Monday, August 10, 2009

The White Cross of Shoreham, Kent

This Sunday past we found ourselves in the unusual position of being without junior in tow for the whole day (his great aunt had invited for a trip to the zoo!).

Being too good an opportunity to miss, and as it was such a nice day, we decided to take a drive out into the countryside along the Darent Valley in North Kent.

The River Darent flows for 21 miles from Westerham to Dartford where it joins the River Thames.

I have been researching my family history for the last couple of years and traced the earliest ancestors back to the late 1770's living and working on the farms in Shoreham, one of the picturesque villages through which the Darent passes.

As you travel along the A225 between Eynsford and Otford, if you look across to your right just before the turn off for Shoreham village you can't fail to notice the large white cross marked on the hillside.
As a small boy I had seen it many times before and always thought that it marked the spot where a bomber had crashed during World War Two (more about that later in this post...)

It was in fact cut into the chalky hillside by the villagers as a mark of respect and remembrance for the fallen of the First World War. Work on the cross started in 1920 and it was officially completed on Empire Day in 1921.

In the centre of the village by a bridge crossing the River Darent is a war memorial listing the names of the fallen from both World Wars and inscribed:-

"Remember as you look at the cross on the hill those who gave their lives for their country 1914 - 1919"

A stone's throw from the war memorial there is an excellent museum - the Shoreham Aircraft Museum. Run by enthusiasts, it contains a large collection of artefacts and memorabilia from the Battle of Britain period including parts excavated from both RAF and Luftwaffe aircraft crash sites in the local area.

One of these aircraft was a Dornier Do 17 bomber which was shot down by two Spitfires of 609 squadron and crash landed at Castle Farm, Shoreham on the 15th September 1940 (this probably explains where I got the idea about the cross when I was younger).

One of the uninjured German crew members was picked up by a local Home Guard unit who, seeing how shakenand pale he looked, took pity on him and treated him to a drink at the pub before handing him over to the authorities.

The entrance fee is a very reasonable £ 3 per adult and there is an authentic 1940's style tea rooms set in a sunny courtyard. Very nice cakes and big mugs of tea. Even the lady behind the counter was wearing period clothing - a nice touch.

The museum has set up a Battle of Britain local RAF memorials project and the intention is to erect memorial stones to each of the airmen who fell within a ten mile radius of Shoreham. Several have already been dedicated. A very worthy cause.

After spending some time looking around the museum we had a leisurely stroll through the village past a number of inviting hostelries including the Olde George Inn and down to St Peter & St Paul church where many of my long lost ancestors would no doubt have been dunked, hitched and despatched!

Later in the afternoon we moved on to another local village, Chelsfield where my ancestors moved in the early 1800's but more about that in my next post......

1 comment:

  1. What was the name of your ancestors in Chelsfield, mine too were farm labourers and like yours had no graves. But we have found census proof that they were there.