Tragic tale of Tonbridge's Racecourse doodlebug
4th April 2019
A PENSIONER has recalled how he had a lucky escape from a V1 bomb which killed his childhood friend on the Racecourse Sportsground.
An information panel about attacks on the town has been unveiled near the site 75 years later.
The flying bomb, known as a ‘doodlebug’, made impact at 7.13pm on July 12, 1944 – one of 12 that landed on the town in the Second World War.
The explosion damaged 500 shops and houses in the High Street and Barden Road area.
Local resident Harry Elliott was present when Tonbridge Town Wardens David Davis and Eddie Prescott revealed details of the incident.
Mr Elliott, 87, said: “Seeing a V1 weapon hurtling above my head and then watching it hit the ground, seeing the billowing black and red explosion and not knowing at the time that it had killed one of my friends, was a life-changing event.
'My doodlebug was a lot different; flying alongside of it was a Spitfire and I believe the pilot used his wing to tip the thing over'
“The thing was that you could hear and see them coming, they whipped along at about 300 miles an hour and they made a noise like a tractor engine, and when that stopped you had about 15 seconds to find cover.”
He added: “My doodlebug was a lot different; flying alongside of it was a Spitfire and I believe the pilot used his wing to tip the thing over.
“It hit the ground on Tinker’s Island, exploded and killed my friend Michael.
“You can’t blame the pilot; he wasn’t to know it was our ‘hide and seek’ playground.”
Mr Elliott was 12 at the time, and living in Barden Road. He wanted a W H Smith bicycle but he said he was ‘too lazy’ to get a paper round.
Michael did have a round and a brand new shop bike to go with it, but he would not let young Harry try it, so they ‘fell out of over it’.
“So that afternoon, instead of playing with him, I played with Colin, another of my friends. We went to Tonbridge Racecourse.
He described how the diverted bomb hit the island: “It stuck there for a split second and then exploded. Colin and I had jumped into a ditch when we saw it coming, so we were fairly safe.”
The scene of carnage stayed with him vividly. “I remember all the grass being on fire around us and a lot of metal flying through the air.
“We made our way to the island, driven I expect by the souvenirs we might find – in those days every boy had a shrapnel collection.
'I remember all the grass being on fire around us and a lot of metal flying through the air'
“We were only a hundred yards away but I think fright made us dawdle because by the time we got there the place was swarming with soldiers.
“They wouldn’t let us on to the island, but we got close enough to see a blood stained shoe that belonged to Rodney, Michael’s cousin.
“He was the lucky one, his wound was only in his leg. Michael had been hit in the head and died the following day.
“I would have played with Michael that afternoon if we hadn’t fallen out over a red bike.”
Twelve-year-old Michael Osborne, whose father William was a sergeant in the Royal Air Force, died at Pembury Hospital.