Lullingstone during World War II

Lullingstone Castle played quite a role in the war effort in the 1940s. Initially the 70th and 72nd (Chemical Warfare) Companies of the Royal Engineers were billeted at Lullingstone, then the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) took over Lullingstone for training purposes, a decoy airfield was established to the West of the Gatehouse and the Garden was requisitioned by the Kent War Agricultural Committee as a kitchen garden (later re-designed as a Herb Garden by Eleanour Rohde in 1947).

Whilst stationed at Lullingstone in 1943 the RAMC engaged in a number of training activities. They learned how to handle a casualty up a 'cliff side’, over a palisade and across a river using rope. The image (above) depicts the RAMC training on the lake at Lullingstone, getting a casualty across water using an improvised raft made of stretchers and using spades as paddles. The training was designed to enable new officers, second lieutenants of the RAMC, to become proficient in evacuating casualties from battle areas. There was also an assault course on site and live ammunition was used; bullet marks are still visible today in the brickwork of the House. The image (right) depicts the RAMC members stationed at Lullingstone in 1943, lined up in front of the House.

Guy Hart Dyke recalls how his father, Sir Oliver, was stopped one evening by the night guard on his return home. "Halt! Who goes there?" They didn't believe he was the owner and was held in the guard house until Lady Zoe came to identify him. The nigh guardsman's initials can still be seen in the brickwork on the guard house. Lady Zoe also wrote a letter to Churchill about the tear gas, used in training practice along the river, wafting over to where her ducks and hens were kept. They had stopped laying. She received a response saying, "don't you know there's a war on?!"

It was also decided that a decoy airfield would be constructed at Lullingstone, owing to its proximity to Biggin Hill airport, which was the controlling station for several other Kent airfields. The airfield was chosen in the fields beside the Gatehouse, in Lullingstone Park, complete with buildings, guns and dummy 'Hurricane' airplanes. It was initially in operation only during the day but it was thought that a decoy airfield during the night, complete with dummy flarepaths and other lighting, might be more effective. The flarepath consisted of 15 electric lights, placed 100 yards apart, and powered by a generator housed in a dugout.

In the House, the Library was taken over as the Officers' Mess, and Tom and his sister Anya's playroom on the top floor was used as their cinema. Younger visitors should look out for the 'bird' (or is it a plane?) that the Army doodled on one of the paintings on display in the Great Hall. An air raid shelter was built on the other side of what is today's World Garden, next to a cottage where the Hart Dyke family stayed in 1939/1940 when the Army had taken over the main house. Grandfather Oliver was away putting his mechanical engineering expertise to good use with spitfires. Tom's Father Guy doesn't recall feeling anxious when the sirens sounded even though he was only 11/12 years old; he recalls his Mother Lady Zoe being quite relaxed, tucking a bottle of sherry under her arm and calling for the children to follow her to the shelter.

In 1944 a bomb (doodlebug - V1) severely cracked the Gatehouse and blew in the west-facing windows of St Botolph’s Church. One of the Gatehouse towers eventually collapsed in 1947. It was Tom's late Grandfather, Sir Oliver Hart Dyke, who succeeded in getting a grant from the Ministry of Works to restore the Gatehouse after it fell into disrepair post-war (left). All but one of the craters left behind by the bombs have been filled in and the remaining one is populated with trees in what is now Lullingstone Country Park.

Guy Hart Dyke went on to join the Royal Navy, and aged 17 was witness to the signing of the Surrender of the Empire of Japan in September 1945 in Tokyo Bay, during his time on HMS King George V. 

Sources:

'A Village at War, Eynsford 1939-1945', D. G. Burcham, Farningham & Eynsford Local History Society, 1995

'The Lullingstone Decoy', Robin J. Brooks, Kent Life  

 
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