Wartime memories of Farnborough Kent children

The articles by John Riches that follow were the only ones not included in the original book. They were written in 2008 after the book was published, and updated in 2016.   The memorials in Farnborough churchyard to those killed in 1944 have recently been cleaned, and a second article by Ian Chandler has now been added to this website page, see below.

It is well over 50 years since Joyce and I married, causing me to move from Farnborough. But I’ve stayed in touch and each time I visit I walk down into the churchyard not only to pay my respects at my mother and grandparents’ graves, but also to school friends who lost their lives in World War Two.  With Western Europe having been largely at peace for over 60 years, it seems difficult to recall that in those dark days our beloved Farnborough was in the midst of a war zone. We carried gas masks, frequently went into air raid shelters, watched armed convoys on the arterial road and gazed at Royal Air Force and enemy aircraft above our heads. Life was certainly exciting, but very dangerous!  

Wendy Walker remembered her mother Lydia Wroe recalling war time memories. Her mother worked at the Farnborough Engineering Works, a substantial factory that stood at the end of Starts Hill Avenue on land now occupied by the homes of State Farm Avenue. After some bombs had landed close by, her mother rushed to Farnborough Primary School then situated at the bottom of Starts Hill, to make sure Wendy was not injured. Wendy and her school friends were not injured, but some Farnborough people were not so lucky.  

Died 1st September 1940.

Killed by a stray bomb, St Fillans, 2. Orchard Road, Farnborough
Lawrence: Percy Arthur Aged 30 Died 2 Orchard Road
Lawrence: Phyllis Mary Aged 32 Died 2 Orchard Road
Daughter of Mr and Mrs Harvey of Southborough
Lawrence: John Frederick Aged 8 Died 2 Orchard Road
Lawrence: David Harvey Aged 5 Died County Hospital, Farnborough
The records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission state that on 1st September 1940, a stray bomb landed at St Fillans, 2 Orchard Road. It killed Mr Percy and Mrs Phyllis Lawrence and their son John aged eight. Their youngest child David received injuries and died later in Farnborough Hospital. Maurice Gibbs remembered the incident and believed the bomb was dropped when German aircraft were attacking the RAF’s fighter station at nearby Biggin Hill during the Battle of Britain. Graham Wood recalled that Roy Pearce, whose parents kept The Woodman, had just been down Orchard Road to talk to the Lawrence’s but had to get home for lunch. Graham speculated that perhaps a German aircraft attacking Biggin Hill or the arterial road had been hit by anti-aircraft fire and jettisoned its bombs over Farnborough. Dennis Elliott believed a number of bombs fell - including two small ones - on the arterial road. He believed that the bomb fell on a Sunday. The family of four had gone to the Anderson shelter embedded in their back garden. Phyllis Lawrence called something to a neighbour about their Sunday lunch roasting in the oven indoors. Soon after that the bomb landed. Graham Wood said that this tragic event was a major factor in his family’s decision to have no special air raid shelter throughout the war.

The Battle of Britain Campaign Diary states that on Sunday 1st September 1940, by 1100 hours about one hundred enemy aircraft were over Kent. Some penetrated to Biggin Hill where there was heavy damage. Later that day a second wave of about 80 aircraft followed. Biggin Hill and Kenley were the objectives. It seems likely that a stray bomb, intended for Biggin Hill, killed the Lawrence family

Died 13th July 1944.

Killed by a V1 rocket, Park Hotel, Bromley Road.
The families of Percy Victor Vickers and John Gilbert Chappell, both of 23. Palmerston Road, Farnborough, Kent.  

Vickers: Grace Margaret Aged 35  
Vickers: Sheila Rose Aged 9  
Vickers: Maurice William Aged 7
Vickers: Carol Christine Aged 5  
Vickers: Allan Paul Aged 19 months
Chappell Mabel Ruby Ann Aged 30
Chappell Malcolm Aged 5
Chappell Ruby Aged 4

A modest tomb stone in St Giles’ churchyard only 25 metres or so from the war memorial was erected by two grieving fathers – Percy Victor Vickers and John Gilbert Chappell, both recorded as living at 23 Palmerston Road, Farnborough.  “In ever loving memory of our dear wives and darling children. Died by enemy action July 13th 1944.” Eight names are recorded: - Grace Margaret Vickers (35) and her children Sheila (9), Maurice (7), Carol (4) and Alan (18 months.). Mabel Ruby Ann Chappell (30) and her children Malcolm (5) and Roy (4). The record states that they died at Park Hotel, Bromley Road in the Metropolitan Borough of Lewisham. They were killed by a V1 flying bomb – a 17 ½ feet long unmanned aeroplane with a noisy pulse jet engine. We called them Doodlebugs. John Riches remembered that Sheila Vickers was in his class at Farnborough, school that in those days was at the bottom of Starts Hill. She sat at a double iron framed desk with a lift up lid just in front of him. Each time he travels he visits her grave and says a little prayer.

Helen Turner (nee Keenan) explained what happened. Mrs Chappell and Mrs Vickers were two of the three Staples sisters and in 1944 their families were all living at the same house in Palmerston Road. They were travelling by taxi to London to be evacuated to a safer part of the country when they received a direct hit. They were all killed instantly and Helen remembers that she and her sister Ethne - who was another classmate of Sheila Vickers - were absolutely devastated. Helen remarked that if they had stayed in Farnborough they would have survived and would have been evacuated to Birmingham accompanied by other village children and teacher Mrs Gladys Moat.

Enid Howarth (nee Watson) stated that the families died close to the Tiger’s Head public house in Bellingham. The records state that the pub was destroyed by a flying bomb in 1944 and rebuilt in 1958. It has recently closed. Enid’s father was also a casualty in the explosion and the police visited their home in Starts Hill Road to say that he had been killed. After mourning his loss they discovered that he hadn’t died after all but had been taken to Farnborough Hospital with very severe head injuries. Eventually, Enid related, her father discharged himself from hospital and lived until the age of 73.  Helen Turner remembered that after the war when Mr John Chappell the husband of Mabel had been demobilised from the Royal Air Force, he married Daisy the third sister of Mrs Vickers and Mrs Chappell.

Let us be thankful that our former enemies are now our friends and pledge to strive for peace throughout the world. Those of us who still remember Farnborough and its people during the war are all elderly and will soon be unable to pay their respects to former school friends who died by enemy action. It would be wonderful if younger people could now take over!   

John Riches, Originally written in 2008 and updated in 2016.

A Tragic Incident in Farnborough’s History   

During 2023 the Churchyard Team at St. Giles church in Farnborough were contacted by Mr Roger Taylor regarding the grave of two of his aunts and their children, his cousins. He was concerned that because he lives in Sussex and is in his eighties, he is finding it difficult to come to the Churchyard on a regular basis to keep the grave tidy.  

The grave concerned is a large square plot with a headstone inscribed “IN EVER LOVING MEMORY OF OUR DEAR WIVES AND DARLING CHILDREN. Died by enemy action July 13th 1944” Eight names are listed: - Grace Margaret Vickers (35) and her children Sheila (9) Maurice (7) Carol (5) and Alan (18 months). Mabel Ruby Ann Chappell (30) and her children Malcolm (5) and Roy (4)   The two young mothers were the middle of the four Staples sisters. Ivy Rose Taylor being the eldest and Daisy Staples being the youngest. During the Second World War both their husbands were away in the Forces and Grace with her children and Mabel with her children shared a house together in Palmerston Road, Farnborough Village. At that time quite a dangerous place to be, being close to Biggin Hill Aerodrome and fighter station. In an area nicknamed “Bomb Alley “  

They endured the first four years of the war there, going through the Blitz and regular bombings. However, in 1944 the Germans started using the V1 unmanned flying bombs, nicknamed Doodlebugs. They had a noisy engine, that once out of fuel would plummet randomly to the ground.   These must have terrified them, because they decided to go and stay with relatives in the north of England, a safer place.

On the morning of the 13th July they got a taxi to take them to King’s Cross station. They travelled through Bromley, down Bromley Hill, on to Southend pond and the Tiger’s Head public house. There, they received a direct hit from a V1 and were all killed instantly.   It is unimaginable how devastated their husbands and other family members must have been.  

There is a happier footnote to this dreadful event. Ivy and her husband George had two children, Gordon who is now ninety and Roger eighty-four.  Both brothers have two daughters. Roger’s being Janet and Sonya.   After the war and later, the widower of Mabel, John Chappell married Daisy the youngest sister. They went on to have two daughters of their own, Wendy and Marion. 

The Churchyard group of volunteers who meet every Tuesday morning to help maintain it to a high standard were informed of what Mr Taylor had said, and as it is a wartime grave of significance, instantly agreed to assist with the project. It was decided to remove all the weeds, clear the site, add a lot of compost, level, and lay turf. Crocus bulbs were planted underneath.  

The stonework had 79 years of grime and dirt on and was difficult to read. This has now been cleaned.  
Ian Chandler , Sept. 2023
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