I was lucky enough to hear about the Heritage Open Days which run a series of events that give the public free access to historical places that are normally shut to the public or charge admission. There were over 50 events in the Tunbridge Wells area, of which at least two were in High Brooms and I was able to get along to view St Matthew’s School Air Raid Shelter which is on Powder Mill Lane, High Brooms, Southborough, Kent, TN4 9DY.
This World War II air raid shelter is located under the playground and was only rediscovered about 10 years ago when the school had some ground works carried out so many people who have lived and grown up in the immediate area were totally unaware of it or that is still existed.
The air raid shelter, known as the ‘trenches’ to the children at the school, were in regular use between 1939 until 1945 with up to three air raid warnings a day it meant that some lessons were also taught underground in the tunnels.
In 1944 the Battle of Britain was underway and the south east was under constant threat from the German ‘flying bombs’. The school did not totally escape this danger after a bomb landed in Powdermill Lane, within metres of the school buildings, on July 28th but then failed to explode! The schools head teacher recorded an entry in the log book later that day:
“At 1.35 this afternoon a flying bomb landed 200 yards away from this school. The children were in the trenches where they had to remain all afternoon. At 3.30 they were dismissed in small parties accompanied by a teacher. All the homes near the bomb had to be evacuated so the children who lived in them joined their mothers at the rest centre in the Parish Hall. Luckily the bomb did not explode and was dismantled by a bomb disposal squad. The people were allowed to return to their houses at about 8pm”
We were able to go down into the shelter where there is a small display of WWII posters, the children were very excited when the lights were turned off so they could experience the trenches in blackout conditions, although it is thought that there was electric lighting installed during its use. There was also an audio demonstration with the sounds of an air raid siren giving the warning as well as the ‘all clear’ which also signalled our departure from this fascinating place.
It is very hard to imagine what life would have been like during this very dark period in our history or to experience what the young school children who grew up through this did, but this event at least let us have a look back into their world.
Many thanks to the Heritage Open Days (@heritageopenday) and St Matthews School for making this visit possible as well as our hosts on the afternoon (who I believe was a previous headmaster from the school and his wife but apologies as I didn’t get any names!)
If you have something to contribute to this blog, or just want to let me know you are enjoying it feel free to comment below, email me at HighbroomsSociety@gmail.com or send me a message on twitter to: @HighbroomsSoc
Copyright for all images belongs to Daniel Marsh @danieljmarsh unless otherwise stated – please do not replicate or use in any form without prior permission being granted.