It was coming to the end of his lunch break. Guy had persuaded his fellow workers to join him outside the hanger as the sun was shining. They were always a bit more buoyant after a break and a sandwich and were having a quick game of footie with an old ball that Tommy had found. It felt good to run around for a bit. The foreman appeared at the door and Guy looked at his watch; there were a few minutes to go until they had to clock back in. But then he heard aircraft overhead. It was deafening; must have been really close. Jerries! Can’t be. Suddenly there was a massive explosion, then another and a third. Vickers, across the track, was a ball of fire.
‘Bloody hell!’ one of them shouted, ‘Jerries bombing in daylight!’
‘Thank God it wasn’t us,’ one of them said carelessly.
‘Come on, we’ve got to help them!’ another yelled.
Guy was looking at Vickers’ hanger with his jaw dropped, the full horror of this bombing raid hit him. Please God, not Molly, he prayed.
An excerpt from The Disenchanted Hero
Although this novel is very much a work of fiction, I have included detail from WW2 as accurately as records allow; incidents were sparsely reported at the time to keep the Germans in the dark. The significance of this bombing raid was that it was the first time the Germans had struck in daylight and it exposed the inadequacy of the defences of the aircraft factories where vital war work was being carried out.
Here’s the true story:
The outbreak of World War II meant that the Brooklands track at Weybridge, which was the home of British motor racing years before places like Silverstone, was commandeered for aircraft production as part of the war effort.
On 4th September 1940 at 1.24pm, 14 Messerschmitt Me 110s blasted out of the sun raining down bombs on the Vickers factory. Bombs scored direct hits on an air-raid shelter, the old racing grandstand and a repair hanger. One of the bombs crashed through the stairwell of the factory leading from the first-floor canteen. It landed on top of a heavy press in the machine-shop and exploded close to where many workers were queueing to clock back in for the afternoon shift.
At the time the Battle of Britain was in full swing and the Germans had realised that in order to successfully invade the UK they needed to destroy the RAF. And so they decided to target the aircraft factories. Vickers was producing Wellington bombers and Hawker Siddeley was making Hurricane fighters. Although the factories had been camouflaged and the famous race track hidden by netting, the railway line and its triangular junction made it visible from the air.In the book Raiders Overhead, author Stephen Flower wrote that:
‘Although it was all over in three minutes, it was the worst single incident of the Battle of Britain so far. As well as the 83 people who died, 419 others were injured.’
He wrote again about the incident in 1990 noting that the air-raid siren was not sounded prior to the raid and noise of approaching aircraft was a normal part of the working day. Although the airfield had some protection from a heavy gun, there were no barrage balloons flying above the site.
By the time the airfield’s guns opened fire German bombs had actually fallen. He adds that the scene was one of chaos and was not helped as once the sirens did go off, they were still sounding after the raid had ended.
By 3.30pm all casualties had been removed from the incident to hospitals, mortuaries or first-aid posts, and by 4.20pm many of the slightly injured had been conveyed home. The work of the medical staffs, the first-aid commandants and their helpers at the various hospitals and first-aid posts in the district was commendable.
Barrage balloons were delivered to Brooklands on the evening of September 6, two days after the awful raid. Also this terrible incident meant that the gunners were better prepared to fight off the enemy planes during daylight hours as well as at night.