The amazing tales of strength from Kent in WWII that will make you proud

From grand acts of military deception to pitched battles in the marshes – Kent was at the forefront of Britain’s Second World War effort.

Throughout the war, Kent played a critical role as it was widely believed the county would be the first target of the German invasion.

And our spirit, just like today, was unshakeable.

These are just some of the most amazing things that happened in Kent during the Second World War.

The Battle of Graveney Marsh

A German Junkers Ju 88 aircraft was captured in the battle

The last battle involving a foreign force to take place in mainland Britain happened in Graveney Marsh near Faversham on September 27 1940.

A German bomber was seen flying over the area and was shot down by the Spitfires who had specific orders to capture it intact.

The bomber crash-landed in the marshes and a brief skirmish between the crew and a local regiment from Seasalter occurred.

Eventually, the crew surrendered and were taken into custody with neither side having lost a life.

It was seen as important to take the plane whole as it was a new type of German bomber that would provide invaluable intelligence for the rest of the war.

Biggin Hill and the Battle of Britain

The uniform of a standard fighter pilot on display at the Biggin Hill Memorial Museum

Britain’s island status was one of its biggest defensive attributes during the Second World War.

In order to invade the Germans would need to launch an amphibious invasion, which would be easier if they had neutralised the RAF.

During 1940, the Battle of Britain was waged over Kent’s skies and Biggin Hill played an integral part in ensuring the German Luftwaffe were kept at arms length.

The Bromley airbase was tasked with shielding London and the south east from the Nazi bombing.

From July 10 to October 31 1940, the airbase was in constant use with pilots taking off round the clock to engage in daring dogfights with the Germans above.

It is believed pilots at the base were responsible for the downing of over 1,400 German planes in the battle.

Operation Dynamo

The Operation Dynamo Museum in Dover

The story of the Dunkirk evacuations is etched into our national folklore and Kent played an integral part in the proceedings.

The operation was masterminded by Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay from the secret war tunnels in the White Cliffs and many Kent fisherman gave up their vessels to join his army of little boats.

During the evacuation Dover’s harbour was essential in unloading troops and sending the boats back to Dunkirk.

To this day, the operation remains one of the county’s finest moments.

Operation Fortitude

An inflatable dummy Sherman Tank

Prior to the Allied invasion of France in June 1944, Kent was the sight of a historic act of military deception aimed to catch the German defences out.

The aim of Operation Fortitude was to make it appear that the Allies were planning to attack the Pas De Calais area rather than their actual target: Normandy.

In order to do this, a large dummy invasion force was erected on the cliffs and beaches of East Kent complete with inflatable tanks and military balloons.

The stage was set for one of the most audacious acts of the conflict and on June 5, the mock invasion was launched.

It worked to perfection and slowed many German divisions from reaching Normandy where 165,000 Allied troops had just landed as part of Operation Overlord.

People lived their lives underground

Life underground became normal for the people of Ramsgate 

Decades ago, far beneath the surface of Kent towns, scores of families lived for months at a time without seeing the light of day.

One of the most striking examples of this is in Thanet.

Hundreds of Ramsgate residents adopted a completely subterranean life during the Second World War, after 500 bombs fell in just five minutes on August 24, 1940, destroying people’s homes and businesses.

Some 300 families took to living in the tunnels on a permanent basis. Life underground became normal for the people of Ramsgate and street signs, canteens, shops and other services were set up.

The tunnels as they are today

There were concerts within the tunnels, numerous latrines and even a hospital in this wartime hub of human activity.

KentLive was shown treasured photos by Muriel Lilley from Dumpton, whose late husband grew up in Ramsgate and visited the tunnels while on leave from the commandos during the war.

Mrs Lilley said: “It was like one big family down there, everyone knew each other. You’d bump into neighbours or people that used to go to the same shops as you.

“After so many people were made homeless by the bombs they just moved into the tunnels permanently. There were barbers down there, greengrocers, everything. Some people would play music, and there were concert parties to keep morale up.”

The design of the two and a half miles of tunnels built under Ramsgate meant that no-one was ever more than a quarter of a mile from an entrance.

Kent Live