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Housing Scheme Tribute to Heroes of 1940 Tongham Bombing 

Published on: 16 Dec, 2021
Updated on: 16 Dec, 2021

The entrance to the Victory Fields site in Tongham

By David Reading

A new housing development in Tongham, which some residents opposed, has been named “Victory Fields” as a tribute to two local men whose courage during a German bombing raid in 1940 earned each of them the George Medal, the highest honour bestowed to civilians. 

The medals were awarded to George Keen and George Leach for their bravery when an ammunition train was bombed during an air raid on Tongham. 

George Keen, a worker with Southern Railway, was living in a cottage alongside the single-track railway at Tongham. 

There was a munitions train in the sidings for ten days, loaded with explosives intended for reception by the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.  

Just before midnight on August 22, he heard the drone of a bomber overhead. And then there was a flash as numerous incendiary bombs and explosives were dropped from above. One of the carriages was hit and set ablaze. 

Mr Keen, who was a Scoutmaster with the 9th Farnham (Tongham) Troop, helped people in nearby cottages to get to safety and set about trying to uncouple the remaining trucks from the blazing carriage.

But he was beaten back by the flames.

Portions of local newspaper cuttings reporting the incident. Reproduced in the book Guildford The War Years 1939-45, by Graham Collyer and David Rose, published by Breedon Books in 1999. Click on image to enlarge in a new window.

Meanwhile George Leach had cycled two miles from his home. Together the two men started unhooking the trains from the other end, pushing them 300 yards into a clearing away from immediate danger west of Grange Farm. 

Along with others, including military personnel and the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS), they continued to work for a further two hours. Munitions ignited and debris was shooting everywhere. It is believed they averted a major catastrophe and saved the lives of many local people. 

Nine months later George Keen was admitted to the Royal Surrey County Hospital at Guildford reportedly suffering from shock. He slipped into a coma and died just two days before he was due to collect his medal from the King at Buckingham Palace.

Bewley Homes, developers of Victory Fields, say the naming of the development of 35 homes is in honour of the two men.

The above information on the Tongham incident was taken from ‘WW2 People’s War’, an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar  

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