Your Dartford

A new Blue Plaque. The Bombing of The Morning Star remembered.

It’s a great pity that more local councils don’t take steps to mark the places, people and events that shape a town.  It’s something we’ve done for a decade or more and it’s been a great delight to install blue plaques to mark everything from the last days of Railway Engineer Richard Trevithick at the Bull & Vic, the factory on Dartford Road at which VOX amplifers were produced that went on to change the sound of popular music to the home of serial inventor and flight pioneer Sir Hiram Maxim.

Council Leader Jeremy Kite at the unveiling of a Blue Plaque to commemorate the inventors of the VOX amplifier

We launched the Blue Plaque Scheme in 2005 and so far the following plaques have been unveiled in our town:

  • Martina Bergman Österberg – unveiled in February 2005 at North West Kent College, Oakfield Lane, Dartford
  • Jane Austen – unveiled on 5 October 2006 outside Boots the Chemists in High Street, Dartford
  • Dartford Football Club – unveiled on 11 November 2006 at the original site entrance to DFC’s Watling Street ground
  • Richard Trevithick – unveiled on 17 March 2007 outside Royal Victoria & Bull Hotel in High Street, Dartford
  • Dartford Borough Museum – unveiled on 19 March 2008 at the original site of Dartford Museum in Essex Road, Dartford
  • Battle for Bull Centre – unveiled on 10 December 2008 at One Bell Corner, Dartford
  • Sir Hiram Maxim – unveiled on 8 July 2009 at Maypole Primary School, Franklin Road, Dartford
  • Sir Hiram Maxim/Baldwyns Mansion – unveiled on 19 May 2010 at Baldwyns Mansion, Calvert Drive, Bexley Park
  • The Rolling Stones – unveiled on 5 February 2015 on platform 2 at Dartford Station
  • V1 Flying Bomb, Carrington Road – unveiled on 22 March 2015 at 38 Carrington Road, DartfordVOX Amplifier – unveiled on 14 February 2017 at 119 Dartford Road, Dartford
  • The Morning Star – unveiled on 10 November 2018 at 141 Church Rd, Swanscombe

The bombing of The Morning Star

On Saturday 11th November 2018, the latest blue plaque is to be installed – this one marking a particularly tragic event during World War II that saw a bomb fall on local people gathered for a darts match at The Morning Star public house in Swanscombe.

We couldn’t do any of these commemorations without the dedicated skill and research of one of Dartford Council’s  unsung heroes – Dartford Borough Museum Curator Dr Mike Still.  He has produced a detailed history of the events of November 2018 to accompany the new blue plaque.

Here’s Dr Still’s evocative account of the bombing of The Morning Star.

On the evening of Sunday, 10 November 1940, The Morning Star public house at 143 Church Road, Swanscombe, was packed for a ‘friendly’ darts match between the pub’s team and one believed to be from The Railway Tavern in Northfleet. The 38 year old landlord of The Morning Star, Archie Stevens, was a popular man who played an active part in local life. He was a member of Swanscombe Bowling Club and of the local Auxiliary Fire Service. It was said that, in his two years at the pub, his cheery personality had made it a well-patronised venue. He was married and the couple had a young son.

This particular evening was expected to bring in a bumper crowd and so the 18 year old barmaid, Miss Ada White, stayed on to help out, even though she had handed in her notice the week before and should have already left.

It is not clear whether or not the air raid siren had sounded that evening, since the landlord’s wife and son had gone to their air raid shelter but the darts match had continued, as had a picture show at the local cinema. Perhaps the people who were out for the evening had decided to carry on regardless, possibly assuming that the German bombers were heading for London. This may well have been true because it seems that only five bombs dropped on Swanscombe that evening, all at 8.06pm, whereas about 120 people died all over London that night, including a little further up the Thames at Poplar where the docks were attacked. The five bombs which hit Swanscombe would have come from just one of the aircraft and may only have been jettisoned to make the aircraft lighter (and therefore faster) after a failed attempt on London. Having said that, a dozen bombs fell on Stone and Horns Cross the same night, including one which hit an air raid shelter in Hedge Place Road and killed a man and his three children, although even these bombs could have been jettisoned.

The bomb which hit The Morning Star had apparently fallen into the bar, possibly even penetrating the cellar before exploding. Only one wall and a flight of stairs remained standing, with everything else, bricks, timber and rubble, collapsed into the cellar along with the victims. One of the survivors in the pub later said that he ‘felt the bomb coming’ and so bent forward from his seat with the result that a beam fell across his back and the table. While he supported the beam, his friends managed to escape and then they lifted it off him. They were the only four people to be able to walk out of the ruins unaided.

As the five bombs left the aircraft they would have fallen in a straight line, apparently hitting Sun Road, Vernon Road, The Morning Star and two on Castle Street (or even in reverse order). All of these would have happened almost instantaneously so we can’t work out the direction of travel of the aircraft.

ARP workers rushed to the scene and ambulances were brought in from other areas to supplement the local first aid parties. Locals who knew that their loved ones had been in the pub began to gather in the street to try to get some news. The following morning the rescue and demolition parties were still searching the ruins and women were gathering on street corners to be the first to look through the list of casualties. The landlord, Archie Stevens, had been taken to hospital but soon died. The barmaid, Ada White, was also killed. The landlord’s wife and son were safe in the air raid shelter.

Up to 27 people are believed to have died in Swanscombe that night, with a similar number wounded, although the records are very confused, with people who were thought to be dead later being found alive in hospital while other people who had initially survived dying in hospital nearly a month later. It appears that three of the victims were from the Northfleet darts team and so this has also led to difficulty in associating them with this attack. Wartime restrictions on reporting such incidents have also added to the confusion. Nineteen of the victims definitely died through being in the pub while most of the others probably did but this is not certain. Two victims are known to have died in their nearby house while their daughter was safe watching a film in the local cinema.

Those known to have died as a result of being in the pub were: George Brigden, Eva Cherry, John Day, George Down, Samson Hedges, Henry Hoadley, Frederick Milton, Henry Morris, George Moss, Edward Oliver, Arthur Rayner, Archie Stevens, Frank Swaisland (Senior), Frank Swaisland (Junior), George Walker, Elizabeth Warne, William Websper, Ada White and Charles Young.

Along with their friend George Walker (mentioned above), two other men from Northfleet were presumably also in the pub, William Garson and William Wakeman. They died in hospital from their wounds.

Victims who were nearby, either at home or in the street, included Edwin Russell killed in Sun Road which was also the street where he lived, and William Smith who is recorded as having been killed in Church Road.

David Wells and his wife Henrietta were at home in Castle Street, sitting round the fire in the kitchen, when their house was hit by one of the bombs dropped at the same time.

There are two more men who died around this time and who appear to have been victims of this attack. They are Sidney Greenslade and Horace Martin.

It was originally thought that Frederick Milton’s son, Ernest, on leave from the Merchant Navy, had also been killed along with his father, but he was later found, injured, in hospital. One newspaper also refers to Mrs Rayner being killed as well as her husband Arthur Rayner, but there is no trace of this in subsequent records and so it was probably another mistake.

As one of the local newspapers said at the time ‘It was difficult to imagine that so much sorrow and tragedy could have been encompassed in such a small ruined building’.

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