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Whitstable at War - World War II



Brian Smith (Australia) has researched this area to produce some  key articles. 


Civilian Casualties & Damage...


Whitstable Air Raid
Casualties and Damage


Of the 42 Kent towns suffering civilian fatalities, Whitstable was 30th on the list with 10 recorded deaths.  Nine people were killed by bombing (including air dropped mines) and one by V2. 35 people were seriously injured and 118 slightly.

The major incidents involving casualties were as follows...


Date Deaths Serious
Minor Injury
‘Eagle Day’
13 Aug 1940
2 3 7
31 Aug 1940
1 1 3
10 Sep 1940
3 0 11
20 Oct 1940  1  1 2 
11 Oct 1941
(caused by mine)
2 6 36
15 January 1945
(caused by V2) 
1 6 45


84 properties were wrecked, 735 seriously damaged and a staggering 4,545 slightly damaged.

Brian Smith
Hoppers Crossing


Casualties were mercifully light in number. There was also some pattern. 

Notice that incidents involving casualties were more frequent in the dark hours of 1940 than at any other time. They coincided with the Battle of Britain which lasted from 10th July and 31st October 1940. As Brian's account shows, 7 residents died, 5 were seriously injured and 23 suffered minor injuries during the course of that year. 

After October 1940, incidents involving fatalities were rare and involved just two strikes spread over a period of more than 3 years. Both attacks were probably mistakes. On 11 October 1941, a mine landed in Victoria Street. This was probably intended for the shipping lanes of the Thames estuary. On 15 January 1945, a V2 fell short of its London target and landed in London's Fields (now All Saints Close).

Notice, however, that these two later strikes had a wider impact with 81 minor injuries compared to just 23 resulting from all the major strikes of 1940. This may suggest that collateral damage was far greater due to the more powerful weapons used towards the end of war. We know that the V2 of 1945 caused damage across a substantial part of the town.

Despite the light casualty figures for the war as a whole, the number of properties suffering "some damage" is quite remarkable as Brian has pointed out. We don't yet have figures for the size of the population or the total number of buildings in Whitstable at that time. However, we can toy with some guesstimates. 

Imagine that the population was around 16,000 and that the average family size was 2. This would suggest that Whitstable might have comprised 8,000 residences. If this was so, more than 50%  suffered some damage. Thus the fear factor would have been widespread despite the limited number of explosives dropped on the town.


In the County Context....


In some ways, it is difficult to refer to Whitstable casualties as "light". After all, for those who died and for their loved ones, it was a 100% tragedy. However, the town's casualties do need to be seen in the wider context of a county that was one of the hot spots of wartime activity. Brian's second article explains this in detail.....  


Wartime - Background


So much has been written and so many films shown of the devastation of London, Birmingham, Coventry etc that as the unknowing learn of each raid, the devastation and people killed, it is easy to perceive Kent as being a minor recipient of Hitler’s attention.  

The wartime Kent border was a false one purely devised for wartime administration purposes but coincides with what was generally known as East Kent and now, since I think about 1969, present day Kent.  Greater London, ie that which is outside the CBD, was made up of parts of 7 or 8 counties including Kent.  If wartime records were for all of the original Kent then the picture would be dramatically different.  

For example, the worst ‘Kent’ fatalities for one raid being recorded as 55 would have to be many times greater and thus so would the war’s total for Kent.  For example on one day over 300 children were killed at a school near Catford which although designated S.E.6. was in Kent.  The bombs were officially considered to have been aimed at railway marshalling yards about a mile away. 

What isn’t generally known is that Kent endured one seventh of great Britain’s total civilian casualties.   The casualty rates of Lancashire (containing Manchester and Liverpool,) and Warwickshire (containing Birmingham and Coventry,) were only a little higher than Kent’ despite containing large centres of industry and being heavily populated.  

Casualty rates of Yorkshire (Sheffield) and Hampshire (Portsmouth and Southampton) were both less than Kent’s.  Those 6 cities alone accounted for the bulk of their host county’s ‘score’ - the indication being that the raids on Kent were more widespread and numerous. It earned Kent the nickname of ‘Hell’s Corner’.

Brian Smith
Hoppers Crossing


Thus, whilst Whitstable may have come through the war with a low casualty total, it was a witness to the massive activity around and above it.


Another Casualty...


Brian Smith has now introduced another aspect of war for investigation.... the impact on the business world...


The Business World


One form of wartime casualty rarely mentioned is local business.  Population figures in some towns were so reduced that essential services like the local grocer could not be retained.  Not just through the lack of custom alone.  Grocers were required to have a minimum of 26 customers to be able to participate in the National Ration scheme.  Some received special dispensation to continue. That does not mean they were all small village grocers.  Folkestone was almost a ghost town due to the cross channel shelling with one grocer having just 8 customers.

I have not found any reports on Whitstable but the combined effects of much reduced holiday patronage, evacuations, military service or those working in factories ‘up the line’ necessitated government stepping in with financial assistance to Herne Bay’s essential local business.

Brian Smith
Hoppers Crossing


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