The day my dad got stuck under towers

Mike Tebbutt reveals a little bit of history about an iconic Kent landmark known only to a few people… During the Second World War my father Stan Tebbutt was in the Royal Engineers stationed in Canterbury. He was instructed by an officer to transport a large square-shaped load on a low loader lorry through the city.

The Westgate Towers, Canterbury

The route took him through the archway on the Westgate Towers.

The officer told dad he had measured the height of the archway and there would be sufficient clearance between the top of the load and the top of the archway for the load to pass through safely.

Dad set off and as he was driving through the archway, fortunately slowly, there was a loud crunch as the top of the load became wedged in the archway. The officer when measuring the height of the arch had failed to take into consideration that it curved into a point at the top. It was definitely ‘a square peg in a round hole situation’.

Dad tried to reverse out of the archway but the load was firmly stuck, and he didn’t want to achieve what the Luftwaffe had failed to do – bring down the tower.

He then had a brainwave and let the air out of all the tyres which lowered the lorry sufficiently to enable him to free the load. He told me he was very insubordinate when he next saw the officer. He was not put on a charge of insubordination possibly because the officer would not have looked good – but it may have been because he knew dad was the heavyweight boxing champion of his regiment…

Stan Tebbutt in his dress uniform shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War

Dad did his National Service before the war and went back to Civvy Street.

As soon as war was declared he re-enlisted, aged just 21, and became known as “Kev”. The incident at Westgate Towers would have occurred after he was evacuated from Dunkirk but I don’t know when. Dad also told me about some very close encounters with the enemy during the retreat to Dunkirk.

Only fate or the angels protected him from being killed. One such incident was when he and his mates set explosives during the night to blow up a German-controlled bridge. They were spotted and came under machine gun fire as they fled in their truck loaded up with explosives.

All the bullets went through the top of the truck or through the chassis. If their aim had been better I wouldn’t be here.

Stan Tebbutt pictured in the middle row on left with fellow troops

I was born and bred in Canterbury in 1943.Dad was originally from Northampton.We lived in St Peter’s Place until around 1950 when we moved to East Street off Sturry Road. Whilst in St Peter’s Place I attended Holy Cross Primary School.

I used to play on top of the Westgate Towers as a child, and then we moved to Selling around 1954. Mum was a Canterbury girl and one of a large number of siblings, sadly all now deceased.I still have cousins living in or near Canterbury. I have lived in New Zealand for the past 50 years and last visited Canterbury with a grandson back in 2015 where we spent Christmas.

After being demobbed, dad returned to his civvy job as an engineer with Telecoms. It was then called Telephone House, in Canterbury. Many thanks to Mike Tebbutt for sharing his stories and pictures with KentOnline readers.

Read more: All the latest news from Canterbury

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