yeovil at war
The ten air raids on Yeovil
With Westlands factory and airfield a prime target for German Luftwaffe bombing raids, Yeovil prepared for war. While the town became festooned with barrage balloons, searchlight detachments and anti-aircraft gun batteries, air raid sirens were mounted at three sites around Yeovil in order to give the greatest coverage of the warning of an imminent attack. One was mounted on the roof of the police station / court building in Petters Way, a second was on Yeovil School in Mudford Road and a third was on 166 Hendford Hill, close to the Quicksilver Mail. The first alarm was raised on 5 July 1940 and between then and the final alarm of 16 June 1944 there were a total of 365 air raid warnings.
However, as we were under the path of the bombers coming from the west of France, proceeding north to Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester etc. we were under constant nightly air raid alerts. Coupled with the proximity of the Houndstone Camp guns, we also had to endure a number of heavy Naval guns located on the other side of Summerhouse Hill. For hours the windows and house shook and rattled. It would die down and then start again as the bomber aircraft returned. With disturbed sleep and early morning work requirements, it was tough. After a while we got used to it, and by staying in bed, it was possible to sleep through most of it.
I had a personal experience of close up bombing - one summer evening I was over at the Westland Sports Club. It was quiet with hardly anyone there, probably as we had had an air raid in the town that day. Some bombs had been dropped on Station Road, and in the middle of the Town where the old Town Hall used to be in High Street.
I was outside the clubhouse when I glanced up and saw three aircraft approaching. I recognised them as not being ours so I ran into the clubhouse and dived under the big billiard table. The planes shed their load of bombs and the building shook so much that the table lifted several inches off the floor. I raced outside and the eerie quiet was being broken by a dog barking and the distant clanging of fire engine bells and sirens.
It was now dark, gas mains were flaring and a crater which extended from one house to the other side of the road was blocking the rescue squads. On the path outside were the remains of an Anderson air raid shelter. A whole family had been wiped out with a direct hit. I decided to get away from there in case of a follow up aircraft group should appear. Finding a muddy path around the edge of the airfield, I got home as fast as I could through the town.
Atrocity? No. The Westland factory was camouflaged to blend in with all the houses both sides of the airfield. Unfortunately the enemy planes approached from the east instead of the west, hence the mistake."
.... and many thanks to the late Tony Robins for the following -
"We had our windows blown out several times, the blackout curtains thrown across the room and the ceilings brought down; these were repaired with Essex Boarding, sheets of fibreboard Dad bought from Bradford’s building merchants. When the air-raid siren sounded, mum, dad and myself sheltered under the stairs as it was thought the safest place. My brother wouldn’t get out of bed, he said "I’d sooner go down with the rubble than be buried under it."
.... many thanks also to Richard Venus, evacuated to Yeovil from London between 1939 and 1942, who recalls this experience -
"One vivid memory is of a wartime experience. I was going to school which entailed walking up this long inclined road [Orchard Street] near to an army depot. It must have been cold as I was wearing a long overcoat with cap and gas mask box. There was low cloud and I could hear this aeroplane above me which was obviously flying very low. As I was looking up this plane came out of the clouds right overhead. It was a German bomber. It had two engines and was painted black with a white German cross on it. It was low enough to see the airmen in it. Then it started firing its machine guns at me. Well I thought it was firing at me but it was probably just firing at the army vehicles next to me. A passing man threw me down on the ground and laid on top of me. It was all over in seconds. The man picked me up and told me to get off to school straight away. You can imagine the story I told at school. It no doubt got embellished in the telling."
Fortunately there were only ten actual raids on Yeovil itself (plus a few minor incidents), although 49 people were killed and 122 injured. Much damage was done with 68 properties completely destroyed and 2,754 damaged. Although Westlands was the prime target, only two bombs ever hit the factory and production was hardly affected by the bombing raids.
All known raids on the town are listed below, with the ten major raids highlighted and numbered.
A small air raid occurred in the early hours by a lone Junkers Ju88 dropping four HE bombs at Chilthorne Domer. Its likely target was Yeovilton but it was intercepted by Hurricanes of 'Blue Section', 213 Squadron out of Exeter and had to dump its bombs in a hurry. The Ju88 sustained damage but managed to return to its base although the gunner was killed. It was probably the same gunner who had shot down and destroyed a barrage balloon at Yeovil. Other than the German gunner, there were no casualties.
An own-goal was scored when a Wellington bomber hit a Yeovil barrage balloon during the night. Three of the crew baled out, with one being seriously injured. The remaining three crew members stayed on board and the Wellington returned safely to base.
Some seventy enemy bombers with escorting fighters approached Yeovil during mid-morning. Thinking that the Westland aircraft works may be their target, controllers scrambled No 238 Squadron from Middle Wallop with orders to head for a location ten miles south of Yeovil and all other fighters in 10 Group were ordered to Yeovil. Further squadrons were brought to readiness but the enemy formation of bombers passed over Yeovil and continued on towards Weston-super-Mare.
During the late afternoon a force of forty Heinkels, escorted by Messerschmitt Bf 110s, crossed the coast near Weymouth heading for the Westland aircraft works. Because of heavy cloud obscuring the ground, the enemy had to bomb blind. Sadly, Sherborne took the full force of the bombing raid. In all Sherborne lost ten killed and some fifty injured, twenty houses were destroyed and some 300 more were damaged.
Raid No 1:
Monday 7 October
The first major Luftwaffe raid on Yeovil occurred in the afternoon when a flight of twenty-five Junkers Ju88 twin-engine medium bombers, escorted by some fifty Messerschmitt Bf 110s, dropped over thirty high explosive bombs and eighteen oil bombs on Yeovil. The German force was attacked by five squadrons of fighters from No 10 Group, who shot down seven Bf 110s and a Ju88.
Burton's outfitters shop next to Woolworth's in Middle Street was destroyed killing eight and a direct hit on the Methodist church public shelter in Vicarage Street killed four people. A stick of bombs falling across Grove Avenue, Summerleaze Park (now Parcroft) School, Summerleaze Park and St Andrew's Road killed a further four people. Other bombs fell in the Roping Road area and Addlewell Lane. In all 16 people were killed and 29 injured as a result of this raid.
This was reported in the press to be the first concentrated attack on a Somerset town.
This photograph dates to the late 1940s or early 1950s - at centre is seen the bomb damaged Burton's tailors shop and the damaged Woolworth's building next door.
Raid No 2:
The following day, around breakfast time, German bombers dropped forty-four high explosive bombs across western Yeovil centred around Westbourne Grove and Preston Grove. A direct hit on an air raid shelter in a garden of Preston Grove killed eleven people and three others were injured. Five houses were completely destroyed and over fifty suffered damage.
Courtesy of Rob Baker
Joyce, three-year old Maxwell and Jimmy Fitkin, who were all killed when a German bomb landed on their air raid shelter in Preston Grove.
In all 11 people were killed and 3 injured as a result of this raid.
Raid No 3:
In the early evening a single Luftwaffe bomber dropped five bombs across the town centre, Park Street and Penn Hill, injuring five people. A wing of Church House was destroyed and much stained glass in St John's church was shattered. In the same raid four HE bombs were dropped on Houndstone Military Camp, killing five personnel and injuring a further thirty-two.
Lufton Military Camp was attacked by a low-flying single enemy bomber. this caused the death of thirteen military personnel and sixteen injured. One of those killed was the CO of 208 AA Regiment, Royal Artillery, Colonel GFR Wingate OBE, brother of the famous Major General Orde Wingate of the legendary 'Chindits'. Several huts were destroyed by fire.
Raid No 4:
Mudford Road was bombed in the evening, injuring three people, destroying five houses and damaging a further seventeen properties.
An officer and two men of a bomb disposal unit were trying to defuse a bomb 20 feet down a shaft in Yeovil when the bomb exploded, killing all three men instantly.
A single enemy aircraft flew low over Yeovil and then proceeded to machine-gun Houndstone Camp. There were no casualties.
Raid No 5:
Having endured four air attacks in little over a week in October 1940, there was a respite until this attack just before lunchtime when a single Luftwaffe bomber attacked the Westlands factory. Four of its HE bombs exploded across the Westland estate and two actually hit the factory - the only bombs to succeed throughout the whole war. The valuable work for the war effort in the factory was delayed by an hour. Five people were killed in Westland Road and four were killed in the factory. Another thirty six people were injured.
Raid No 6:
Good Friday 11
Late in the evening several delay-action bombs hit the town centre. These were designed to explode some time after impact, with the bomb's fuses set to delay the explosion for a period lasting anywhere from just a few seconds to several weeks. Short delays allowed the bomb to penetrate before exploding whereas longer delays were intended to disrupt bomb disposal and other activities as well as spreading terror. All the bombs exploded before the 'all-clear' siren sounded with one demolishing the WVS Headquarters and another destroying the Medical Hall (the upper floor was being used as an Evacuee Canteen, fortunately closed at the time of the raid) and three other shops in the Borough and another killing four soldiers of the King's Own Scottish Borderers billeted in the Corn Exchange behind the municipal offices in King George Street. While fighting the fire in the Corn Exchange Auxiliary Fire Service Patrol Officer Charlie Gillard was killed when the delay-action bomb exploded in the Corn Exchange in the early hours of 12 April. A tablet (photographed above) on the remains of the Corn Exchange was erected in his memory. One of the bombs destroyed the old Medical Hall in the Borough used by Boots the Chemist. In all 5 people were killed and 14 injured as a result of this raid.
This postcard dates to 1947 and shows an unusual view of the Borough. Wine Street runs off to the left, High Street is at top left and Middle Street runs to the bottom right corner. The gardens at bottom left mark the site of the bombed Medical Hall and were planted with tulips donated by Dutch children who had been evacuated to Yeovil during the war.
Raid No 7:
Around midnight a Luftwaffe bomber hit the steel cable of the barrage balloon of Yeovil barrage balloon site No 5, south of Plackett Lane, cutting the balloon adrift. The bomber released its bombs as a precautionary measure, but apart from hitting the accommodation hut of the balloon crew the bombs all landed in fields. There were no casualties. Two of the bombs landed near the GWR line near Yew Tree Farm but failed to explode.
Raid No 8:
Friday 16 May
Around midnight a single German bomber bombed the fields north of Mudford Road between St Michael's Avenue and Stone Lane. There were no casualties, apart from a couple of cows, and just a few windows were blown in by the blasts.
Raid No 9:
Sunday 25 May 1941
Just after midnight on Sunday morning a single Dornier bomber dropped a stick of fourteen high explosive bombs from a very low level across Mudford Road killing five people and injuring a further seven. Eight houses were completely destroyed and 115 were damaged.
Raid No 10:
After more than a year without air raids, this final air raid was carried out by two Luftwaffe Focke Wulf 190 fighter-bombers. After strafing the town with 20mm cannon fire each dropped an 1,100lb (500kg) bomb; one landed in rear gardens near the junction of Grass Royal and Gordon Road while the second bomb hit the ground, bounced some 200 yards, cleared a number of houses and finally exploded in Dampier Street. Three people were killed and twenty five were injured, of which thirteen were detained in hospital. Fifteen houses were destroyed and a further 972 were damaged.
Enemy aircraft machine-gunned barrage balloons at Yeovil during the evening of the 8th, but no damage was reported.
An enemy aircraft was reported over Yeovil at 4:15pm, flying southeast. It dropped no bombs but was engaged by anti-aircraft fire. The same day Yeovil lost two barrage balloons; one was grounded at Glenthorne Avenue while the other was last seen drifting off to the east.
Civilians Killed by Enemy Action in the Borough of Yeovil
Mr F Palmer
Mr C Rendell
Mr L Forsey
Mrs FL Lumber
Mrs M Buglar
Mrs MJ Morris
Mrs LC Johnson
Mr Frank Rose
Mr NC Gay
Mr RJ Batstone
Mrs FM Batstone
Mrs EJ Smith
Mrs W Bright
Miss Jean Young
Mrs MR Haywood
Mrs MFM Harrison
Miss J Dodge
Mr WJ Fitkin
Mrs OJ Fitkin
Miss M Guy
Mrs H Mulhall
Mrs J Culvert
Mrs AM Hann
Mr J Palmer
Mrs Lily Hoyle
Mr D Haines
Mr AG Mitchell
Mr A Hussey
Mrs E Farwell
Mrs E Little
The list includes a few non-Yeovilians. Two or three bodies were unidentified. The list does not include soldiers whose bodies were taken by the military authorities.
"Everyone used torches in the blackout as the only light we ever saw outside at night was moonlight, so a lot of the time everywhere was black. If we had a long way to walk at night we would shine the torch on the ground several yards in front and as we walked we would switch the torch on and off every five seconds or so, this was supposed to make the battery last longer."
Courtesy of Yeovil Library
This is part of a German reconnaissance photograph of the Second World War taken by a Zeppelin in 1939 and highlighting the targets of Westland's Airfield (marked 'A'), Lufton Army Camp and Houndstone Army Camp (marked 'B') and the Westland factory (marked 'C'). Within 'A' are three aircraft hangers marked '1' in the lower right corner and the airfield itself is marked '2' - note how the airfield has been camouflaged by pouring oil on the grass to create the appearance of hedges around small fields. Within 'B' are several barracks huts, each marked '3'. Dotted around the map and marked '4' are several sites of 'Fesselballons' or barrage balloon sites.