Novelist's flying bomb manuscript lands at last: Official history of Second World War rocket attacks found

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The Independent Online
A LOST manuscript by the novelist H E Bates in which he documents the 'flying bomb' attacks on England in the Second World War has been discovered in the Public Records Office.

Bates achieved huge popular success with his whimsical tales set in Kent of the Larkin family - recently serialised on television as The Darling Buds of May - and his novels Love for Lydia and The Jacaranda Tree.

But his writing career received its first boost during the war when the Air Ministry appointed him writer-in-residence and instructed him to write the official history of the V1 and V2 bomb attacks in 1944 and 1945.

Bates produced an account of their development which combined technical descriptions with vivid portraits of the devastation they caused. But the 1945 manuscript was immediately embargoed for 30 years in the Public Records Office, where it was forgotten until last year when it was discovered by Bob Ogley, a Kent author and publisher, while researching a book on flying bombs. He kept the discovery secret until the Bates family gave permission to publish, which he has just obtained.

Mr Ogley is to call the 30,000-word manuscript Flying Bombs Over England and publish it in June through his own Kent-based company, Froglets. The move has been welcomed by Madge Bates, the widow of the novelist who died in 1974.

The V1 'Doodlebug' bombs were launched from sites in France and aimed at central London. More than 9,000 landed in southern England between June 1944 and March 1945, killing more than 5,000 people. The V2 long- range rockets were launched by Hitler in September 1944 in a desperate bid to turn the tide of war. More than 1,100 were fired up to March 1945, killing almost 3,000 people, mainly Londoners.

Bates described how the people of Kent lived in the shadow of the bombs, which 'rubbed their nerves raw' and left them unsure whether they would survive from one day to the next. 'They saw the monuments and landmarks of centuries go down in dust. They never knew from one moment to another whether the meal they were eating, the glass of beer they were drinking, or the dart they held poised in their hand ready to throw at the saloon bar board, might be their last,' he wrote.