St Michael’s and World War II 70 Years On

Master of Ceremonies Cathie James asks for further information & reminiscences

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The Remembrance Day service at St Michael & All Angels starts at 9.45pm this Sunday November 8th and is followed by a procession to the Bedford Park war memorial and Act of Remembrance at 11am.

The History of Chiswick

The Brentford and Chiswick Local History Society


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Cathie James, Master of Ceremonies at St Michael & All Angels, writes:

This year is the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War – a war that brought the conflict much closer to home and in which the streets of Bedford Park were not unscathed.

What do we know of St Michael’s during the war years and how did it fare during the bombing of London?

Unfortunately, unlike the First World War, we have almost no archive material covering this period. Copies of the church magazine end in 1938 and the local newspapers contain very few references to St Michael’s although other churches in the area seem to have been quite active.

We do know that Revd Lewis Smith was the vicar – he had been appointed in 1934 following the retirement of the longest serving incumbent, Revd Cartmel Robinson and remained in post until his death in 1953. He had been in the army in the First World War and had been awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in France.

We have no information about the congregation during the Second World War and in contrast to the War Memorial in the church for the 1914-18 conflict, only 2 names are listed for 1939-45, Jack B. White R.N. and K. Harmer.

Jack Benjamin White was a Signalman in the Royal Navy and was reported ‘missing presumed killed’ on 26th January 1944 aged 26 –naval records indicate that he served on an LST (Landing Ship Tank) that was lost presumably due to enemy action, where is not specified. He was the son of William Stanley and Lilian Sarah White of Chiswick and is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. His name also appears on the Chiswick Roll of Honour, a record of which is held in the Chiswick Library.

K. Harmer has proved more difficult to identify. I have been able to trace a Kenneth Wilfred Harmer and a Kenneth John Harmer aged 21 and 19 respectively both of whom served in the RAF Volunteer Reserve. These are the only two K. Harmers recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission data base. K.W Harmer died on 21st May 1944 and K.J Harmer on 6th December 1944. Neither are reported as having family in Chiswick and they are buried in Coventry and Reading. No K. Harmer is recorded on the Chiswick Roll of Honour.

The church itself did not escape the war undamaged. Various minor devices, such as incendiary bombs, had exploded in the Bath Road in the early years but in the summer of 1944 came the much more menacing pilotless V1s , the ‘doodlebug’ or flying bombs. On 23rd August 1944 at 8.32 in the morning a V1 landed on Chiswick Polytechnic School in Bath Road (on what is now the site of the Arts Educational building.) Part of the building was destroyed along with severe damage to houses in Flanders Road. Perhaps because of the time of day and the month there were fortunately few people in the vicinity – the Chiswick Bomb register records just one fatality, 6 people taken to hospital and a further 22 with minor injuries.

The blast severely damaged a number of buildings in the surrounding area, including St Michael’s. A number of its windows were blown out (East Window 1930 right), the roof was damaged and irreparable harm was caused to the stained glass at the east end.

According to the Bomb register a Women’s Voluntary service (W.V.S.) Incident Inquiry Point was opened at ‘the Vicarage in Priory Road’ but closed that same evening.

No reports of this incident appear in the Chiswick and Brentford Times of that week – as the very helpful local history expert at Chiswick Library explained, bombings and casualties were not reported in the press in order both to preserve morale and to prevent such information being picked up by the enemy.

The stained glass in the East Window was replaced in 1952 (right) to a design by the artist, Lawrence Lee, who had trained with Martin Travers, examples of whose work can also be seen in St Michael’s.

Not all the bomb damaged stained glass was replaced, as can be seen today by the clear panes in some of the windows on the south side. In one of these is a fragment of stained glass showing the head of an angel, rescued from a shattered panel.

Lawrence Lee was still alive at the age of 99 last year and hopefully will have made his centenary this September.

There must be many tales of St Michael’s during the war years and maybe someone reading this will know more about the two servicemen commemorated on our War Memorial. If you have any information or reminiscences you can pass on please contact me via the Parish Office I’d love to capture your memories about what is a rather silent part of St Michael’s history.

The Remembrance Day service at St Michael & All Angels starts at 9.45pm this Sunday November 8th and is followed by a procession to the Bedford Park war memorial and Act of Remembrance at 11am.

November 4, 2009