During WW2, our community faced a new and worrying threat as Germany commenced its V (Vengeance) weapon campaign against London. Between late June and September in the summer of 1944, the Sunbury/Shepperton area was struck by five V-1’s (doodlebugs) and finally a single V-2 rocket.
Each of these carried a high explosive warhead weighing approximately one ton. Although air-raid sirens gave warning of approaching V-1’s, their point of impact was unpredictable. No warning was, of course, possible for V-2 rockets which arrived unannounced with an impact velocity of at least 2500 mph.
June 23rd 0815 hrs. V-1 scored a direct hit on the Southern Railway line 0.75 miles east of Sunbury station. Ninety-two feet of double track was demolished, but quite remarkably, repair crews restored services on both tracks by 1600 hours the same day.
July 4th 2023 hrs. V-1 strike in the Thames backwater just behind Tumbling Bay weir (Beasley’s Ait Lane). A number of riverside wooden bungalows were destroyed and residents injured. Three young lads, fishing there that summer’s evening, were only 50 yards from the explosion and had to scramble up the riverbank as a six to eight foot high wave surged down the backwater.
July 23rd 0314 hrs. V-1 strike in Watersplash Farm wheatfield beside Gaston Bridge Road, close to Green Lane, causing slight damage to adjacent properties near Westway.
August 12th 0624 hrs. V-1 direct hit on No.173 The Avenue, Sunbury. Three houses were totally destroyed and the standing remains of a fourth required later demolition. Sadly, Clara Riddell (84) at No.173 and Eva Hall (47) at No.175 were killed and two males injured. An early-rising five year old, living nearby at No.144, recalls looking out from his dining room window and seeing the V-1 in the final seconds of its approach from the SE, before it dived following engine cut-out. After the explosion, he remembers that all the leaded-light windows at the front of his house were bowed inwards. Later that day he watched as a small detachment of POW’s from Kempton Park, cleared rubble away from the road to provide better access for all the relevant emergency services.
August 29th 1307 hrs. V-1 strike in a field beside the old Hanworth Road and directly opposite the PIM works. Wartime documents show that 14 female PIM staff were injured. Elsewhere it is recorded that some passers-by at Sunbury Cross suffered slight injuries, and that several windows were smashed at the relatively nearby (240 yards) Sunbury Station and associated Signalbox.
September 15th 0407 hrs. V-2 rocket strike on the Sunbury Metropolitan Water Board site beside the old Hanworth Road, causing serious damage to an embankment between a reservoir and filter beds. This incident came exactly one week after the very first V-2 attack on London, at Chiswick. A wartime document notes “Red and white flash of explosion seen by guards at POW’s camp – duration 2-3 seconds”. How ironic would it have been had the V-2 landed on the many German prisoners-of-war held in that camp at nearby Kempton Park! Almost 150 houses in Ashridge Way, some 200 yards from the explosion, were damaged. The Wandsworth Greyhound Racing Kennels, adjacent to the MWB site were also damaged, but it is likely that there were no greyhounds in residence, due to wartime restrictions on racing events. Fortunately, the V-2 impact point was almost 500 yards away from the magnificent MWB Engine House, now the home of the Kempton Steam Museum and Railway.
March 27th/28th 1945. London suffered the very last of its V-weapon strikes, after allied forces finally overran Germany’s mobile launch sites in Holland.
By Ken Battle
Ken Battle is a member of the Sunbury and Shepperton Local History Society