Sunday, May 16, 2021


I took the photo above - click on it to see a larger version - on a wet and windy last Thursday morning in Erith. The 669 bus had broken down, and a repair engineer had been summoned by the driver. He was accompanied by a very large tow truck - I surmise the fault must have been thought too serious to fix at the roadside. The 669 bus service is rather unusual; most local buses are operated by the firm Aviva, but the 669 service is operated by Stagecoach. It is also not operated as a full daily service - instead it only runs four trips a day - two in the morning, and two in the afternoon. I guess that morning there was only going to be one trip. The 669 is basically a school bus service; it runs from Thamesmead to Cleeve Park School in Bexley - the full route is:-  Thamesmead Thamesmere Drive > Abbey Wood Station > Erith High Street > Northumberland Heath > Barnehurst Station > Bexleyheath > Bexley Station > Cleeve Park School Grounds. The end to end, eleven mile journey takes exactly an hour, subject to traffic conditions. The normally two morning trips take this route, and it is then reversed two times each weekday afternoon. The 669 bus service does not run at weekends. 

This week I am featuring the second part of a special look at events in local history, with thanks to Will Cooban of the Bexley Local Studies and Archives Centre, who provided the base material for my article. This time I uncover a story from World War Two, that as far as I can tell, has been largely forgotten. It involves three young men, and an act of heroism that really needs to be better commemorated. On April 24,th 1944, the Douglas A-20 Havocs of the 669th Bomb Squadron, part of the 416th Bomb Group, USAAF, took off on a bombing mission against a target in France. However, before they reached the coast, the mission was recalled due to bad weather. The Douglas A-20 Havoc was an American medium bomber, attack aircraft, night intruder, night fighter, and reconnaissance aircraft of World War II. It served with several Allied air forces, principally the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), the Soviet Air Forces (VVS), Soviet Naval Aviation (AVMF), and the Royal Air Force (RAF) of the United Kingdom. A total of 7,478 aircraft were built, of which more than a third served with Soviet units. It was also used by the air forces of Australia, South Africa, France, and the Netherlands during the war, and by Brazil afterwards. In most British Commonwealth air forces, the bomber variants were known as Boston, while the night fighter and intruder variants were named Havoc. You can see a photo of a Douglas A-20 Havoc in the lower of the two photos above - click on it for a larger view. After the planes of the 669th Squadron received their recall message, one plane would appear to have got lost. At the controls of A-20G, 43-9941 (coded 2A-U) was 2nd Lieutenant Arthur A McDonald. His crew that day were Joseph J Shields, and Leroy Barnard. Exactly what happened as the 669th Bomb Squadron returned to its base in Essex, no-one knows for certain, but it would seem that due to the bad weather and extremely poor visibility, allied to the blackout over the entire UK, the plane ended up over North Kent, rather than Essex due to a navigational error. According to the unit record, 2nd Lt McDonald lost control of the Havoc as he flew through the overcast sky. During the subsequent dive, the Havoc lost part of a wing. The unit record states 2nd Lt McDonald managed to pull the Havoc out of its dive and "before he hit the ground, he manoeuvred his plane in a last heroic effort to avoid crashing in the midst of a crowded city district. The plane struck the only open area in the vicinity". All three crewmen lost their lives. Arthur McDonald, Joseph J Shields, and Leroy Barnard were buried in the American Military Cemetery, at Madingley, near Cambridge. Only Joseph is still buried there. Uniquely, their names appeared in the Erith Municipal Civilian Casualties Register, and a bit of research has revealed their background, and photographs. The Register records bodies “found at allotments south of Manor Road Erith”. The "crowded city district" mentioned in the unit record was in fact Erith. 

It would appear that if the period records are indeed correct, the Havoc aircraft must have navigated Westwards, possibly using the River Thames as a navigational aid. At some point the crew must have realised their error, and turned left around 180 degrees to head back East towards the coast, which put them over North Kent. What they should have done was turn right and head at 180 degrees from their earlier heading - this would have put them back in the direction of Essex. At the time Erith was heavily involved in war work; the Vickers arms factory in Fraser Road, along with many other engineering facilities in the vicinity, the PLUTO works, and the floating Mulberry Harbours which were constructed in the River Thames at Anchor Bay in 1944, prior to the D-Day Invasion of France on June the 6th of that year. The area in question can be seen in the period map above - click on it to see a larger version. It was reported that the three airmen on board the Douglas Havoc crashed in the allotment gardens of Anchor Bay farm - on what is now the Frobisher Road housing estate. I am of the opinion that the reason for the partial loss of the plane's wing - which is unexplained in the official text, was due to the Havoc hitting a cable suspended from a barrage balloon. The area in and around Erith and Crayford was covered with barrage balloons to discourage low level bombing of the various munition factories so vital to the allied war effort. The fact that the official record does not mention how the plane became damaged would in my opinion reinforce this theory. The Douglas A-20 Havoc had a reputation for being an exceptionally sturdy, well built and tough aeroplane, and unlikely to suffer a structural failure due to turbulence caused by bad weather. The official report - being a public document would be unlikely to mention the Havoc impacting a barrage balloon cable, as this would potentially damage public morale. Also not mentioned in the official report is the fact that it would appear that the bomb load of the Havoc had been jettisoned prior to the crash, otherwise the explosion would have been far larger. The three heroic crew members who died that night were:- MCDONALD, ARTHUR ALLEN - Lieutenant, and commanding officer / pilot of the Douglas A-20 Havoc. Aged 23. “Lieutenant McDonald was graduated in 1939 from the Wichita High School with high honours and won a scholarship to Kenyon College, Ohio. After attending Kenyon two years he entered the service in May, 1942, received training in five airfields and was commissioned on June 30, 1943, at Columbus, Miss. After receiving tactical training he left for England, where he was stationed four months before his death”. SHIELDS, JOSEPH JOHN - Staff Sergeant. Aged 22. “Arriving in England only three months before he was reported killed, the 22-year-old gunner on an A-20 light bomber, had many missions over France. He often wrote home saying, "If you could see the big fires from my turret which are scorching France, you would realise how devastating this war really is." On April 23, Shields wrote, "I'm working long, hard days and nights. Often we don't get 'home' until well after 10 p. m. I'm tired now and have to rest as we have a big mission tomorrow. I'll write you again when I get back.” The next day, he was killed before he had the chance to write. BARNARD, LEROY - S/Sgt. Gunner. Aged 25. In early May 1944, Leroy’s wife Ruby received a telegram at her home in Savannah, Georgia, stating briefly; “THE SECRETARY OF WAR DESIRES ME TO EXPRESS HIS DEEP REGRET THAT YOUR; HUSBAND - STAFF SERGEANT – LEROY BARNARD – WAS KILLED IN ACTION ON – TWENTY FOUR APRIL – IN – ENGLAND”. The family later made arrangements for Leroy’s remains to be returned home for burial in the USA. I feel that some kind of memorial to the airmen ought to be erected on the site of their crash. There are plenty of places in the Frobisher Road housing estate where such a memorial could be installed. What do you think? Email me at

The photo above shows the public telephone box on the corner of Erith Road and Rutland Gate, in Upper Belvedere. Until relatively recently the box was almost entirely obscured by bushes on both sides; the bush to the left of the box has now been removed. The phone box may soon be removed if plans submitted to Bexley Council by BT go ahead. BT have requested that they be permitted to remove eight public payphones from the borough. The locations of the payphones are as follows:- These payphones are located at: Days Lane, near the junction with Berwick Crescent, Sidcup. Willersley Avenue, near the junction with Marlborough Park Avenue, Sidcup. North Cray Road / St James Way (adjacent to the Ellenborough Road bus stop on North Cray Road), Sidcup. Carisbrooke Avenue, near the junction with Hurst Road, Bexley. Outside 17 Montpelier Avenue, Bexley. Outside 21 Okehampton Crescent, Welling. Outside St Edmund House (near Hurst Lane), Woolwich Road, Abbey Wood, and finally the one in the photo above - Erith Road / Rutland Gate junction, Belvedere. 

Information has recently come to light that GP practices around the UK are shortly to share patient data in an unprecedented manner. In an article in IT news website The Register (a highly respected journal that regularly breaks IT related stories far in advance of the mainstream media), some GP's have expressed concern about the move.  The NHS is preparing for the "biggest data grab" in the history of the service, giving patients little information or warning about the planned transfer of medical records from GP surgeries in England to a central store for research purposes – and with no prospect of the data being deleted. Campaigners and doctors have expressed alarm that such a wide-ranging data haul is in the offing when health services and patients are still swamped by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, with little time to focus on the details of data privacy. According to an official announcement on the NHS Digital website, data held in GP medical records will be collected via a new service called the General Practice Data for Planning and Research data collection. It will replace the General Practice Extraction Service (GPES), which has operated for over 10 years. The new service comes with a broadened remit: the data will be used to "support the planning and commissioning of health and care services, the development of health and care policy, public health monitoring and interventions (including COVID-19) and enable many different areas of research." The service will collect data about diagnoses, symptoms, observations, test results, medications, allergies, immunisations, referrals, recalls and appointments, including information about physical, and mental and sexual health. It will also collect information about data on sex, ethnicity and sexual orientation, and data about staff who have treated patients. NHS Digital said names and addresses, written notes, images, letters, and documents would not be collected. Nor would coded data that is not needed due to its age and coded data that GPs are not permitted to share by law. Patient data from doctors' surgeries in England will be shared from 1 July 2021 unless patients opt out by 23 June 2021. Patients can also decide on a National Data Opt-out, which prevents NHS Digital sharing your collected data with third parties. To be clear, our understanding is that the earlier GP form means it is not sent from the practice to the central data repository. Concerned patients will not know about the data grab and some doctors may not have had time to explain given the overwhelming focus on the pandemic. Campaigning group medConfidential has produced a guide to opting out of the new data grab. It has also published a list of the types of data that will be extracted from GP records by the programme. These data points include sensitive details relating to divorce, criminal records, prison and probation, complaints about care, relationship abuse, and child abuse, and info on sensitive diseases, such as AIDS. The campaign group's full guide for patients is available here. What do you think? Email me at

Following the article last week on the history of Manor Farm in Crossness, regular reader and occasional contributor Christine has written the following piece on her family connection with the area. She writes:- "The first Superintendent of the Crossness Pumping Station, opened in 1865 by the Prince of Wales, was Francis Houghton, a Civil Engineer. Francis Houghton lived in the newly built Superintendent’s House with his wife Emily, their children, plus a domestic servant.  One of their sons, Francis Gassiot Houghton, drowned aged 39 when he was swept off his yacht near Southend during the London Sailing Club race, and whose body was found in the River Thames, near Erith in September 1897.  Another of their children was Charlotte Houghton.  A spinster at 33, Charlotte married my 1st cousin 3x removed, Samuel Carrington (1833-1918), a Civil Engineer, when he was 55.  Charlotte had been governess to Samuel Carrington’s nieces and nephews in Devon.  They married in June 1888 in St John’s Church, West Street, Erith.  Samuel and Charlotte had 5 children.  Their son Noel Carrington (more about him below) has been quoted as saying that his mother Charlotte was obsessed with conformity and convention.  She would therefore have been horrified by the life of their daughter Dora de Houghton Carrington (my 2nd cousin 2x removed), who at the age of 17 enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art.  She was rather unconventional and was one of the first to have her shock of thick red hair bobbed into a new fashion.  Dora became a talented artist and mixed with such people as Virginia Woolf and Lady Ottoline of the Bloomsbury Group.  Dora led a complex life, had a menage a trois, and committed suicide (she shot herself) aged 38 in March 1932.  There have been several books about Dora, and in 1995 a biographical film simply called “Carrington” starring Emma Thompson. One of Dora’s brothers, Edmund Carrington, was killed at the Somme in 1916.  Another brother, Noel Lewis Carrington, was wounded by a sniper’s bullet at the Somme in June 1915, mentioned in despatches and awarded an OBE in 1919.  Noel Carrington was an author and a publisher and in 1939 met Penguin Books founder Allan Lane and told him of an idea to create beautiful but affordable books for children, and in 1939 Puffin Books was launched.  These books were dissimilar to anything available in the UK at the time". Fascinating stuff.  If you have a local history story that you would like to share with my readers then please contact me at

A story that I had thought long dead and buried has come to light once again. Back in March and April of 2019 I featured an ongoing saga of a un-taxed and uninsured mobile home / recreational vehicle that was semi permanently parked outside of Erith Hospital. It later moved to Castleton Avenue in Barnehurst. Later still it was seen in a car park in Thamesmead; after this it seemed to disappear until a few weeks ago, when it was spotted in Fraser Road, Erith, right next to the 99 bus stop outside of the Europa Industrial Estate. The ramshackle van is permanently lived in; it has a smashed windscreen, and most importantly, the toilet in the vehicle does not have a septic waste tank. When the owner flushes the loo, the raw sewage pours out of the bottom of the van and onto the street. The occupant of the van is usually away during the day, but returns in the evening. The van is an obvious health hazard. You can see a photo of the recreational vehicle in the upper of the two images above - click on it for a larger view. The lower image shows the DVLA record for the vehicle, clearly showing that it is illegally on the road. Incidentally, the DVLA record shows that the vehicle was manufactured in 1994; I believe this is incorrect. I think that it is the year that the vehicle was imported to the UK from the USA, where it was manufactured. I believe that the vehicle was actually built in the mid 1970's, and spent at least its first years there before it was then brought to the UK. The illegal vehicle has been reported to the Police. I hope to have an update on it for next week. Watch this space. 

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly the report from Barnehurst ward:- "No burglary offences in Barnehurst this week. There was one theft of a motor vehicle. Officers have been carrying out patrols in the local area which resulted in a couple of positive stop and searches and tickets for possession of cannabis. Theft of motor vehicle overnight Wednesday 5/05/2021 and Thursday 6/05/2021. A Red Renault Modus has been stolen from Colyers Lane, no suspects were seen, and enquiries are still ongoing". Belvedere ward - no report this week. Bexleyheath ward:- "Monday 3/5/21 Theft of Motor Vehicle Mason Close. Tuesday 4/5/21 Theft from motor Vehicle Car Park behind HSBC. Tuesday 4/5/21 Criminal Damage Mera Drive. Wednesday 5/5/21 Vehicle Interference Pinnacle Hill. Wednesday 5/5/21 Criminal Damage Watling Street. Wednesday 5/5/21 Theft from Motor Vehicle Broadway. Thursday 6/5/21 Theft of Motor Vehicle Pelham Road. Friday 7/5/21 Criminal Damage Upland Road. Sunday 9/5/21 Theft of Motor Vehicle Izane Road. Please be more aware as lock down measures reduce, crime is increasing.  I have also been made aware of fraudulent Bank notes being used to purchase goods online, please be aware when arranging to meet up away from homes with sellers". Crayford ward:- "A Ford Transit was stolen with keys from outside shops in Station Road on Friday 7th May.  A Land Rover Discovery was stolen from Maiden Lane between Saturday 8th and Monday 10th May, the window was smashed to gain entry.  A purse was stolen from a Citroen parked at Tower Retail Park on Saturday 8th May. As ever, with the warmer days coming please don’t become complacent about your home and vehicle security, please see for further crime prevention advice". Erith ward - no report this week. Northumberland Heath ward - no report this week. Slade Green and Northend ward:- "On Monday 10th May at approximately 03:00 hrs a car was broken into in Sayers Way.  Nothing was apparently stolen but there was damage to the car door lock.  This was the second incident in this very short road consisting of 8 houses and one small block of 23 flats.  The presence of a security light and a camera did not deter the thief". 

"Vehicle theft Sunday 9th May 2021 in the early morning. Appeal for information/sighting. A Blue Jaguar Car, Registration W005 HSE was stolen in Dartford Road, Bexley; the car was driven towards Bexley Village after the theft. If you have any information or may have captured the theft on your CCTV, please contact Bexley Neighbourhood Watch asap or ring 101". Thamesmead East ward - no report this week. West Heath ward:- "Attempted burglary in Gipsy Road on Wednesday 05/05/2021 between 09:00 and 13:00 hours. Entry was not gained. Attempted burglary at the former Lord Kitchener Public House on Tuesday 11/05/2021 at 21.20 hours".

The end video this week is a short piece of film taken very recently on Erith Pier; it is a very relaxing place to visit if you are in the area. Email me at

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