war memorial at dusk, photographed by Michelle Cooper



"MEMORIES" by Marilyn Stephenson-Knight

“I don’t remember being afraid. We just got on with it.” War-time Dover had a gritty fatalism. If your number wasn’t up there was a job to do.  My own mother was blown off her bike by an exploding shell. Rescued from rubble, she went home for lunch and was back at work straight afterwards.   

The Dover War Memorial Project remembers all Dovorians who stood firm in the dark days of war. Very many, like Fred Hayward, are not on the Town Memorial. In 1940 he was stopping a gas leak when he was killed by an unexploded bomb. Little Francis Hall, 8, was one of seven killed in an air raid in 1916. He was on his way to Sunday School. 

Charlie Brading, relieving Leros island, Greece, was mined at sea in October 1943. It was his 23rd birthday. Sergeant Lewis King laid down his life for his friends. In Belgium in 1916, he helped them put on gas masks. It was too late by the time he fixed his own.  

There are many stories. But they’re not all of casualties. Many people remained in Dover during the wars. From the lady who remembers the lamps flickering in Oil Mill Caves while she sheltered as a child in the Great War, to my uncle who scattered his 1940s school class by taking in an unexploded incendiary bomb for “show and tell”, there are countless memories.  

Priory Gate Road, bombed 1942, courtesy Dover MuseumJohn Cork remembers well being a young lad in World War II Dover. He kept a canny eye on the skies. Death could come within seconds. Walking along Cambridge Road, he heard a rat-a-tat-tat. He dived into a doorway as bullets screamed up the street. An enemy plane, cheated, roared away overhead.  

Worse was what he couldn’t hear. Later came the flying bombs, the V1s. The drone was fine; they were still flying. But when it stopped “you ran like hell”. The V1 was coming down to explode. A lot of V1s passed over the town, and guns on the cliff tops blew many out of the sky.  To this day John is amazed by the skill of the Spitfire pilots. Coming out of a steep dive they would edge their wings within inches of a V1 wing. The changed airflow turned the bomb away. Sometimes the V1s flew back where they’d come. Up on the cliffs or down on the front, John and his friends would cheer loudly.   

He’d cheer the pilots on in the dog fights too. He fell silent once. It looked bad for the Spitfire, chased into clouds over Dover Castle. Moments later the Spitfire burst back. Trailing smoke, the enemy plane was now the quarry. The German pilot baled out into the sea.      

Many came down on land. John and his friends would rush to the Police Station in Ladywell. “For you the war is over!” they chanted, while the Home Guard, with fixed bayonets and stern faces, escorted the pilots and crews into custody.  

John went with his landlord to deliver bread to the POW camps. Discipline was strict in the German camp, but the Italians bounced John on their knees, laughing “bambino! (little child)” They waved him goodbye with a present of a wooden whistle.  

Dover was full of strangers. Service men had guided trips around the castle. John and his friends tagged on, and learnt the tours. Entertaining troops was a popular job; rewards were precious sweets and chocolate, and, when the GIs came, gum too. 

But sometimes the lads weren’t welcome. In the castle moats they discovered assault-training courses, suspended high above the ground. A favourite was the Burma Bridge; two ropes for hands and one for feet. Army instructors chased them away, fearful of injury.  They weren’t to know John’s future career was formed up in the moats. Many years later he became an Army Physical Training Instructor himself!  

Coming home after the war, evacuated children were fascinated by the debris. There was quite an industry of swapping prized bits of metal. John still has a piece of shrapnel and a bit of gun shellcase to remind him of his childhood in war-time Dover. 

Other memories burn deep. Not a week goes by when John doesn’t think of his best friend Freddy Spinner. Aged 9, he was killed by a shell at the Priory Station in 1944. Freddy is buried in an unmarked grave at St Mary’s. Him, and the many others not named on the Town Memorial, the Dover War Memorial Project remembers.  

If you have someone to commemorate, or memories of war-time Dover to share, do call us on 0787 624 0701.  Or visit the forum on our website. It’s at  There are many more memories there. 

This article first appeared in the Dover Express, 30th November 2006, under the title "Unsung heroes come to life in memories"
Reproduced with permission

Priory Gate Road, 1942, courtesy Dover Museum

Copyright 2006 © Marilyn Stephenson-Knight. All Rights Reserved