Sitting in the cramped cockpit of a bomber are two young German airmen, specially chosen to fly a Dornier. This is one of the fastest of the German bombers. They are flying low to avoid our Radar, and then to deliver a surprise attack. On the horizon, the pilot sees the same red sky over London. He can’t help thinking of all the terrified people there. He had been on an earlier raid over London, and saw how incendiary bombs, falling like leaves in Autumn, would burn anything they touched. He looks away—to stop thinking these bad thoughts, his target for tonight is shiny railway lines.
The Dornier, ‘Flying pencil’ was the perfect aircraft for this sort of mission, its slim fuselage making it hard for anti-aircraft shells to hit. Three bombers had left France, with the same intention to cause havoc and fear on unsuspecting towns and villages. They had separated over the English coast; a lone plane is hard to see at night.
For maximum speed they are carrying just two high explosive bombs, they also need to be accurate. They are both leaning forward in the cockpit, straining their eyes to see through the low clouds. They are looking for those brightly shining railway lines.
The fires raging in the distance are lighting up the sky making it hard for them to see anything on the ground. The pilot flies as low as he dares, over some tall trees, and there, beneath him he sees the rails shining like a target waiting to be hit. He follows the lines until they pass through the trees and fields and then he sees the rows of houses and a railway station, a perfect target.
He releases the two heavy bombs, the Dornier soars into the night like a big bird, the crew are shouting wildly and clapping their hands.
On the ground below not far away, our neighbour Mr Mills, the local Air Raid Warden, will soon finish his patrol and hand over to his relief. He turns the corner near Johnson’s wood yard into Chilsey Green. There are no houses on his right, just Stanford’s farm, and on the left, a row of old cottages. My friend Barbara Walden lives there, and next to her is Mrs Brooks house, her husband is away in the army. Mr Mills knows everyone in his patrol sector, and probably most of the people in Chertsey.
He was a fit young soldier in the First World War, now he is a bit tubby, and too old for active service. Never-the-less here he is, once again in a uniform; the blue boiler suit of the ARP, he even has an army helmet. There is no mistaking the pride he feels in doing his bit for the war effort, swinging his arms as if he was still a young soldier. No one would dare to show the slightest chink of light to aid the enemy planes on his patch.
In the distance— just twenty miles away—he too can see that same crimson glow of the fires in London. He has been told that incendiary bombs are now the choice of the German air-force. People seem more fearful of these than the big bombs, they fall in such great numbers and cover a larger area. Now it seems as if all of London is burning.
He remembers as a young soldier in France, seeing the same deadly glow in the sky, and thinking then, of all the people unable to escape. He quickens his stride as if to shake off these thoughts. After all, it’s been another quiet night, mild with just a light breeze, enough of a breeze to make the leaves of the tall Aspen trees rustle as he passes the Lasswade House orchard. The rustle of the leaves almost masks the sound of an aircraft’s engines. No reason for alarm though, it is something that happens about this time most nights, one of the Beaufighter’s about to land at Chobham aerodrome, less than two miles away.
But as the aircraft flies very low, the sound is not of a Beaufighter’s quiet radial engines, but the dreaded droning noise of a German bomber, flying just above the Conker trees in Stanford’s Farm, instinctively he starts to run then stopping for a moment to listen, the noise of the bomber’s engines change as it flies away, it is all too sudden to warn anyone, not even time for an air raid siren. He hears the engine noise quicken and then fade into the night he knows this means the plane has released its load of bombs.
First, he sees the houses just ahead of him in Pyrcroft Road light up as if by daylight, in the next instant comes the incredible noise of the explosion, followed by the blast. He can’t stand, he’s tumbled like a bale of straw in a gale, along with branches of trees and all manner of things caught up in the violent storm sweeping up the road. Clinging on to the railings of the bridge over Dummies stream, at the bottom of Mrs Ballard’s house, all he can see is a cloud of dust rolling toward him lit up by the flames behind and the sound of falling brickwork. Then the terrible screaming and the shouts of people, some trapped, some injured and some terrified by what must seem like the end of the world—for some poor people it would be just that.
The bomber crew cheer and stamp their feet as the Dornier wheels away, their mission accomplished, another blow for The Fatherland—but not quite the success they thought it was, the railway was untouched.