On this embankment, during the Battle of Britain, stood anti-aircraft guns, pointing skyward, ready to shoot down enemy aircraft flying over the village of Whyteleafe. Some of the men and women who fought in this conflict lie buried in the Airmen’s Corner – cemetery of St. Luke’s Church.
Cost of War
The two World Wars had different impacts on the local community. Many men left the area during the First World War, to fight and die abroad. In contrast, allied pilots arrived here during the Second World War, to fight against Hitler.
Some of those who gave their lives are buried in the airman’s corner of the churchyard. Roads around the airfield are named after famous Kenley airmen, including the approach road – ‘Victor Beamish Avenue’.
The Home front
As the Second World War progressed, people joined their local Observer Corps, watching out for enemy activity in the air and relaying this information to the Operations Room.
At Kenley, local people constructed the airfield and also worked in the kitchens and hospitals. Some took service-related roles, such as air raid wardens and fire crews
The presence of the airfield resulted in the area being a major target for enemy attacks, putting civilian lives and property at risk. Despite the pressure on the local communities, wartime accounts are full of a sense of camaraderie, and of people ‘pulling together’ towards a common goal.
The rising prominence of Kenley as a fighter station caused influxes of Allied servicemen and women. The structure of the community changed as foreign and Dominion pilots, particularly from Poland, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, made their homes here.
A boy’s own Kenley
Kenley aerodrome was a magnet to the boys living locally. The aircraft were often parked so close to the edge of the field that every detail of the design could be seen:
“I once had the pleasure of helping to prevent a Hawker Hart from colliding with a hedge. Some airmen playing football nearby realised he was not going to be able to pull up in the ground he had left to him. We brought the machine to a stop not within 6 inches to spare from the hedge which separated the field from a house. The pilot looked decidedly shocked.” (H. I. Martin: Courtesy of the Bourne Society)