Hundreds honour Dambusters at Kings Hill

Hundreds honour Dambusters at Kings Hill

Hundreds of people turned out to attend the special Service of Commemoration held at Kings Hill, West Malling, to mark the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters, one of the best known and most daring bombing raids of World War II.

The Dambusters raid, 'Operation Chastise', used 'bouncing bombs' invented by Sir Barnes Wallis CBE to destroy the dams of Germany’s Ruhr Valley. 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.

Guy Gibson, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery during the Dambusters raid, loved his time at West Malling and said: ‘Of all the airfields in Great Britain, here, many say, including myself, we have the most pleasant.

The commemorative event, which was led by Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Kent, Viscount De L’Isle MBE, was organised by Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council and supported by Kings Hill developer Liberty Property Trust UK Ltd.

Among the VIP guests were Warrant Officer Neville Croucher, 89, who was based at West Malling Airfield during the war and Leybourne vicar Rev (Flt Lt) Matthew Buchan, who has just returned from a three month deployment as the Chaplain to the Joint Air Group and Camp Bastion, Afghanistan.

After the Service of Commemoration wreaths were laid alongside the ‘Running Airman’ sculpture, which marks Kings Hill’s aviation past and honours the military and civilian personnel who were based there throughout the years. The sculpture was unveiled in 2002 by the late Richard Todd who played Guy Gibson in the 1955 film 'The Dam Busters'.

The grand finale to the event was a flypast by a Spitfire, which flew four times 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.

We were delighted that so many people took the time to come to Kings Hill and join us in honouring the memory of the courageous and talented aircrews who were involved in the operation,” said Group Captain Patrick Tootal, whose idea it was to organise the commemoration.

“It was a great community event but was also an opportunity to highlight contemporary links to the Dambusters raid in warfare today and demonstrate the critical contribution air power still makes today towards the defence of the UK and its interests abroad.”

Mayor of Tonbridge and Malling, Cllr Howard Rogers, said: “This was one of the first formal events I have undertaken as the new Mayor and it was a privilege to be able to acknowledge such a landmark event.”

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.” 

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(This recording was compiled by Andy Garland for BBC Radio Kent’s Drivetime programme presented by Dominic King. Copyright remains with the BBC and you can listen live to BBC Radio Kent here

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