Malden Blitz 1940

The 1st raid by Robin Gill

The sirens started about 5 o’clock in the afternoon, sending all the civil defence and home guard members working in Malden to their posts. This was the first air raid on Malden.

The German aircraft approached Malden from the South West and West in two groups through low broken cloud. They were not recognised as the enemy at first. The first bombs were dropped at 5.20pm (H.E. and incendiary) in sticks of five or six, East of the main railway line in the vicinity of South Lane, with one force flying across Malden following the main line dropping bombs continuously to the borough boundary. The second group followed roughly the line of the Kingston bypass.

The bombs varied in size from 110 to 250lbs. Bombs dropped at Malden roundabout caused casualties to the Home Guard members on their way to their posts, some of which were fatal (one killed, four injured and one at Bradbury Wilkinsons).

Many people who took refuge inside their homes were surprised at the devastation that they saw afterwards when they emerged.

Mixed fortunes
One lady lost her life because she was not under cover, as she was trying to fetch a chair back to her shelter under the stairs of her house. Another lady, unable to take cover, was killed by a bomb blast while standing at her garden gate.

The grocer’s shop and post office (Says) at the corner of Green Lane and South Lane was hit by a bomb which fell at the junction. The Post Office van had just called and the postman had emptied the pillar-box. The postman was intending to return to his van, and remain there for the course of the raid, but was invited in for a cup of tea and a chat. 

When the bomb fell, the roof was smashed and windows fell in. He was thrown across the shop still holding his teacup and was buried under the falling debris. His van outside was destroyed in the raid, with parts found a hundred yards away. Yet after he pulled himself out of the wreckage of the shop, he found he was still holding the cup, which he decided to keep as a souvenir of his lucky escape!
The manager of a furniture shop was calling to a passing cyclist to come to shelter in his premises. When his shop was shaken by the concussion from a bomb, a piece of shrapnel passed through a doorpost, and hit the cyclist in the head killing him. The shop had only opened for business two weeks earlier and most of his stock was destroyed.

Mr Herbert Pepperrell of Queens Road, a leader of a stretcher party with Malden ARP service, was killed on his way to help the victims of the attack at the Kingston bypass, And William Lutman of Potters Grove, a leading fireman in the Auxiliary Fire Service, was killed on his 31st birthday, on his way to his post at the Pearl Sports Ground.

It was the law that damaged properties should be protected by the police, but one of the saddest sights was of a policeman who stood on guard outside a house at 20 Groveland Way. Inside were the bodies of his 32-year-old daughter and 7-year-old granddaughter who had been killed by a bomb. His daughter had only recently arrived from Ashford in Kent to look after him (her father) while his wife was on  holiday in Wales. The father had been on duty at a nearby shelter when the bomb hit the road outside the house, collapsing telegraph wire and trees. No houses in this street escaped damage.

Bombs hit the railway
One bomb hit the booking office at New Malden station, and blew in the wall of the stairway to the “up” platform, killing people using it and destroyed the glass roof above. After dropping their bombs, three of the German pilots flew over the railway station, at a low height, where a train had just arrived, en route from Wimbledon to Kingston: they proceeded to machine-gun the passengers as they left the train. Passengers sheltered under the train seats, while others just threw themselves to the ground. 

A booking clerk had a miraculous escape taking shelter in a small room near the parcels office. When he emerged after the raid, the whole of the staircase had collapsed. Civilians in the nearby brick shelter also came under attack.
Mr Herbert Head of Potters Grove, a member of the Home Guard and a porter at the station, was among those killed, along with the station inspector John Dicker of Mount Road. Civilians from Croydon, Fulham, Raynes Park, Teddington and Wimbledon also lost their lives at the station.

Another bomb fell between the tracks ¼-mile away, destroying the signals but doing no major damage. The line was cleared in a few minutes and the service continued uninterrupted, with the signals being operated by hand.

Passengers alighting from a bus had to take shelter by lying down in a front garden.

Widespread damage
There were also direct hits in Alric Avenue that caused considerable damage, especially to the lower part of the road, blowing doors off their hinges.

Another bomb fell in Malden Road destroying the shops near to the station, while another caused damage in Grafton Road destroying a small factory and blowing out the fronts of two properties.

The Baptist Chapel in Kingston Road was badly damaged in the raid, as was the school hall. The 50-year-old spire had to be pulled down, and shortly afterwards the entire church had to be demolished. This was the first Baptist church to be destroyed by enemy action in the war.

The local clinic in Westbury Road was destroyed but fortunately patient appointments had finished 15 minutes earlier.

Houses at Shannon Corner near to the cinema received serious damage, which also caused an electric transformer to burn out, cutting off electricity to two factories for a short while.

Local businesses hit
A taxi service lost five of his fleet of six cars during the raid when a bomb hit his garage. 

Tragedy nearly struck an upholsterer’s family. His son was in a yard behind the Railway Hotel when the bombs fell and only escaped the blast where he had been standing by throwing himself into a dugout. The hotel had bombs falling 10 yards away, front and back. The upholsterer himself took shelter in a doorway inside their shop in the hotel yard, with his wife and another employee. The shell smashed against the wall blowing doors in front of, and above, them. Then the premises caught fire. Luckily they were able to make their escape but the shop was destroyed.

Wires on London Transport routes in Malden which were damaged in the raid were repaired within 4½ hours but normal service was not restored until 24 hours later due to an unexploded bomb. Fourteen of the town’s water mains were also damaged and had to be repaired.

One house had a tree which was growing in the garden completely turned on its head by a blast. There were many stories of near escapes and people saved by sheltering under tables and rugs and in cupboards. Some house were completely destroyed and people inside were killed, while those next door received only minor damage.

Rallying round
As this was a daylight raid most of the part-time wardens were at work. Other authorities sent help, but for the first hour all tasks were undertaken by those employed in the services fulltime, together with available part-timers, both men and women. These people had been trained in the theory and  practice of what to do during an air raid, but this was their first experience of an actual attack. The successful way they operated can be gauged from the fact that valuable information was derived for fu ther briefings at the highest level. 
In the course of the raid, three wardens, including one woman, were wounded. The bravery of these wardens was recognised with the awarding of a George Medal and a British Empire Medal, although there were many deeds of endurance and courage which will never be known.

From normality to devastation and back
In total about 150 bombs fell on the town causing damage to over 1300 houses; 84 being either totally destroyed or so severely damaged that they had to be demolished. Casualties were widespread with about 57 deaths. The emergency mortuary at the rear of the old Graham Spicer Institute was severely taxed. It was entirely staffed by volunteers, mostly from the Public Health Department.

In addition, approximately 500 people were rendered homeless. The casualty and rescue services carried out an outstanding operation, not only helping bombed out civilians, but also controlling traffic, roping off and reporting unexploded bombs, and rendering first aid where needed. Some properties caught fire, but the regular and auxiliary firemen quickly extinguished these. Shrapnel and glass was everywhere, building up in the gutters like snow. 

Normality soon returned. After a few minutes shopkeepers emerged from their shelters and began retrieving their undamaged stock, and continued trading from what was left of their premises.

Even so, blasts took place up to 48 hours after this raid due to delayed action bombs, and controlled explosions carried out by the Royal Engineers.

After the raid, neighbours offered accommodation and help to those bombed out. Lots were reluctant to leave their homes, no matter what state their properties were left in. In the end, there were obviously a large number of residents who were in need of help, and the Citizens Advice Bureau made sure that these received their rights. A large number of houses were uninhabitable and there was, as yet, no re-housing officer as Malden was not regarded as an area which was likely to be attacked!