This eye-witness account of a bombing raid over Surrey comes from “The War Illustrated,” 30th August, 1940. It may describe the events of 18th August, 1940, the “Hardest Day” of the Battle of Britain, when both sides lost the highest number of aircraft.
We Saw The Bombers Fall Like Leaves
I was spending the day with my family at a famous beauty spot on a ridge of hills overlooking the weald of Surrey and Kent. The position may easily be compared to that of a spectator on the cliffs of Dover overlooking the Channel. The whole panorama of the beautiful Surrey countryside is before one, and it was here that we were about to partake of our lunch. But very shortly the enemy bombers were heard high up above in close packed formation.
Anti-aircraft batteries opened fire immediately, and the sky seemed full of fighter aircraft going up in pursuit. My family and I seated ourselves with our backs to a large beech tree as I thought this afforded the best protection under the circumstances. in a few seconds a large German bomber hurtled out of the sky like a falling leaf. The pilot managed to regain some control when near the earth and it seemed as if a safe landing might have been possible, but he made a sudden dive, hitting the ground, and the machine immediately burst into an inferno of flame and smoke. It was a terrible scene, taking place just below us in the valley in broad sunlight. This, by the way, was the only time when my younger daughter- she is only 5 – showed even the smallest signs of distress. Our fighters were zooming in all directions and we could hear the rattle of machine-gun fire above us.
A big black German bomber planed right across our vision, about 300 ft from the earth, and with engines off, obviously trying to land, when to our amazement there was a burst of machine-gun fire as he scraped over the roof of a farmhouse very near to a golf course. It was astonishing to us that the occupants of the machine in such a perilous position could still machine-gun a farmhouse as they passed over the roof and pancaked into a field half a mile further along apparently undamaged. We were told by someone who was near the field that the machine was a Dornier. While this was going on anti-aircraft batteries were sending up shells at a terrific rate. Shells were bursting in the woods behind us, and we felt that any moment some splinters might descend upon us. After a very short interval we saw a formation of Spitfires bring down two more bombers on the distant hills.
It was then that my wife pointed out to me one of our fighters that was obviously in difficulties. he was spiralling towards the earth and his destruction seemed imminent when, much to our relief and amazement, he zoomed into a vertical climb. He must have realized that he was going to hit the ground. At the top of the vertical climb the parachute opened and the pilot fell out of the machine and landed safely. As he dropped his machine fell to the ground like a stone.
Then a group of German bombers, hotly pursued by our fighters, were seen making the best of their way to the coast.
I looked at my watch; the whole action had lasted 35 minutes. Our tense nerves relaxed. It was then we began to realise the perilous position we had been in. The Battle of Britain had been a reality to us. We had seen with admiration the wonderful fighting quality of our fighter pilots. The Surrey countryside was peaceful once again, and the only evidence of the battle was the smoking ruins of the German bmbers in the fields below us.
After that we continued our lunch. Just after six o’clock we arrived home, to find that a bomb had dropped six doors away from our house, shattering many windows and sending tiles flying in all directions!