Goodwin Sands SOS campaigners highlight fears for graves of World War Two air crew in lead up to VE Day

Squadron Leader Hunter was last seen heading out to sea in his Defiant in pursuit of Ju 88s following an attack on RAF Manston.  He and his fellow crewman Flying Officer Frederick King were never seen again.

As the nation prepares to virtually commemorate VE Day, campaign group Goodwin Sands SOS will be launching a social media broadcast to raise awareness of the World War Two graves in the Goodwin Sands and the threat they say is posed by plans to dredge the site.

A list compiled by Dave Brocklehurst MBE, curator of Kent Battle of Britain Museum at Hawkinge, details 80 aircraft and more than 100 air crew from Britain, Poland and Germany that went missing in the area around the Goodwin Sands between May and November 1940.  This list has been verified by the Air Historical branch of the RAF.

SOS campaign co ordinator Joanna Thomson said: “There is a principle at stake here.  On the one hand we are paying our respects to all those who died during World War Two and yet at the same time a local company has been granted a licence to mine sand from an area known to contain over 100 war graves. Digging up a Commonwealth War Graves Commission graveyard would be unthinkable, so why are the Goodwin Sands any different?”

The remains of potentially four aircraft crash sites have been discovered on the edge of the proposed dredge zone by Ramsgate diver Vince Woolsgrove but the campaigners say Historic England nor the Ministry of Defence have made moves to identify them.

All such crash sites are automatically protected under The Protection of Military Remains Act which makes it illegal to disturb or tamper with them in any way.

Fiona Punter also of SOS said “The proposed dredge zone contains 51 anomalies, any one of which could be part of a shipwreck or aircraft crash site but no effort has been made to identify them.”

One of the RAF aircrew listed as missing around the Goodwin Sands is Pilot Officer Keith Gillman of 32 Squadron based at RAF Hawkinge.  The former Dover Grammar School boy crashed in an unknown location around the Goodwins in his Hurricane on August 25. 1940, aged just 19, one week before his photograph was published on the front cover of Picture Post.

Credit TIMedia/Fox Photos/Getty Images

SOS has carried out research on the missing British air crew, which includes Squadron Leader Philip Hunter DSC of 264 Squadron, who earned a reputation as a fighter ace and attended Kings School in Canterbury.  Squadron Leader Hunter was last seen heading out to sea in his Defiant in pursuit of Ju 88s following an attack on RAF Manston.  He and his fellow crewman Flying Officer Frederick King were never seen again.

The group also traced the relatives of Flying Officer Jack Kerr Wilson who died in his Spitfire N3289 during the Evacuation of Dunkirk on May 29, 1940.  His nephew Richard Kerr-Wilson visited Kent in 2017 to make a programme with BBC SE and throw a wreath into the sea around the Goodwins in memory of his uncle and all those who perished in the area during World War Two.

In 2018 the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) approved an application for the dredging of the Goodwin Sands by Dover Harbour Board.

DHB will extract 3 million tonnes of marine aggregate, which will be used for land reclamation on the Dover Western Docks Revival (DWDR) project.

On its website DHB says: “Marine aggregates form the building blocks of modern day life. They’re used to build homes, offices, shops and roads. There are billions of tonnes of marine aggregate just a few miles up the coast from Dover – the Goodwin Sands.

“The Goodwin Sands have been dredged extensively for commercial use since the Second World War; for example, twice the volume we require for the development was used in the construction of the Channel Tunnel.”


  1. The Goodwin Sands are said to be around 10 miles long and three miles wide. Therefore it’s more than likely that the sand that is removed will not be near the places said to have war graves. If indeed there are any of the graves that the protest group say are there over the years the sands move to a certain degree.

  2. It is the knowing that hundreds of wrecks and war casualties are embedded in those sands and the not knowing whereabouts exactly they are that makes it all very dicey indeed. If there is any doubt at all then they should leave the site completely alone so those souls can continue to rest in peace. Dredge elsewhere and ship it in.

    • Considering the number of years that have passed, and the weather and sea conditions in the Channel, how likely is is it that there are many human remains undisturbed in the area?

  3. If the sand was not taken from the Goodwin Sands then it would have to be taken by road causing a lot of pollution.
    It’s all been fully investigated and the Goodwins is the best option.

  4. I am afraid money is the root of the problem.There is plenty of sand in another area off the Essex coast, but DHB want to save money by getting it from its nearest source,the Goodwin’s.
    For the most part mineral extraction has stopped on Dartmoor or from most national parks.The Goodwin’s are now designated a marine conservation zone, a sort of maritime equivalent.Had the application been made after the MCZ was established, I doubt that the licence would have been granted. The marine management organisation (MMO)tried several times to grant DHB its wishes and only succeeded a few days after the MCZ was granted.
    Just because something was done in the past, does not make it right or acceptable in the future.
    In my view the MMO should be excavated and end up in some parking lot,like bits of the Goodwin’s.

  5. If sunken warships were on the sands then they would have to dredge away from them.

    Not knowing exactly where planes have crashed means that the whole if the sands is a dedicated war grave.

    Irrespective of how long since ww2, and the government should step in to sort this out.

    If dredging was to commence every inch of sands should be scanned before dredging that sector.

    • They government have stepped in and given permission as they have done several times for works in Dover Harbour and the Channel Tunnel.

  6. We respect as a Nation those who died so we could enjoy the Free Country we have, if our own forbears mean so little let’s use churchyards and crematoriums as quarry’s and industrial sites . The Goodwin Sands IS a graveyard to thousands one of whom may be one of yours deserve to be left alone. The Goodwins should remain “ No mans sands”


  8. Goodwin Sands should be left alone!
    Town and County Councils shouldn’t give any any any rights or permission to remove any of the sand. It is a grave yard of many airmen and sailors for hundreds of years. It is our History too. Leave it alone.

    • The Town and County Councils don’t have any rights, the government has already been over and over with this and already given permission to go ahead….

  9. The ultimate sacrifice of the pilot and crew will be overshadowed with the greed for money. Would the people in control of this company dig up their family grave? If the money was right I think they would.

  10. The gruesome, perhaps real facts of life and death is every inch of land in these islands harbour someone’s grave at some time in the past. Central London in particular has been built then rebuild over know graveyards. Likewise navigational hazards, including the Goodwins, accounted for shipping and men. Should we cease all human activity in these sites? To do so is to sacrifice the future to honour the past. Although, in most instances those human remains have simply’melted’ back into the environment. Those men and women sacrificed themselves to secure the future, not to prevent or restrict it in any way.

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