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Norman Wigg's Recollections

- Initial contact with Norman Wigg (2008)

- Follow-up correspondence

- Memories of the Battle of Britain - from Norman Wigg's memoirs

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Recollections from Norman Wigg - once resident of Lynsted

An e-mail from a visitor to the website, who lived in Lynsted, led to some further valuable insights into the Parish and some insights into the "Battle of Britain" in and around the Parish.

December 2008 email

"I was born at Teynham, Kent on 08/06/1932, and lived for the first thirty years of my life in the Parish of Lynsted. My mother, as a young girl, lived in the beautiful timber framed house opposite the church.

Her father, Mr Ashbee, was the local policeman for many years.
I attended Lynsted Primary School, and went from there to Borden Grammar School. I was a choir boy at St Peter and Paul church while the Rev Reeves was vicar. Played cricket for the local club, and, as a boy, loved nothing better than to wander through the woods and fields around Lynsted, and Doddington. From the Grammar School, I studied architecture at Canterbury and Town Planning at Leeds. For many years now I have lived in Surrey.

Recently was talking to my wife, and mentioned that my mother had told me that a River Lyn used to flow through Lynsted, but had disappeared in her time.

This led to me looking up the Lyn on the internet, and coming across your society.

I am pleased to see that such a society exists, and would be interested to receive your newsletter, if that is possible.

Sincerely
Norman Wigg


Follow-up e-mail

While still an architecture student, and later while working, (like most young architects) I did a fair bit of "moonlighting". As a result, examples of my work on extensions, conversions and occasional new houses are scattered around the villages of north Kent, although I don't recall actually doing anything in the village of Lynsted itself.

If you would be interested to see other works my web site is www.conservation-new.co.uk

A well known architect recently said that what was needed from architects was more of the "decent ordinary" rather than "prestige" projects. I think I have done quite a lot of "decent ordinary", mainly in Kent and Surrey.

Am currently writing a kind of "memoirs" which I might turn into a book. There have been many interesting, and often amusing episodes during my working life.

I had a look at Lynsted using the Google maps. There seems to be an housing estate (The Vallance) where I used to roam through woods. The other side of the road, that leads round to Bogle, was the cricket field, now apparently an orchard. It was a cow field in those days, and dodging the cow pats while fielding was a normal hazard of a match. The Rev Reeve came to Lynsted with a reputation as a sportsman, and was soon recruited for the local side. I recall an incident while we were fielding when a mate of mine called out to him "F-- if you haven't stood in the cow muck, vicar".

In 1944, I heard the massive double bang as a V2 fell in the valley just east of Lynsted. At the time we didn't know why TWO bangs. Actually the first was the sonic boom of the rocket, the second the actual explosion. Probably those living nearby in Lynsted heard the two booms simultaneously. The crater was visible for years, but has probably disappeared now?

You might be interested in my "memories of the Battle of Britain", attached.*

I also have lots of photographs taken in those early days, which I have been intending for years to sort and classify.

Hope some of this is interesting to you
Regards
Norman Wigg
* will send separately


1940 – Memories of The Battle of Britain (dated 2006 (v4))

In August and September of that year, the Battle of Britain reached its climax. My memories of those epic two months are still vivid today over sixty years later. Some consist of “snapshots” of memory – a single moment in the drama, when a particular image burned itself into my young brain. Others, consist of a short sequence of action.

"Typical of the latter. I am in my back garden, at 6 Lynsted Lane, Teynham, my usual viewpoint of the battle. A formation of heavy German bombers is passing a few miles to the south, heading westwards, presumably towards London. A single RAF fighter comes up under the formation – I see the smoke trails from his guns as he fires. The result is dramatic. One of the bombers literally falls out of the sky, plunging straight down trailing black smoke. Some seconds after it has disappeared behind trees on the skyline, the faint sound of the gunfire that destroyed it reaches me. Probably the time that elapsed between the time the bomber crew realised they were under attack, and their deaths was less than five seconds.

This time, the action is closer, only a mile or so away. A RAF fighter is hit – it is a Hurricane, and plunges down trailing smoke. But in this case, the pilot is still alive, and has some control of his stricken aircraft. The plane levels out, flies horizontally for a short distance, turning over on its back, then starts it final plunge to earth. I recognise the manoeuvre, this is the safest way for a pilot to bale out, opening his cockpit, undoing his safety harness, turning the aircraft on its back, then pushing the stick hard forward to send the aircraft into an upward trajectory. This has the effect of throwing him clear. I watch for the parachute. Almost immediately, it opens, a small white dot against the blue sky. I watch it get larger and larger, until I can clearly see he airman. He is going to land about half a mile to the north, and I grab my small bike to hasten to the spot. By the time I get there, he has been put into an ambulance, apparently slightly wounded, and army people are gathering up his parachute.

The chase is on ! A Messersmitt 109 hurtles over my house going east at full throttle. Just behind him, a RAF Spitfire blazing away with his eight machine guns. The simply disappear over the roof top. By the time I get to the front door, they are out of sight. Probably by this time, the remains of the Messersmitt are blazing in a Kentish field. The Spitfire was slightly the faster of these two fine aircraft, and, unless the Spitfire ran out of ammunition, the Messersmitt stood practically no chance of getting back to France. These two fighter aircraft were closely matched. The Spitfire could turn faster – vital in air combat, and was, at least at some altitudes, slightly faster both on the level and in the climb. On the other hand, the Messersmitt’s had superior armament – a deadly cannon and heavy machine guns. Its engine was fuel injected, which meant it didn’t suffer from sudden fuel starvation when rapidly manoeuvring, as the Spitfire’s carburettor fed Merlin engine sometimes did, at that time. However, the main disadvantage of the Messersmitt was its limited range. It could only stay over England for 20 minutes or so, and much less if engaged in combat, when much more fuel is used. Thus, this German fighter plane often had to break off from a “dog fight” and run for home to avoid having to “ditch” in mid channel. Its other great disadvantage, as it was usually used as a fighter escort to the bomber squadrons, was that the fighter pilots radios couldn’t communicate with those of the bomber crews ! This, and the lack of “drop tanks” (which would have given it much greater endurance) were surprising technical disadvantages, since both should have been easily solved by the inventive Germans.

Now, this time it is a Spitfire racing westwards, the exuberant pilot throwing his aircraft into successive “victory rolls”. This manoeuvre was eventually forbidden to RAF pilots, because of the possibility that the aircraft could go out of control if it had suffered battle damage.

High up against the blue sky, the vapour trails of battling aircraft form amazing patterns. The distant hum of high performance engines, and the crackle of gun fire. Now and then a trail of descending black smoke marks the death plunge of an aircraft – too far away today to see if the stricken plane is friend or foe.

About 40 heavy bombers in close formation, droning westwards (presumably) heading for London. They are passing a few miles to the north. Suddenly, the sky around them is filled with puffs of black smoke, a few seconds later comes the noise of the “Ack Ack” guns. The German squadron has made the mistake of flying into the field of fire of the battery on Chitney marshes. One is hit at once, and plunges down trailing smoke.

September 15th 1940. For once, the sky was clouded over. Suddenly, above the clouds, the sound of gunfire. Immediately, an aircraft (I recognised as a Hurricane) plunged vertically downwards. I saw the huge puff of smoke as it hit – probably (not sure after all this time) heard the sound of the explosion, only about a mile away. Not too long after, drawn by curiosity, and reverence for the dead pilot (since I had seen no parachute) I went to the crash site.

Never, in my young life, (or since) had I witnessed such a scene of utter destruction. The aircraft had crashed in a young orchard, about half a mile south of the A2 road, and the earth for about 100 metres around the impact point was covered in grey ash, amongst this many small fragments of twisted metal, some spattered with bright spots of (I assume) molten aluminium. Nothing remotely recognisable as part of an aeroplane, nothing much larger than a plate. Small fires still burned or smouldered everywhere. One of two figures in military uniform were picking over the wreckage. I noticed in particular, the young trees, all lying blown over with their roots pointing in towards the impact point. As far as I could see there was no obvious crater. Somewhere, in the middle of that awful destruction, had been a living, breathing human. The dead pilot was F/O Roy Marchand, 27. A small memorial stands on the spot today – this is his only grave.

September 28th 1940. A Spitfire has crashed at Dadman’s, near Lynsted, The pilot, a young Canadian was F/O J Boyle. He is buried in the quiet cemetery at Lynsted. My mother, and other local people, “adopted” his simple grave, with its wooden cross, keeping it fresh with flowers. That cross is now replaced with a stone gravestone, recording his sacrifice. I understand that his brother came to visit the grave after the war, and was delighted to see it so well attended to.

A day or two after the crash, I cycled to the scene. The crash site was guarded by a policeman, who wouldn’t let people come too close. Some Army personal were apparently loading the wreckage onto a large military lorry. From what I could see, at some distance, it was completely burned out.

November 21st 1940. The Battle of Britain was officially over, and the RAF had triumphed against formidable odds. Not until many years after the war, did we learn how desperately close it had been. Nevertheless, air raids continued, albeit on a reduced scale. The massed air battles had given way to more isolated incidents. Then, one fine morning, suddenly, frighteningly, the war in the air, which had usually had a certain remoteness, came dangerously close.

There, to the west, and apparently coming straight towards me, at a very low altitude, a Heinkel 111 – other than a crashed aircraft near Conyer, I had never seen an enemy plane so close. His altitude was not much more than 1000 feet, and, what’s more his bomb doors, under the fuselage, were opening. I stood rooted to the spot with fear. Right behind the bomber, closing very fast, three Spitfires, one leading the attack. The bomber started to swing to the left – (I didn’t understand that manoeuvre for another 20 odd years). Then – firing started. The noise of the Spitfire’s eight machine guns, pouring out some 500 bullets a second, and the even louder crack of the German aircraft’s rear gunner replying with his twin heavy machine guns, was deafening. I saw the smoke trails from Spitfires guns, and, curiously, what looked like a line of lights going from the bomber towards the Spitfire.

I watched open mouthed as the two aircraft came together, then collided in mid air, about a 1000 feet above me, and about a mile to the north east.. One wing was torn off the bomber and fluttered like a piece of paper in the sky. The main wreckage fell at Buckland Farm, about two miles east of Teynham. Many smaller pieces of debris, some trailing smoke, followed.

The whole action was over in seconds. The two companion Spitfires circled low over the scene, before leaving – I suppose it was very usual for them at that time, to see a colleague die suddenly and violently. Two fireman from Faversham were killed, when bombs aboard the Heinkel exploded, as they tried to extinguish the fires consuming the two aircraft.

The German aircrew were buried in the churchyard at Teynham, and were exhumed after the war, and their bodies returned to Germany. The RAF pilot was 21 year old Sgt R E Plant, of Coventry. He is buried at Stoke (St Michael) churchyard, Coventry.

I was told that the RAF pilot had been killed by the rear gunner of the German plane – ironically his deadly fire also directly killed himself and his companions, although in practice their end would not have been long delayed. Three Spitfires should have been able to “kill” the slower, lumbering bomber with little risk to themselves. I now believe that Sgt Plant actually saw from the cockpit of his Spitfire the bomb doors opening, as the German crew attempted to dump their deadly load, to gain speed to escape their pursuers. The fact that my village was dead ahead, and would have taken the full force of the bombs, was incidental. This, I believe, was why Sgt Plant made a direct, and risky attack, direct from astern, and in so doing exposed himself fatally to the German fire.

Later in life, I had an opportunity to fulfil a boyhood dream, and learned to fly. Part of my training was on the classic “Tiger Moth”. Nearly thirty years later, close to the anniversary of his death, I was flying a Robin light aircraft on a cross country trip and was heading south, back to Headcorn, crossing Sittingbourne at 3000 feet. I looked to my left, and saw Bapchild, and Teynham beyond that. On impulse, I turned eastwards, trimming the aircraft to a slightly nose down attitude, losing height as I flew over Bapchild towards my old house in Teynham, which I could now just see coming up beyond the trees of the orchard.

This was just about exactly he course flown by Sgt Plant on that fateful day, many years ago. Of course, his Spitfire had been travelling more than three times as fast as my small aircraft, closing on the bomber at about 300 feet a second. In the Spitfire’s cockpit, Sgt Plant turned the button on his control column to “Fire”. At about 400 yards the bomber was filling the first ring of his gun sight. Now, he squeezed the firing button, and the fighter’s eight Browning machine guns flung a hail of bullets at the doomed bomber.

In my imagination, I saw the Heinkel ahead of me, nose down as it strived for speed, saw its bomb doors opening, then it swung away to the left.

Now, I understood why. To give the rear gunner a clear field of fire, clear of his own tail fin. This was the moment when Sgt Plant died, shot through the head by the heavy German bullets smashing through his windscreen. Only seconds later, the German crew died, too.

I was now crossing the old A2 road from south to north at a slight angle. The High Street of Teynham was passing below – an area that I had been my home for the first thirty years of my life. The old A2 road, which I am sure was the marker the German had been following, continued through Teynham towards the small Kent town of Faversham. Between the two settlements was, at that time, largely open countryside, although it has become spasmodically developed since.

Underneath, the staggered cross road of Buckland Cross, where minor roads cross the old A2. Just to the north of the road, the ruins of an ancient church in the middle of a field. It was in this area that the tangled wreckage of the two aircraft had fallen.

Like the Spitfires of 1940, I circled the area twice, at about 1,000 feet, before climbing away to resume my flight to Headcorn. It was an unconscious act of respect, for a young man, whose courage and sacrifice, may well have saved my village from terrible destruction. I could see people on the ground, some pausing to wave to me. I wondered if any of them connected the presence of this little aeroplane to the dramatic events, of many years ago."

Norman Wigg
December 2006