Brooklands Museum held a memorial service in remembrance of the 88 civilians, killed at Brooklands in a German Air Raid, who were manufacturing Wellington Bombers and Hawker Hurricanes for the Battle of Britain.
Brooklands, famed for introducing Britain to motorsport with its creation of the World’s first racing circuit, also fuelled the global obsession with aviation seeing one of Britain’s first powered flights take off from the track’s Finishing Straight. A magnet for race drivers, pilots, innovators, and pioneers alike, Brooklands became a household name hosting the first British Grand Prix and becoming the most prolific aircraft production factory in Europe.
Following Brooklands’ contribution of aircraft to the war effort in the First World War, the site was again used in 1939 for military aircraft production, in particular the Vickers Wellington, and Hawker Hurricane. The iconic racetrack and aircraft hangars were extensively camouflaged to conceal them from German bombing raids.
On Wednesday 4th September 1940 at precisely 13:24hrs, the Vickers aircraft factory at Brooklands was bombed by the German Luftwaffe.
The attack which lasted just three minutes was considered at the time the most devastating raid on any aircraft factory in Britain of the Second World War and claimed 88 lives with over 400 injured.
The unexpected attack came as many workers were enjoying their lunch outside or queuing up to clock-in for their afternoon shift, in a workshop that was directly hit. Workers at the Vickers Factory were accustomed to the sound of aircraft overhead and as such the air-raid siren was tragically not sounded in time.
The workers began the task of recovering the victims and clearing the wreckage, only to be targeted two days later in a non-fatal attack that destroyed and damaged buildings belonging to the Hawker factory.
The service, was led by The Bishop of Guildford 80 years since the famous Vickers Armstrong and Hawker factories were directly hit by the German Luftwaffe.
Friends and relatives of those killed in the raid were invited along and at 13:24 a roll call of those that died during the raid was read out by Michael More-Molyneux, Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Surrey, Tim Oliver, leader of Surrey County Council, Cllr Mary Sheldon, Mayor of Elmbridge and Tamalie Newbery CEO of Brooklands Museum Trust. After the reading of names there was a 2 minute silence which was signalled by an air raid siren.
After the silence wreaths were laid by Louise Baverstock-Price, Head of community investment BAE Systems, Anthony Samuels, Chairman of S.C.C, Rob Moran CEO of Elmbridge Council, Jim Allen, Chairman of Byfleet Heritage Society and Kevin Lee Secretary Brookland Members.
Among the friends and families were the grandchildren of William Ernest Hunt, who was 35 when he was killed. William came to work at Brooklands from Crewe. His family were unsure where he was but new the work was important and his location a secret. After the war his daughter, the grandchildrens mum, knew her father had died during World War 2 but not how or where. It wasn’t until 2014 that the grandson, doing some research, found Williams grave and what had happened.
At last after 74 years their mother was able to see her father’s grave, just months before she passed away.
The Museum is commemorating this anniversary with the opening of the new Air Raid Shelter Walkthrough Experience which features the images and voices of the men and women who survived the attack. The new exhibit has been funded by BAE Systems, formally British Aerospace Corporation including Vickers Armstrong.
The Brooklands Air Raid Shelter along with Brooklands motor racing circuit, the remains of the pre-World War II aerodrome, World War II Bofors tower, and the Brooklands memorial, are Scheduled Monuments with Historic England.