By Tony Pearson, Friends of Limpsfield Common
The Friends of Limpsfield Common recently invited members of the public for a guided tour of the air raid shelters, which were built in 1940 to protect the children at Limpsfield School. Volunteers, dressed in military uniforms, took groups down into a shelter and talked about how it must have felt for the young children.
When the air raid siren sounded during the war, the children had to walk to the shelters but were instructed to lie flat on the ground if bombs dropped before they reached them. Each of the six shelters could accommodate up to fifty children, and were lit by oil lamps. Keeping the children calm and entertained was up to the teacher, with singing or seeing who could suck a sweet for the longest time popular activities. No one knew how long the children would be in the shelter and toilet needs were accommodated by a bucket behind a curtain: the contents of which the teacher had to deal with at the end of the day!
The volunteer guides also took the visitors to the nearby lookout point. Local features, such as St Michael’s School, a factory in Hurst Green and the North Downs were used as guidance by pilots on both sides of the conflict. Stories were told of planes crashing and a German pilot parachuting out to land on a roof in Limpsfield, before being arrested.
The site of a spigot mortar anti-tank gun was then examined and discussion took place as to why it was situated in this position on the common. The army didn’t like the system and so the guns tended to be given to the Home Guard. The ultimate idea was to stop enemy tanks moving towards London.
Wendy Pannett (nee Mitchell) travelled from Eastbourne to visit the shelters. During the war she lived at the Plumbers Arms and was a pupil at the school. She remembers the class singing Ten Green Bottles during an air raid, and she brought an old school report to show us. Another visitor, who had travelled from near Dover, remembered the German plane that crashed on Limpsfield Common.
The next open afternoon is on Sunday, 17 September, from 14:00- 16.30. To book, email firstname.lastname@example.org.