Kings Hill marks Dambusters Anniversary – Thursday 16 May 2013
A special service of commemoration is being held at Kings Hill on 16 May to mark the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters, one of the best known and most daring bombing raids of World War II.
Organised by Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council and supported by Kings Hill developer Liberty Property Trust UK Ltd, the commemoration will be led by Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Kent, Viscount De L’Isle MBE, and everyone is welcome.
The day will include a Service of Commemoration and a Spitfire flypast over the Control Tower at Kings Hill – an iconic landmark from where aircrew were guided in and out of the airfield during the war and which is nearing completion of a total refurbishment and partial new-build.
The Dambusters raid, ‘Operation Chastise’, used ‘bouncing bombs’ invented by Sir Barnes Wallis CBE to destroy the dams of Germany’s Ruhr Valley and Kings Hill’s connection with the mission is through the squadron’s commander Guy Gibson, who served with 29 Squadron based at RAF West Malling (now Kings Hill) in 1941/2. He loved his time there and said: ‘Of all the airfields in Great Britain, here, many say, including myself, we have the most pleasant.’
Wing Commander Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery during the raid and a wreath and other tributes in his memory will be laid alongside the ‘Running Airman’ sculpture, which commemorates the aviation past of Kings Hill and honours the military and civilian personnel who were based there throughout the years. It was unveiled in 2002 by the late Richard Todd who played Guy Gibson in the 1955 film ‘The Dam Busters’.
“The Dambusters 617 Squadron Royal Air Force was based at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire but because of Guy Gibson’s close connections with RAF West Malling we wanted to mark the occasion here as well,” said Group Captain Patrick Tootal, whose idea it was to organise the commemoration.
“We also want to highlight contemporary links to the Dambusters campaign in order to demonstrate the critical contribution of air power towards the defence of the UK and its interests abroad.”
Everyone is welcome to attend the service of commemoration. Guests are asked to assemble at 12.30pm by the RAF West Malling Memorial ‘Running Airman’ sculpture for a 1pm start. They will also be able to see the flypast, which will take place at around 2pm – the best viewing spot will be from the newly created piazza between the Control Tower and Waitrose.
After the commemoration and before the flypast, visitors will be able to enjoy a leisurely lunch in one of the range of restaurants in nearby Liberty Square – which include the aptly named Spitfire pub, Thai, Indian, Chinese and fish and chip restaurants, Costa Coffee, Domino’s Pizza and sandwich bar. The shops, including Waitrose and Asda, will also be open.
Mayor Elect of Tonbridge and Malling, Councillor Howard Rogers said: “We are very lucky to have such a rich heritage at Kings Hill and it is a wonderful opportunity for us to involve the whole community.”
Andrew Blevins, managing director of Kings Hill developer Liberty Property Trust UK Ltd, added: “It is a great honour for us to be able to take part in the commemorations and remember the bravery of all the pilots who took part.”