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Whitatable at War - World War II

The UXBs


Not all devices exploded on impact and the term UXB (unexploded bomb) became a frequently used term.


The UXB on Land


After the initial relief that a bomb had failed to go off, there was the disruption and the danger of the diffusing process. UXBs that dropped onto townsl often crashed the upper structures of buildings and buried themselves deep in cellars, basements and even the ground below the foundations. Thus, they presented disruption, accessibility problems and dangers. Brian Smith describes one particular incident in perhaps the most hard hit street in Whitstable.....


UXB in Regent Street 


One particular day, probably not long after I started school at Oxford Street Boys School, I went home with Brian Potten.  Our mothers were friends and perhaps mum was to collect me later. I think they lived in Regent Street, number 11 comes to mind but both could be wrong.  

As we entered via the front door, we saw a huge hole in the stairway, the whole of the middle of the stairs was missing.  I have the impression of scurrying ‘home’ during an air raid and that it had just happened before we entered. 

‘It’ was a bomb, fortunately unexploded, which we could clearly see ‘down the hole’.  I recall a woman appearing at the top of the stairs, most likely Brian’s mother, my ‘Aunt Ethel’ (later of Potten’s Taxis.). There was a great ‘to do’ about how she would get down.  

An ARP warden arrived but took off to find a policeman. Then, the fire brigade arrived.  I recall being puzzled because there wasn’t a fire. 

I have only a vague impression of later standing well out of the way down the street with a lot of people some, I guess, evacuated from their home along with the Pottens.  They were found a house in Canterbury Rd. Number 50 has stuck in my memory but that could be wrong.

Brian Smith
Hoppers Crossing


Such incidents brought a number of services into operation as Brian has outlined. One such service was provided by the army's Bomb Disposal Units.  

These were remarkable groups involved in an intense but quite different form of activity. During the war, there was much to learn about the weapons dropped on the UK... and the learning process often took place on site as new variations and booby-trapped versions were discovered. Particularly in the early stages, the basic nature of equipment and lack of knowledge meant that the life expectancy of members of these units was sadly very short.

Some UXBs escaped the attention of the Bomb Disposal Units... and, for that matter, everyone else. This was particularly the case in heavily hit localities such as East London where, during a blitz, a single unexploded device could go unnoticed amongst the debris of other strikes. Such explosives were often discovered many years later during redevelopment of the land.

This type of situation was less likely in Whitstable where bomb strikes were very infrequent and quickly located. However, it was still possible for unexploded bombs to go unnoticed in open areas. 


The UXB at Sea


Unexploded bombs were not only discovered on land. Many landed in the sea and came to light in the fishing nets of local mariners as John Harman explains...


At the start of the war, my dad, Tom Harman, was skipper of the yawl Freeda. He and his mate Peck Ashby were operating this boat for its owner, Mr. Humphrey. This gentleman has stayed in my mind as, when wanting to see dad, he would call at the house with his horse and cart.

There was also a yawl from Essex that was working out of Whitstable harbour at that time. Both these boats were trawling and would work close by each other in those days of anxiety.

The Essex boat did snag a mine which blew up in the net, astern of them.  This happened a second time and even a third but this time it was fatal - blowing up the boat. Each time this happened close by the Freeda.

It was after that that dad stayed ashore doing shore work. The coastal defence was now in full swing. Dad was issued with a rifle and, each evening, he patrolled the shoreline to the Sportsman and back..... but he had to get past the Blue Anchor first!

John Harman
British Columbia  


The lethal "litter" left by war became a legacy for many years to come. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Bomb disposal units were regular visitors to Whitstable. Even, today, the occasional unexploded bomb, mine or shell surfaces.

Wars are not easily or quickly removed.


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