Events at Newlands Stud Farm, Charing Heath in June 1944 led to the largest loss of REME soldiers in a single event.

In June 1944, while other units landed and made advances in France, 6 (Guards) Tank Brigade Workshop REME remained in the UK preparing to provide their own reinforcements. The Brigade Workshop (Bde Wksp) had been moved in May from Carlton Hall, near Worksop, to Charing Heath near Lenham, Kent. The Workshop’s war diary is held in our Archives and describes the events at the time.

A document with table filled out in blue handwriting.

6 (Guards) Tank Brigade Workshop war diary, June 1944. 

On the night of 8 June, the first sighting was recorded of a German V1 Flying Bomb, landing in a residential area of Maidstone, Kent after being shot down. On 10 June, a concerted V1 attack was recorded, coming over in flights of three at approximately 10-minute intervals day and night. 6 (Guards) Tank Bde Wksp was directly under the flight path.

After an inspection from the Brigade Commander on 12 June, by 17 June the Workshop was put on 6 hours’ notice to move, with all vehicles waterproofing for wading up to a depth of 4 feet. On 23 June, the Workshop received the orders that it would move to a staging area near Wickham on 26 June to await embarkation at Gosport.

At around 6-7am on 24 June 1944, a V1 bomb was shot down by the RAF over Charing Heath (note that some reports dispute whether the bomb was actually shot down). It was said to have bounced off the flat roof of the riding school and landed amongst the junior ranks accommodation, housing men of 6 (Guards) Tank Brigade Workshop REME. 46 men were killed immediately, with a further six dying later of wounds. Many others were also wounded, while the housing was destroyed and damage caused to some 14 vehicles and 16 motorcycles.

Orders were received the same day to conduct an active service burial for security reasons and a mass grave was dug in Lenham village cemetery. The burial took place at night by lantern light with the assistance of men from the Brigade’s battalions of 4th Grenadier, 4th Coldstream and 3rd Scots Guards. The Second-in-Command, Captain Gough and the Warrant Officer Class 1 (ASM) Humm recorded the exact placement of the bodies.

The following day, a Burial Service was held in the presence of the General Officer Commanding (GOC) District and Brigade Commander. The Company Sergeant Major (CSM) would have played an important part in these arrangements. On 26 June, a Jewish Burial Service was held for Craftsman Lazarus by a local rabbi.

A white cross memorial with gold coloured plaques in front. White headstones in the background.

A memorial cross with a plaque that bears the names of all 52 men who were killed.

As stated, the Workshop was preparing tanks and vehicles for the battle lying ahead in North-West Europe. This incident alone eliminated one third of the unit strength, many of them highly skilled and experienced craftsman. However, by 29 June the Workshop had received 76 reinforcements and on 17 July was ordered to proceed to Gosport for embarkation. From 19 – 22 July, the Workshop landed on the beaches of Normandy near Courselles and Arromanches and set-up ready for work near the village of Esquay-sur-Seulles. It played a full part in the subsequent Allied operations.

Captain (later Brigadier) Gough wrote in his memoires:

“It was ironic that, of all of the total casualties which came to over 100, nearly all of them were tradesmen. Thus, instead of going to war with a highly trained and efficient workshop, we found ourselves landing in Normandy with a number of ‘green’ replacements culled from reinforcement units along the south coast. Nevertheless, this ad hoc unit gave a good account of itself in dealing with the heavy tank casualties incurred by the Brigade in the break-out battle at Caumont on 30 July 1944, just ten days after landing in Normandy. It is noteworthy that ASM Humm proved to be an outstanding Warrant Officer and, with his leadership and professional skill, we soon had a first class team which gave excellent support to the Brigade throughout the campaign in North West Europe.

Following the war, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) took charge of the mass burial site in the corner of Lenham Cemetery. 52 headstones were erected to record the names of those killed.

A wide view of rows of white headstones in a corner of a cemetery. A white cross is in front.

The war graves plot in Lenham Cemetery. Of the 49 Second World War burials, 46 are of the REME personnel who were killed on 24 June 1944.

In 1963, the Committee of Management of the REME Association decided that there should be a permanent memorial at Lenham. They suggested to the Lenham Parish Council that this might take the form of memorial gates for the cemetery. This suggestion was accepted and the REME Association (Eastern Region) was invited to proceed with the task. 44 Command Workshop REME, Ashford, Kent was given the task of designing the gates for the approval of the Committee of Management. A model of the gates was produced and approved, and a ‘Lenham Memorial Gates Fund’ established for members of the Corps to contribute towards the cost. 44 Command Workshop subsequently produced a pair of beautifully designed wrought iron gates.

A model of a pair of iron gates with brick pillars, inside a dark blue display case.

The model of the gates is now housed at the REME Museum in our Remembrance Gallery in memory of the 52 men who were killed in the incident.

Two slate grey plaques with white writing and military unit badges on the top.

The dedication plaques on the gates at Lenham Cemetery.

The gates are a fitting tribute to those members of REME who are laid to rest at Lenham and are not forgotten in the history of REME.

This year, to mark 80th anniversary of the tragic incident, a ceremonial event was held by Lenham Parish Council and REME units. It took place on Sunday 23 June, with a service including the reading aloud of the names of the 52 soldiers who died and a wreath-laying ceremony. There was also music from the Band of the Coldstream Guards, and a parade from 133 Divisional Recovery Company REME (Ashford), 36 Engineer Regiment Workshop REME (Maidstone), 5 REME, 8 REME and 9 REME, and a platoon from the Guards Regiment and representation from the REME and Guards Associations. Lenham Parish Council also recognised the long association between REME and the village by granting the Freedom of the Parish of Lenham to the Corps. The following images were taken during the event:

Soldiers in khaki dress on parade.

Soldiers in red dress and black busby hats on parade.

Veterans in suits and berets on parade.

A large recovery truck with crane and winch fully outstretched, blue skies.

Images reproduced with thanks to 133 Divisional Recovery Company REME (Ashford).

Author(s): Lt Col (Rtd) Steve Colling and Lucy Brown

Much of the information in this article was taken from an article published in November 2010 and in ‘From the Archives’ by the former Corps Archivist, Colonel (Retd) M E Sibbons.

Find out more about REME units and their movements during the North-West Europe campaign of 1944-45 in our D-Day to VE Day Campaign. Follow along on Facebook or X (Twitter).