Accounts written by boys in Abbey House about their experiences during the bombing of Sherborne on 30 September 1940.

Arranged A-Z by surname:

Thomas Ian Mayhew ARNOLD (1927-1973)

Attended Sherborne School (Abbey House) May 1940-December 1944.
Age on 30 September 1940: 13.

‘The Blitz on Sherborne’
The blitz on Sherborne took place on a Monday.  It was the last day in September at about four forty-five when the air-raid siren sounded.  Mr Bell, who was taking us at the time for a history lesson, told us to go down stairs and join the top Spanish set who were under Mr Howard Baker.  After we had talked for a little while the Spanish set went on with their work, while we read on in our history books.  Mr Baker mentioned that if bombs began to fall we should get under the desk.  The boys seemed to think that this would be totally unnecessary.  After quite a long time, during which a boy called White was caught putting sacareen [sic] into the ink pot, we heard plops & bangs.  The bangs grew nearer.  Everybody at once got under desks, Mr Baker got under the masters desk.  The bangs grew louder still, the dust became like a thick, dense fog, the top of the door almost reached the bottom.  Why the blast did not blow the door open remains a mystery to me.  The dust was terrible.  A roar followed with a simply terrific bang which rocked the wall which I was leaning against.  The dust and the small of Cordite nearly chocked me.  I was almost concused [sic] and I really didn’t care what happened.  Then after a few minutes everybody came to, they realised what they had been through and they began to laugh about it.  This is almost the first sign of hysteria.  It was very lucky that we were with a high part of the school. I was between Freeth and Webber with Foster in front of me.  Then somebody came from the cloisters and told us to go there.  Directly I set eyes on the courts to my horror I saw four holes, large one they were too.  As I went across the courts I saw a large bit of bomb, so I picked it up, but I dropped it very much quicker.  In order that I should be able to keep it I kicked it across to the cloisters.  On arriving at the cloisters I heard cheers resounding through the place and after a little while the Headmaster told us all where the [line is unfinished].

Christopher Stewart CLARKE (b.1926)
Attended Sherborne School (Abbey House) September 1939-March 1944; XI 1943; squash; fives; boxing.
Age on 30 September: 14.

The essay was read out by the author (then a master on the staff) at a commemorative lecture held 25 years after the raid on 30 September 1965.

‘An Air Raid on Sherborne’
Monday, September 30th 1940: this date might well be an outstanding landmark in the years of life to come; one, which will not easily be forgotten.  A day, but for an instance would have been the cause of many a death – the death of friends, whose memories, would haunt me day and night.  Indeed this stirring event has once more shown that the world of miracles is not yet passed.

The air raid siren sounded shortly after the first period of the afternoon had begun.  I was working in Number twelve at the time and on leaving the room to go down stairs, I saw the Yeovil balloon barrage outlined against a cloudy sky.  The air raid siren, by now, presented no excitement, and on arriving downstairs we continued our work in number nine.  We had only been working for five or ten minutes, when all of a sudden the room shook violently.  I heard no explosion, but at once realised that it was a bomb and that it had landed fairly close.  A nervous feeling came over me as amidst more violent shakings and explosions, now audable [sic], we were told to get under our desks.  I crowded down with the small desk covering most of my body, my hands over my ears and round the back of my neck, instinctively looking out of the window, overlooking the courts.  The next few minutes were without doubt the worst in my life.  The shrill whistle of bombs grew louder and louder and as explosion after explosion shook the room.  I expected every minute to find myself in another world, having fallen victim to Nazi tyranny.  The desk above me was shaking as if it were possessed of a spirit, and occasionally a piece of plaster would fall and hit my leg.  Suddenly out of the window I saw a mass of brown gravel as a terrific explosion sent, what remained of glass shattering onto the floor.  In the confusion of it all I did not even realise that all the gravel I had seen flung into the air had been caused by bombs in the courts then the noise of it all died away and, after a few more bombs in the distance, all was quiet.  It was like a lull after a tremendous storm, so quiet did it seem.  I was not the first to come out from under my desk, and was very surprised when I was told that there were 4 big craters in the courts.  The smell of cordite, and the fact that the room was a cloud of dust, made the atmosphere very unpleasant.  I got up and shook the dust from my hair and clothes.  I thought that the raid might have been intentional, and suspected that the worst was not over, the aeroplanes coming back again and releasing more bombs.  However as I looked out of the window I could see a Spitfire and a Gloucester Gladiator circling round.  It was a pleasing sight.  No one had been hurt in the room, but I heard a boy remark, that a big bit of plaster had bruised his leg.  The headmaster came in a few minutes later and we were told to go over into the cloisters.  On the way across the courts I picked up a small piece of shrapnel, still warm. I saw a master as I entered the cloisters, his face so covered with dust that it was difficult to tell who he was.  When we were in the cloisters, the Headmaster called for silence and, after informing us that a time bomb has landed in Perry’s garden, told us to go back to our houses.

As a result of the attack, there was no electricity, and we had to use candles.  Physical Training was not able to be done, owing to the craters in the courts. No games were played for several weeks, as our spare time was used filling in craters on the games fields.  There was not a single casualty in the school, but in the town sixteen people were killed.  This was indeed a very small number in comparison with the large number of high explosive bombs dropped over the town.

The spirit of no one was shattered.  I heard one boy remark in the loudest part of the bombing, “I hope that record I bought the other day is not broken”, and another “That was a better shot”.

Of course this is only one incident of what is happening all over England today.  And the Germans will find out, that however many bombs they rain down upon our towns and villages will not be a step nearer to victory.

Nigel James CLARKSON WEBB (1925-1987)
Attended Sherborne School (Abbey House) September 1938-July 1943; tennis 1943.
Age on 30 September 1940: 15.

‘September 30th 1940’, 19 February 1941
At 4.15 p.m. the whole school, from various points, arrived in the school buildings for the usual Monday afternoon’s work.  Who, in that throng of joking, laughing boys, could have thought that, within half-an-hour, Sherborne would be wrecked and confused in many places?

All went well, the usual routine being followed, until the siren wailed its mournful note at 4.40 p.m.  All those people who were in upper floor classrooms gathered on the ground floors, and those in all the laboratories went to the cloisters. This is what usually happened, and on this Monday there were no exceptions to it.

I, having Maths at the time, was in Mr Jarrett’s [William Alfred Thomas Jarrett] room, no.12, and as this was on the top floor, we had to come down, and although, at first, we were going into Mr Bensly’s room, where there were about 12 boys, we finally decided to go into Mr Barlow’s room, opposite, because it was empty.  We continued our interrupted lesson. Mr Jarrett then made a joke to one of the boys in the set, that if a German bomb were to fall in the courts he would like this certain boy to be underneath!!! Scarcely had he finished speaking, when all the doors rattled through some cause which, at that time, we did not know.  Not taking much notice we went on working, only to be interrupted a moment later by more rattlings.  This time it was not to be trifled at, everybody got underneath their desks, lay on the floor and waited.

However we had not long to wait.  There was a shattering roar overhead, and a long sort of shriek. Crash!!… I thought the whole building was going to collapse.  Glass flew in and bits of ceiling crashed to the floor.  As far as I can remember there was only that one terrific crash. Mr Jarrett, after asking if everybody was alright, went to the window and said quite calmly: “5 bombs in the middle of the courts.” We were all very surprised, as we did not think we had had so many so close, also there was only the one crash.  Those in Mr Bensly’s classroom, we found, had not got off so lightly, although luckily they only had glass cuts.

We were all beginning to venture out of classrooms when the Headmaster arrived in an overcoat and gym-shoes to see if anyone was hurt.  Very thankfully, when he heard the injuries were only slight glass cuts, he went on to the next building.  When we were sure that everything was alright we went outside to see the damage.

The courts were heaped up in large piles of gravel. One couldn’t see how many bombs there were, but of course afterwards we knew it was five.  Then later we went to see the laboratories.  Heavens!! They were in a mess.  One heavy bomb had fallen in between the big schoolroom and the armoury.  The armoury wall was deeply pitted and scarred.  The laboratory doors had been taken completely off their hinges and the labs themselves had lots of valuable equipment broken as well as many ceilings down.  Of course there was glass everywhere, in the courts, in the roads, and on the classroom floors.  The poor big schoolroom however fared worst.  It had every window out and a lot of the roof off; in fact it was put out of bounds to us boys, as it was deemed perfectly unsafe for anybody to go near it, for fear of it collapsing on them.

Having at the time taken only a cursory glance at this.  I looked into it more fully later.  The Headmaster then told all those in near houses to go home, and the rest to continue their work in allotted classrooms.

When our house [Abbey House] finally assembled in the dining room for tea, everybody was talking all at once.  The place was an uproar, everybody telling where he was and what had happened to him.

Finally at the end of the day, which I shall remember all my life, we went to bed.  At least we went to sleep in our sleeping-bags in the dining room.  There was no water owing to a bomb bursting the water main, also we did not do our work in Hall by electric light, but by candle light.

So ended September 30th 1940 for me.

Denzil Kingson FREETH (1924-2010)
Attended Sherborne School (Abbey House) September 1938-December 1942; Scholar; Barnes Elocution prize 1941.
Age on 30 September 1940: 16.

‘The Bombing’
September the thirtieth. A fine clear afternoon.  Spanish in Room 5 with Mr Baker.  Four-thirty.  “There goes the siren”.  Smiles. “We have only had two Spanish Periods this term with it.”  Sounds of  disturbance upstairs.  The first form file in.  Mr Bell leaving in smiles: “Look after my chickens will you?”

Mr Baker loudly: “Sit down and keep quiet. I am going on with my lesson.”  Consternation: “Work during an air raid?  Infamous!”  Spanish translation. Rather boring. Must be alert though.  Dignity in front of these first formers.  Giggling at the back.  First form on the floor as not enough desks.

Then suddenly without any warning the door handle began to rattle and the whole earth seemed to quiver with the tidings of evil; forboding filled me.

“Get under your desks” said Mr Baker and dived like a homing rabbit beneath his.  I got down under mine.  I crouched filled with a pleasant, hoping, fearing, dreading, anticipation.

Then it began.  I cannot describe it; I can only put down an impression.

The ground, the sky, the whole universe shrieked and shook, beaten by terrible explosions.  A roar as of a hundred [?tube] trains, Broadway, London, Paris, Panama and the rumbling fires of Hell.  More explosions.  Nearer.  Nearer. Can I get into the wall?  O God, if only I could press myself into this wall, I should be safe.  Safe, do you hear?  They are over us.  They attacking us, bombing us, Sherborne.  The end will be any time now.  God, don’t let me be buried under debris. I don’t mind dying.  But don’t let me lie there cold, bleeding, wounded, unable to move; perhaps buried alive.  Why have I got to die?  Please God don’t let me die.  Glass crashing round.  My fingers in my ears.  O God – and the noise dies away in the distance.

I relax. I am shaking.  I can’t control my leg.  But I am alive.  We are all alive.  Thank God.  What a smell!  Like gunpowder or fireworks.

“Stay down”. Scott crawls across to Webber and me by the wall.  Silence. Mr Baker gets up; goes outside.

“There are two large craters in the courts.”  Later called by the Headmaster. He looks shaken up.  What a mess.  Back to the house [Abbey House].

“Clear up your studies.” Two windows gone.  But there was an unexploded across the road.  We had to keep out of our studies.

No light. No water.  “Do you think we shall go home?”  But we didn’t.  A night on the floor.  Three air raids.  Fires still burning up Newlands.

“And down the long and silent street,

The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,

Crept like a frightened girl.”

(O. Wilde)

Geoffrey Herbert LILLEY (1924-1982)
Attended Sherborne School (Abbey House) May 1938-July 1942.
Age on 30 September 1940: 16.

‘Impressions of an Air Raid’
The minds of the class were feeling mellowed by the influence of poetry read under ideal conditions; for it was Mr Brown’s English set working, not only at ease, but also with their full attention in the Lower Library, surrounded by books of learning and philosophy.

Work was not interrupted except to the annoyance of a few, at the wailing of the siren, for it was a common occurrence.  School rules demanded that boys should leave their classrooms, but the Lower Library was considered to be a safe shelter and anyhow nothing had ever happened, so that there was really no reason to suppose that Sherborne should be the first to be singled out for an extensive raid by German Vandals.

The wailing had died away, and the form had sunk back to listening to the droning of pleasant cadences, when there was a sudden shock, as if drums and trumpets had blasted their way in upon a symphony concert.  I heard some thudding sounds, which planted themselves so strongly on my mind that my mind jumped to the conclusion that they must be bombs, however much my inner mind and common sense discredited the idea.  As the seconds ticked by, and the shuddering increased, the doors shook, and as if by a single command master and boys were under the strong oak tables.  I, as everyone else, had realised that bombs were being dropped in a steady stream in our direction.  There was little talking, for by now we could hear the explosions of bombs, and it was only now for the first time that I realised that the small panes of glass were being shaken.  My companions under the table fidgeted and looked scared, hearts beat and thudded against one’s chest, and a medly [sic] of thoughts sprang through ones brain.  I had a feeling for one moment of proud martyrdom, but this was immediately obliterated to a feeling of panic.  By this time the whistling of bombs and the drone of aeroplanes drowned any talking, if it had been physically possible.  Everyone was still, still as a rabbit in the open.  My mind asked itself whether death was pleasant, and hardly worried over the thought of being maimed, for it derived comfort at the feeling that there were two roofs over it, and also a really strong table that would in my mind, clinging to any possible hope of salvation, hold up the rubble of a whole building.  My one fear was to feel death before it should come upon me; I feared to hear the bomb come through the roof; it very nearly at the time obsessed my mind, a kind of claustrophobia?  I suppose, but it was easily subjugated, for fear riveted me to my position, and a grain of common sense warned me that I must no on any account run about, for it would be stark madness.  I crouched on my haunches, huddled amongst my companions, and with my head nearly touching the roof of the table, for it some queer way it gave me a sense of confidence, probably because it was now physically impossible to see the roof of the library.

As the bombs whistled down, I wondered whether it was my last moment on earth; I hardly thought of home, it had been eradicated by the present fear of death.  My mind only half considered the rest of the school, much less the people in the town.  As the bombs at last began to recede, it suddenly dawned on me that the raiders had passed, even though the full throated drone of the engines was still too near to be pleasant.  In a second everyone stood up.  There was immediate speculation as to how many bombs had dropped: the highest figure was not more than sixteen, and even though we could see rubble on the Headmaster’s drive [School House], it did not enter my head that there were any bombs nearer than the Headmaster’s garden.

Anthony Baird Douglas SCOTT (1922-1943)
Attended Sherborne School (Abbey House) January 1937-April 1941; School Prefect; Head of House; 1st XV rugby football (1940); 1st Class Gym; PT Instructor with Badge; Sergeant in JTC; member of Duffers.
Age on 30 September 1940: 18.

‘30th September 1940’
On Monday afternoon I was rudely awoken from my study of the German language, for the fourth time that term, by the wail of the siren.  We ceased our studies and proceeded leisurely down to the cloisters, the fire squads back to their houses, I too went back to the House [Abbey House], and sat by the window at the top of the stairs, after seeing the fire squad distributed round the House.  There was one form sheltering in the passage which acted as the Air Raid shelter.  I was sitting there when I heard the familiar drone of many approaching aircraft.  I rushed to the other side of the House to obtain a better view, then back again after seeing nothing.

I was looking out of the window which faces the school entrance when I saw several members of the staff who were A.R.P. Wardens, and the school custos all point upwards and run for the shelter of the arch.  I continued naturally to gaze out of the window when I saw the blast of the first explosion terrify a female pedestrian and her dog, I waited no longer, but rushed downstairs.  Only to find the passage empty except for myself and one member of the fire squad who had rushed down with me.  I then rushed to the end of the passage and found, greatly to my relief, the previous occupants of the passage firmly ensconsed [sic] under the table in the day room.

The remembrance of my next emotion is vague but I do remember making along that long passage with my hands over my head.  I remember the door at the end of the passage bursting open, plaster coming down through the dust, doors clashing and always that ever nearing whistle – ‘bang’ the ‘bangs’ being so numerous that the whistle was usually drowned.  Through all this inferno I heard a cat screaming from quite close at hand.  I remember too trying to tell my fellow sufferer to put his hands above his head and lie down but the trouble seemed to be where in that long empty passage to lie.  I kept thinking now is this our turn, what will it be like when one hits us.  Then suddenly the world seemed at peace and I heard the Abbey bells strike some quarter, I forget which.  That I think was the most comforting feeling I have ever experienced, to know that at least something was still standing outside.

I then collected the people from the dayroom all very white faced, and saw very little through the dust except for a column of black smoke ascending from the north end of the town.  I remember quite clearly the surprise I got, when turning the corner through the arch, to see the bomb crater.  I then wandered aimlessly from the House to the school gates.

The A.R.P. car bumped past over the stones and glass on their way to the assembly point, and not being able to go down via Cheap Street.  One sight which I will never forget was that of the whole school coming out of the classrooms and walking over the bomb crater in the courts; no one seemed particularly concerned, and looked quite natural with their books under their arms.  It vaguely surprised me to see no one being bandaged or hurt in any way because when I had first looked out I had seen water and bandages being taken across the courts.

I remember then setting a salvage squad to work, trying to put on a calm cheerfulness, but really still rather dazed and shaken.

That which strikes me most on looking back on that terrible day is that I had heard no noise raised either screaming or shouting during the whole bombardment, except for the screaming of the cast and the vague shriek of a far off maid in the House, and also of the extreme coolness of everyone, especially that of the Head master who I saw walking out of the shelter and the chapel, and inquiring whether there were an unexploded bombs near, a question which at the time struck me as a very cool and rather comforting remark.  Any how it brought me back to my senses.

Robert William STOUGHTON-HARRIS (b.1925)
Attended Sherborne School (Abbey House) September 1939-July 1943; Golf (captain).
Age on 30 September 1940: 15.

‘September 30th 1940’
The siren sounded soon after half-post four & almost before it had died down some of the boys who had been working in the room above came down into No.6 classroom in which I was doing Maths with Col. Randolph.  He decided to continue with the lesson & so the other boys sat down on the floor.  But no sooner had we started again than distant explosions were heard.  Immediately everyone was under a desk & I sat under the large table in this room.  I could see into the courts & across to the chapel & school studies.

After a minute or two the explosions got louder & quite suddenly the door began to rattle.  The whole room rattled.  I sat as still as a statue breathless with surprise & too surprised to be terrified.  Suddenly there was a terrific whistling noise, a thud, a crashing explosion & I saw at least three showers of earth & stones fly up in the courts.  At the same time some of the windows were blown in by the blast.  Then I heard a noise like a waterfall & the stones which were thrown up came down in a shower.  Immediately a smell, so vile that it is undescribable, descended upon us, & suddenly I became so terrified that all I could do was to stare vacantly out of the window, & take in short gasps of air.

Then I realised how lucky we had all been & wondered if anyone was killed.  Col. Randolph crept cautiously out of the door, but another, more distant explosion caused him to almost roll into the room.  However soon was all quiet, & he ventured out again & returned almost at once with the news that they had landed one “plum in the middle of the courts”, as he said.  Two minutes later Bethell came in & asked if anyone was hurt but as no one was he disappeared.  In a few more minutes we all came out of the classrooms & went to the cloisters, searching on the way for pieces of bomb in the courts.

In the cloisters I met Mr Bensly who only seemed anxious to know if “Bonzo”, his brush, was alright.  The Headmaster then told us to return to our houses at once, & we picked our way over the bomb craters, & returned home.  When I got back I found our house [Abbey House] only slightly damaged.  There were holes in the roof & a large boulder had been flung from the Abbeylands’ garden over into our bicycle shed.  It crashed through the roof & demolished the front half of a bicycle.  Rumours were now spreading fast as to why bombs had fallen, how many had fallen, where they had fallen, & how much damage had been done.  Some of them were quite fantastic, & others possible. I spent some time wandering about the barge-yard in a bewildered way & then after tea I sat in the dayroom.

Meanwhile outside the house, in the road, people were coming from the town to see the damage to the school.  The lights that night didn’t work & so we had some candles in the dayroom to add to our sorry plight.  However we made the most of it & some P.G. Wodehouse was read to us, & this acted as a tonic for our misery.  That night we went to bed thankful that we were alive.

Kenneth Arthur VORLEY (1927-2014)
Attended Sherborne School (Abbey House) September 1940-July 1945.
Age on 30 September 1940: 13.

We were having Geography in the Geography Laboratory, when at about 25 minutes to 5, the air raid siren went.  We were all told to go to the cloisters.  We all went there completely unaware of what was going to happen.  I went to the cloisters under the chapel near the School House studies.  About 20 minutes later some machine gun fire was heard, and then a distant rumble like thunder and more menacing explosions coming nearer and nearer till one terrific explosion shook the whole place as though the building was a rottenly built modern house, when it was made with huge massive stones.  Several years accumulation of dust fell on us, and we could hardly see because of the yellow cordite smoke. We had three other fairly loud explosions and then the rain of bombs went on to another part of the town to wreck their havoc there.  Then when everything was quiet again and the Germans had passed by, some of the masters came along absolutely covered in dust from head to foot.  Those with spectacles on had to take off their spectacles unless they cleaned them, as they simply could not see.  One master was at the door of the Carrington buildings opposite the Big Schoolroom, and he heard the first rumble of bombs, those which were dropped at Lenthay Common, and so he walked over to the cloisters, and just as he got there the bombs began falling round this school.  When the bombs began to fall at the other end of the town, and finally when they had completely stopped dropping, several masters came walking along absolutely covered in dust from head to foot, and one of them who wore spectacles had to take them off and dust them before he could see through them.  Immediately after the bombs had exploded in the courts the whole place was absolutely dense with yellow smoke and there was a terrible smell of cordite.  When we were told to go back to our Houses [Abbey House], we were greeted with the fact in the evening of having to go about with candles stuck in bottles.  A time bomb had fallen near our House, so that the studies had to evacuate into other parts of the House.  That night we were woken up by two or three bomb explosions, the first being absolutely terrific although I only heard the last bit of it.  We had to do downstairs and sleep in flea bags for the rest of the night, and the next morning we woke up to a new day when all the various workmen would be very busy repairing various parts of the town.

 

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