually featured a cinema.
There was even a roller-skating rink added near-by to help further swell the numbers.
But, as the Second World War intensified, like many piers off the Kent coast, steps were taken to prevent it being an easy landing place for invading forces. As a consequence, the middle section was destroyed. A necessary self-inflicted wound from which it was hoped it would eventually recover.
Looking back inland – a postcard from the time shows what the view from the pier would have been like in Folkestone
However, a fire – thought to be arson – in 1945 burned much of the pavilion down.
Post-war, the costs involved to rebuild it, and its dwindling popularity in the run up to the conflict, meant it was abandoned with demolition work finally starting in 1952.
The pier was once close to where the Leas Lift is today located – but over time nothing now remains of the once mighty structure.
Industry took a pounding during the war – and the Imperial Paper Mills at Gravesend would bear the scar of a devastating attack of a bombing raid in 1940.
The Imperial Paper Mills at Gravesend in 1976 – just five years before it was closed for good
In a world before the internet and computers, paper was in enormous demand and the factory provided jobs and prosperity to the area.
But when a number of incendiary bombs fell on the site – given its flammable nature – the mills were hit hard.
Twelve of its 14 paper-making machines were destroyed in the blitz and the western wing of the factory – leaving only the walls remaining. The east side was also damaged.
Restoration work began but a huge bomb crater remained on the site until the factory was closed down in 1981.
The White House in Clifton Marine Parade, Gravesend – formerly the main office of the bombed Imperial Paper Mill. Picture: Steve Crispe
Part of the former mill buildings can still be seen – today a financial services firm occupies the White House building which was once the main office. Railway tracks which served the mill can also still be spotted.
Sometimes incidents in the heat of war sound more like the script of a Hollywood movie – and none more so than an incident in Upchurch, near Rainham on August 16, 1944.
The V1 doodlebugs were becoming an increasing problem for defence forces. More often than not fired at London, they caused damage throughout Kent if they fell short or – in this case – were intercepted by Allied air forces.
The train which crashed in Upchurch, just outside Rainham, in August 1944
On this particular day, a V1 missile was in the sights of a Canadian RAF pilot. Having tracked it since Dover, efforts to shoot it down had failed so he performed a daring manoeuvre which involved flying alongside the flying bomb and then tipping it with his wing. Such a move disabled its targetting and would send it crashing down to earth.
Unfortunately, this one fell directly on a railway bridge in Oak Lane. The bridge was completely destroyed and a railway worker taking cover beneath it killed.
Oak Lane Bridge – rebuilt after the bombing during the war. Picture: Google Earth
However, the disaster was about to get more dramatic. The 3.35pm Victoria to Ramsgate train, carrying some 400 people, was travelling in its direction and only realised the bridge had gone too late.
The consequence was that the train careered into the gap, sending carriages crashing down. Seven passengers were killed and dozens injured.
The bridge itself had to be completely reconstructed that year – a temporary one was in place, remarkably, within three days – to enable train services to continue. It still stands today.
And finally…one building bombed but which German aggression could not remove from history.
The signal box at Maidstone West was severely damaged in the attack. Picture: Dave King
Just outside Maidstone West railway station is a an old-fashioned signal box which has been going strong for more than 120 years.
But its life was nearly brought to an abrupt end in August 1944 when a doodlebug – the explosive pilot-less flying bombs – fell into the nearby goods yard.
The resulting explosion killed two railway workers and ripped much of the box to shreds – injuring the signaller inside.
The Maidstone West Signal Box – fully restored since its brush with death during the war. Picture: Network Rail
Explained Nick Wellington, a deputy local operations manager at Network Rail in 2019 when the building celebrated its 120th birthday: “More than a third of the box was destroyed. It could have been worse, but the bomb buried itself in soft earth and much of the blast was deflected upwards.”
After the destruction caused, the box was restored – to look as close to how it once did as ever before.
And, if you are ever lucky enough to visit it, then inside the levers still bear the scars of the attack on that fateful day.