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Twentieth Century



Dartford was very much in the front line during the Second World War. The town and surrounding countryside was a target for air raids by German bombers. German planes which could not reach central London often deposited their bomb loads on Dartford before returning home. Local armaments factories were also a target for bombers.

Incendiary bomb
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Unmanned flying bombs aimed at London sometimes fell short of their intended target and landed in and around the borough. Over 13,000 houses in the Dartford area were damaged as a result of the bombing. The number of bombs recorded by local ARP officials included 6,000 high explosive bombs, twenty-three land mines, 200 oil bombs, seventy-three phosphorous bombs and an estimated 200,000 incendiary bombs. 150 local people were killed in the air raids and another 700 injured.

Home Guard
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Local people also had to face the threat of invasion. It was widely believed that Hitler would attempt to land his invasion force somewhere along the coast of Kent or Sussex. Confronted by the threat from the skies and the threat of invasion, the people of Dartford rallied together and co-operated in every way possible to ensure that Britain won the war.

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Air Raid Precautions
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Dartford took the threat of war very seriously. Preparations for protecting the lives of local people were well in hand even before the war began. In 1938, over 27,000 gas masks were issued to local people and 80,000 sand-bags were used to protect key buildings. Thousands of locals volunteered to serve as ARP (Air Raid Precautions) personnel. ARP street wardens were appointed and Ambulance and First Aid parties were trained to deal with potential air raid casualties.

Dartford was declared to be a 'vulnerable area'. First Aid stations were set up at St. Alban's Hall and at the County Hospital, West Hill. Gas contamination squads received regular training and members of the general public were invited to attend special lectures at the Market Street Clinic, to learn how to deal with incendiary bombs and how to recognise the different types of gas which the Germans might drop in the area.

Air raid shelters were installed at key points in the town and Anderson shelters were delivered to more than 2,000 homes. Various kinds of shelters were provided in Dartford ranging from sophisticated basement shelters which could accommodate 200 people, to simple trenches in Central Park and on Dartford Heath. The largest shelters were those sited in the basements of local shops. Most of Dartford's well-known shops were equipped with shelters, including Messrs. Horrell and Goff (High Street), Dartford Industrial Co-operative Stores (Spital Street), and at Messrs Potts and Sons (Lowfield Street).

Many of the Dartford schools had their own air raid shelters where children could shelter from the air raids. Dartford Boys Grammar School, Dartford County School for Girls, East Central Boys School and the West Hill Schools were equipped with shelters. It was quite usual for lessons to be conducted in the shelters.

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Life in the shelters

An Auxiliary Fire Brigade was created and rescue squads were trained in the art of retrieving the dead and injured from bombed buildings. It was estimated by the Government that at least 650,000 people in Britain would be killed in the first wave of air raids.

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It was widely believed during the first few months of the war that poison gas would be used as a weapon against the civilian population. Protective gas masks were issued to everybody. There were some local false alarms from people who imagined they had smelt gas. The public had been alerted against the various types of gas which might be expected, these included lung irritants, sneezing gases and blister gases. In actual fact the Germans never used gas against British civilians.

The people of Dartford were constantly reminded of the need to carry their gas masks everywhere they went. Most people carried their gas masks in a small cardboard box. Children were issued with so-called Mickey Mouse gas masks with red rubber face pieces and bright eye-piece rims. At the outbreak of war there was no gas mask suitable for babies. However, it was not long before the government issued special gas helmets which covered the upper parts of a baby's body. The only drawback was the fact that the baby's mother had to keep pumping air into the helmet with a set of bellows.

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It was very important that all houses, factories, buses, trains, roads and shops were blacked out at night to make it harder for the German bombers to locate their targets. In July 1939 the local ARP conducted a blackout experiment. All lights in and around the town were extinguished from 10 pm until 2 am. Even with a total blackout, the ARP discovered that Dartford was perfectly visible from the air.
Every householder was required to cover their windows at night. Blackout curtains and paint were sold in local shops.

If a person left a chink of light visible from the street, the local air raid warden would soon knock at the door and tell them about it. Luminous paint was applied to door bells so that the bell-push could be seen at night. The number of road accidents increased dramatically in the blackout. Tree trunks in and around central Dartford were painted with white lines to make them more obvious at night. From mid-October 1939, members of the public were allowed to use hand torches if these were dimmed with a double thickness of tissue paper. Headlight masks were fitted to cars. In the local armaments factories the only practical way of achieving blackout conditions was to cover all the windows with paint or some other permanent material, and to use artificial light during the day. Ventilation was poor in factories where this was done.

Paper mills and other factories near Dartford Creek were camouflaged using an irregular pattern of green and brown. The factory buildings of J. & E. Hall which faced Hythe Street (now demolished) had a regular pattern of black rectangles painted on the brickwork which from the air would have resembled a row of large houses. Probably the most spectacular piece of camouflage work carried out in Dartford was the covering with wood and camouflage netting of Brooklands Lake. This was done because the Vickers armaments factory in Powder Mill Lane was nearby.

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Protecting homes against air raids
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Almost every possible kind of bomb was dropped on Dartford during the Second World War. Most of the high explosive bombs which fell in the Dartford area up to May 1941 were relatively light 50 or 250 kilogram bombs. Later in the war, the proportion of heavier bombs, up to 2500 kilograms, increased greatly.

Within ten days of the start of the Blitz the German Luftwaffe began to drop sea mines by parachute, these were known as land mines. Over twenty land mines were dropped in the Dartford area. Land mines were huge cylinders eight feet long and two feet wide, which swung silently down at about 40 mph but seemed to float like sycamore seeds.

The flying bombs were even more deadly and greatly feared by the people of Dartford. Over seventy flying bombs fell in the Dartford area between 16 June and 30 August 1944. Carrington Road was hit at 5.10 pm on Saturday 6 August. Ten people died in the huge explosion, twelve were seriously injured, twenty homes were wrecked and a further 700 houses damaged. It was fortunate that most of the un-manned flying bombs fell in open country around the town. The hooter at the Burroughs Wellcome Works in Dartford was used to warn local residents when flying bombs had been sighted. Incendiary bombs weighing just a couple of pounds were the most destructive of all the bombs. These bombs were just eighteen inches long and were dropped by the basket-load.

Air raid sirens
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One of the worst incidents of all in Dartford occurred during the early hours of 5 September 1940 when a high explosive bomb demolished two women's wards at the County Hospital, West Hill, killing a nurse and twenty-four patients. Sister Gantry, one of the hospital staff, earned the praise of everybody in Dartford. Regardless of her own safety, she crawled in and out of the wreckage with a bowl of hypodermic syringes giving injections of morphine to the trapped women. Twice she was lowered into the wreckage head-first.

German bombs got nearer to the centre of Dartford than at any other time during the night of 19 April 1941. On this occasion two high explosive bombs devastated an area in Kent Road killing thirteen people. The town's Scala Cinema was badly damaged, but the majority of the damage was inflicted on 150 local houses, fifteen were completely destroyed.

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Bombing in Dartford

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Food rationing had been introduced during the First World War as a means of ensuring that the limited quantities of food available were distributed fairly. At various times during the war, butter, meat, sugar, tea, margarine, cooking fat, cheese, eggs, jam, syrup, soap and all clothes were rationed.

In 1942 a man with only the basic clothes ration could buy one pair of socks every four months, one pair of shoes every eight months, one shirt every twenty months, one vest and one pair of pants every two years, one waistcoat every five years, and an overcoat every seven years. Three ration coupons would be set aside for the purchase of small items such as handkerchiefs.

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Rationing in Dartford during the war

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Food in wartime Dartford

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Helping the war effort


There were lots of ways in which ordinary people could help the war effort, including the raising of money for the purchase of weapons and armaments. Spitfire Funds were encouraged by the national newspapers. In the Wings for Victory Campaign of 1943, the people of Dartford raised over £505,000 worth of savings which, at least on paper, represented the cost of 100 Spitfires.

A number of individual streets in Dartford saved towards the purchase of weapons. A rifle and 2,000 rounds of ammunition cost £18; a parachute £40. The Savings Group at Messrs. J. & E. Hall in Dartford bought a 4 inch gun mounting, complete with gun, for £4,500.

The Great Aluminium Scare began on 10 July 1940 and the ladies of Dartford responded magnificently. Lord Beaverbrook issued a manifesto through the papers "We will turn your pots and pans into Spitfires and Hurricanes, Blenheims and Wellingtons". Locals were encouraged to hand over all their aluminium utensils for use in the manufacture of aircraft. Mountains of pots and pans, shoe trees and bathroom fittings were handed over for recycling. Ironically, most of this aluminium was never used.

Dartford children joined enthusiastically in the national campaign for salvage. Salvage shops were opened where people might leave or report their scrap metal. From 1940 onwards, iron railings were removed from parks and gardens.

A store was opened at the Women's Voluntary Services Offices at 49 High Street, Dartford, in 1939 for all kinds of second-hand or new clothing. Clothing was required for use at emergency centres, for people whose houses had been bombed, and for evacuees. Members of the Women's Voluntary Service mended the clothes where necessary.

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Home front memories

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VE Day celebrations in Dartford


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