The people of Kenley and surrounding neighbourhoods will have a treat around 3.30pm today, when a World War II Spitfire does a fly past over the former RAF base.
From 1940, this part of London was the frontline in the aerial war: the rail yards at Norwood Junction and Clapham Junction were important targets for the Luftwaffe bombers seeking to destroy the capitals transport infrastructure. But with high-level bombing rarely accurate, there was much damage elsewhere.
The deep craters left in Lloyd Park and some of the area’s golf courses, now overgrown with trees and vegetation, are reminders of the devastating destructiveness of the bombs that rained down on south London.
Before 1939, Croydon was Britain’s main airport . At the outbreak of war, Croydon airport was turned over to the RAF as a fighter station.
South London was ringed by RAF fighter bases, Biggin Hill probably the best remembered, the stations for squadrons of Hurricanes and Spitfires, sent up daily and at the peak of the Battle of Britain in September 1940, despatched on several sorties in a day, to try to intercept the German bombers and their fighter escorts.
Kenley was one such bastion in the Battle of Britain, so today’s fly past is a fitting recognition of its war-time role.
A Spitfire in flight is a awe-inspiring sight. A war machine first, the RJ Mitchell-designed aircraft is nevertheless admirable as a spectacular feat of engineering, the purring sound of its Rolls Royce Merlin engine always distinctive as it swoops into view.
Now, more than 70 years after the Battle of Britain, such flights will inevitably become increasingly rare. So if you get a chance, try to catch a glimpse of the Kenley Spitfire today, and imagine how life must have been for the people of Croydon, and the fighter pilots in 501 squadron, eight decades ago.
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