As part of the 75th anniversary of VE day we will be exploring Leeds Castle’s involvement in World War II with a series of articles posted each day.
The Home Guard
The name of Home Guard came into use after the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, used the phrase
in a speech, and proper military uniforms began to be issued. The men of the Castle staff who
remained at home joined the Local Defence Volunteers; later to be called the Home Guard. In May
1940, Col. W. Baker formed a local defence force, to which 200 rifles were allocated and some of these
were stored at Leeds Castle.
Leeds had its own section of the Hollingbourne platoon, with a command post in Leeds village. They were
called to a number of incidents, including one when a German airman parachuted on to the Castle golf
course. A day long search followed, until one Home Guard on duty at Broomfield Road saw the fugitive and
held him at gunpoint until the platoon commander turned up and took charge of the prisoner.
The Castle itself survived the war without damage, but a bomb that dropped in the grounds killed one
of Lady Baillie’s pet llamas.
According to official Kent County Council figures released after the war, 946 high explosive bombs, 19
oil bombs, two land mines, and 1,720 incendiary bombs were dropped on the Hollingbourne rural district,
which included the Castle and grounds. In addition, 21 enemy air crafts crashed into the district. Ten
people were killed by war action in the district and another 58 were injured. 11 properties were totally
destroyed, while 1,706 were damaged.
During the war, a tented camp was set up in the castle park. After a while the tents were replaced by
Nissen huts, but they were only occupied for a short time and when the war was over, they were cleared
away with the help of German and Italian prisoners of war waiting to be repatriated.
Throughout the war, the Castle remained a haven for government ministers and other guests. In 1940 the
actor David Niven spent a weekend at Leeds Castle, along with Geoffrey Lloyd, David Margesson who
was the Government Chief Whip and Harcourt (‘Crinks’) Johnstone, the Liberal Whip. It was this visit
that David Niven recounted in his autobiography, The Moon’s a Balloon. Another biographical account
came from Sir Henry. Sir Henry “Chips” Channon, who was an MP for over 20 years wrote in his diaries
that he spent a weekend at Leeds Castle in April 1943. “It was a lyrical day – the heat, the gauze-like mist rising from the fruit blossoms, the spinach-green fields – all were intoxicating, as was the grey castle rising from the moat as I approached it. Black swans followed by cygnets were swimming around. I sat
in the sunshine, drank champagne and ate plovers’ eggs.”
Lady Baillie herself lived much of the time in London, where she carried out voluntary work for a Services
club, travelling down to Leeds at the weekends whenever possible. Her husband Sir Adrian, served the
country with little impact on recorded history, although staff at the Castle understood that his work “had
something to do with the Free French Forces.” There was a general acceptance of not talking about
one’s work during the years of war because “Careless Talk Costs Lives.”
In the many years since World War II ended our gardeners have often come across reminders of the war years such as bullet
NOTE: This replica image was created in 2017 for an exhibition at Leeds Castle.