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

Arranged A-Z by surname:

Roy John Arnold BAKER (1926-1995)
Attended Sherborne School (The Green) September 1940-December 1944.
Age on 30 September 1940: 13.

‘Essay’
When the siren went we, being an industrious Maths set, went on with our work.  A few minutes later we heard bombs being dropped about a mile away, and I gathered that some place was getting rather a sticky time, not guessing for a moment that it would be our turn soon.  At the first sound of a bomb work stopped and we all listened.  Mr Randolph, who was taking us, told us to put our heads under the desks, while he, on the other hand, went outside to see if he could see any planes, as he had not seen a German plane yet.

As the bombs came nearer and everything started to shake, Mr Randolph wasn’t so keen on looking for planes and came in again with us pretty quickly.

The noise was terrific, nothing but whistles, bumps, explosions, and the roar of aeroplane engines in the background.  The door shook like anything, so that in the first lull Mr Randolph went and sat with his back to it.

When the second lot of bombs started falling everyone’s head darted under the desks again, and we lay there thinking that our last day must have come, because it was then that the bombs in the courts were dropped.  I could see out of the window out of the corner of my eyes and when the ones in the courts dropped, I could see a great pile of earth and stones thrown high into the air and at the same time glass fell out of the windows.

When everything had finished the air was full of dust and cordite fumes, and naturally enough everyone started talking.  I suppose that was a kind of reaction after keeping silent while the bombs were dropping.

Charles Richard Oldfield BARTLETT (1923-2015)
Attended Sherborne School (The Green) September 1937-July 1941.
Age on 30 September 1940: 17.

‘4.45 p.m, 30th September’
I had come down to a ground floor classroom when the siren sounded, and there I sat on the ground thinking, like many others, no doubt, that if was just another of those cursed air raid warnings.  But was it just another.  No.  Suddenly the whole atmosphere changed, and an ominous rumbling suggested that this was no mere ordinary “raid” – it was the real thing.

Everyone instinctively realised what it portended, and slowly, without panic, took shelter beneath desks and tables, calming jesting the while.  This preliminary rumbling, which must have been due to the roar of the enemy aircraft mingled with the first distant bombs, dropped outside Yeovil, developed, with increasing speed, in intensity, like a terrible hurricane rapidly approaching, till the sound of individual bombs could distinctly be heard.

Now the whistling of the bombs was clearly audible, and, as the enemy approached the town, the explosions followed each other so quickly that the former sound was almost drowned.  Nevertheless, when the bombs were close, I prepared for the worst whenever I heard this foreboding whistle, for it was now obvious that they were being dropped in a straight line towards the school and right across the town.  Each stick of bombs now seem almost on the school, but we were held in suspense some moments longer, till several more bombs had dropped.  Then the climax came with the bombs in the courts and that near the Carrington buildings.  The ground shook like an earthquake and was more pronounced than the thunder of the explosion.  It seemed hardly possible that the school had not been hit somewhere.  Perhaps it was the chapel.  No.  When the bombs had died away in the distance, Mr Randolph came in with the news that the courts were pitted with craters, but the buildings were still standing.  No one had suffered severe harm.  But how narrow was the escape!  Narrower than I had expect, and I had reason to say my prayers, which might well have been my last, when the deluge broke forth.

Bruce Phillips BOWER (1926-2008)
Attended Sherborne School (The Green) September 1940-July 1944; Exhibitioner; Upper 6th form; School Prefect; Head of House.
Age on 30 September 1940: 13.

‘My Impression of September 30th 1940’
This was one of the most unexpected things that could have happened – to have bombs on Sherborne.  It was at about 20 minutes past 4 in the afternoon, when the familiar sound of the siren was brought to my ears; about a quarter of an hour later I heard the drone of enemy aircraft; this did not surprise me as I had heard them many times before that term.  I did not hear the first bomb, although many other people in the room heard it.  Acting under their advice, I took up that uncomfortable position under my desk; I actually thought it merely to be a ‘rumour’.  Once I was there, bombs began to fall, working their way nearer and nearer, until they were falling so close that the doors and windows were rattling, then the windows broke – it was really undescribable – and I do not hesitate to say that I was really frightened.  For the next minute everything was just a blank; everyone stayed under their desks as still as a statue.  When I was told that there were four bombs in the Courts I was really surprised; as my impression of bombs were that they shattered everything within a hundred yards.

It was a most remarkable experience, which will not, I hope, be repeated during my lifetime.

John Warneford BURGETT (b.1925)
Attended Sherborne School (The Green) September 1939-December 1942.
Age on 30 September 1940: 15.

‘Air Raid’
It was on Monday September 30th 1940 that Sherborne was bombed.

We had gone down to school as usual, at 4.15, and we were having a lesson in the Physics laboratory, which is the one which received the worst injury.

At about half past four the ‘Alert’ went and although we did not want to do under the cloisters because we did not think there would be any danger, Mr Davis said that we must go there at once.  It was lucky for us that he did say that.

A quarter of an hour later, while we were sitting in the cloisters, we suddenly heard the noise of exploding bombs coming nearer and nearer.  Everyone clutched his neighbour and lay flat on the floor while the bombs came close and with one terrific shriek four bombs fell in the courts.

There was an awful smell, probably from the exploding bombs and although someone shouted ‘Gas’ we soon realised that there wasn’t any at all.  The whole building shook, but although a crack or two appeared in the stonework above us, nothing more happened.

One thing, which I should think will probably stay fixed in my mind for the greatest length of time was the thing which I first saw when we got up afterwards.  It was that the window right at the end of the cloisters was partly blown out and all the lead was twisted into peculiar shapes.  It is peculiar that such an insignificant thing should have struck me so much.

Then Scott and Maidment came in and their appearance created a general laugh for they were completely covered with dust and plaster and they looked very peculiar.

Nothing happened to me although a single piece of shrapnel whizzed over my head to land with a plonk against the other wall.

Another thing that did not strike me as funny at the time but it is funny to think of now, is the sight of everyone lying down as quick as possible when somebody shouted that they were coming back.

Personally, I think that it is really marvellous that not a single person in the school was even scratched and also that the bombs fell where they did. It was not the “Hand of Man” alone!

Robin Darker BUTTERELL (1924-2007)
Attended Sherborne School (The Green) September 1938-July 1943; 6th form; School Prefect.
Age on 30 September 1940: 15.

‘Sherborne.  30th Sept: 1940’, 2 October 1941
The day was dull and it looked as though this might be expected, in spite of the patches of blue sky visible through the grey clouds.  I was sitting doing Maths with Mr Randolph.

We had had warnings before and we all thought that this one would be like all the rest, “Nothing ever happens at Sherborne” has been mentioned more than once, but this time something did happen.  At about ten to five, the warning had gone at twenty-five past four, there was a dull thud in the distance, whereupon we all dived to the floor.  This was something new.  I got under a table at one side of the room with some other boys.  By this time the explosions had come nearer & nearer, and finally with a deafening crash like a clap of thunder, four landed in the courts (N.B. I believe this statement is true, but there seems to be quite a lot of controversy on the matter).  Then all quietened down again and there was a deathly hush.  We got up and lived again.  The first thought that passed through my mind was the thankfulness at being alive after having been twenty-five feet from death.  The first thing I said was, “It makes you realise what the people in London have been through.”  My next thought was for the rest of the school, my friends, were they alright?  Then there came another roar of aircraft overhead, down we lay again with beating hearts, but this time it was our fighters going to the rescue.  The “Jerries” were by now fleeing over the coast, having indiscriminately bombed another town of no military importance.

When all was quiet again we rushed over to the cloisters, as the shelter was better there.  There were small groups of people talking excitedly about their experiences & others eagerly fingering bits of bomb that they had picked up in their rush across the courts.  Soon we were able to go up to the house [The Green], no “all clear” went as all electricity, water, & gas systems had been disorganised.  As we walked up the hill [Hospital Lane] to the house the Spitfires were still circling round looking like parent birds flying round the nest.  I noticed one man with his head bandaged up, but I did not see anybody else hurt.  The news was soon round that nobody in the school had been hurt, and I should think a lot of people sighed with relief.

As it grew dark, we got out the candles and started our hall, determined to carry on what ever happened.  Somehow we managed to struggle through and had prayers by the light of two candles.  As we got into the dormitories, we noticed the glow of a fire.  We all crowded to the windows.  I hoped it would soon be out as there is a saying that when “Jerry come once, he comes again.”

We were soon in bed, but our troubles were not yet over.  I was suddenly woken by an explosion, I leapt out of bed, half asleep, only to realise that it was one of the unexploded bombs.  I crawled back into bed, ashamed at my nerves.  Later on there was another warning, from wardens with whistles.  Still another one raised us from our beds before morning came.

Everything was disorganised but we seemed to manage somehow.  There were plenty of things to be cleared up, damaged to be repaired, and the craters to be filled on the games field.  We had to have some boys from another house to sleep as there was a time bomb under their dormitory.  Such diversities kept us talking for sometime, but we soon forgot about it, and by now it seems a thing of the past.

It was an experience worth living through – if you didn’t get hurt, and I shall remember it all my life.

Desmond Maxwell CLEEVE (1924-1944)
Attended Sherborne School (The Green) May 1938-July 1942.
Age on 30 September 1940: 16.

‘September 30th’
When the siren sounded at about 4.30 we were in room 2, and we went downstairs to room 1.  After about twenty or more minutes, the door began to rattle violently, and bombs could be heard falling in the distance.  The look of indignant surprise on Mr [Deere’s?] face as he crawled under his desk will remain long in my memory.  We all lay on the floor, and I was among the luckier ones who had the shelter of a desk.  The sound of bombs drew nearer, and then came the four or five in the courts, each one seeming to surpass the previous in noise and intensity of its blast.  I remember thinking that if there was another it would probably finish us off.  After the last bomb had fallen there was a gust of hot air round the room.  All the time one could hear planes flying around, especially Blackburn Rocs which arrived a little too late to be effective.  The most incongruous note however was the Abbey Clock peacefully striking five in the middle of the general confusion.

Anthony Hall Harrison HARBOTTLE (1925-2009)
Attended Sherborne School (The Green) September 1939-July 1943.
Age on 30 September 1940: 15.

‘Monday September 30th. 1940’
Few Shirburnians will ever forget the evening of Monday September 30th, when a barbarous attack upon Sherborne was made by Nazi bombers.

At the time of the alert, at 4.25, we were having an Algebra lesson in Room 1.  The classroom above us came down to our room, as was the usual procedure in such circumstances.  Work for us proceeded as usual and we were told to finish a sum.  About ten minutes later the Hall was set, in case Mr X did not see us again – little did we think at the time that this might have been so!

All went well for about twenty minutes, the hum of passing aircraft being constantly heard.  Then distant rumblings soon became audible, followed by a violent shaking to and fro of the classroom door – no human being could have done this, so vehement was the vibration.  At this amazing incident we were advised to seek shelter under our desks.  No sooner had we done this than the din increased twenty fold.  Before we had had time to consider this, a sonorous explosion shook the whole room.  I, for one, put my fingers in my ears to try in vain to shut out the chaos, and at the same time muttering prayers for deliverance.  At the same instant there was, so I am told, a loud and piercing whistle – a salvo of our bombs had dropped in the Courts, barely twenty yards away!  The only two indications of this was a shower of earth, which I could just see out of the corner of my eye, and the panes of glass which fell dejectedly into thousands of shattered splinters onto the floor.  A few seconds later the atmosphere was hazy with chloride, the effects from which some people are still suffering.  A few of the uninitiated thought, as well they might, that this menace was some form of gas.  During the period in which we cowered under our desks in terror, my eardrums seemed constantly to be moving in and out.

After the four bombs in the Courts we were all dumb-founded.  One or two gingerly stood up and peered out of the window.  The Custos looked in to enquire if anyone was hurt, one of the masters then went out to see the Headmaster, and came back to inform us that no one was hurt.

We were then summoned to the cloisters.  While walking across the Courts untold damage could be witnessed.  Pieces of leaden window frames were hanging despondently, as if suspended in mid-air, all twisted and shattered.  Cruel scars were to be seen on the stone walls, craters twenty feet and more in diameter were gaping at us, as we crossed the Courts on that fateful afternoon.  Many pocketed pieces of shrapnel, later to be kept as prized souvenirs.  There was truly change and decay in all around we saw, though the destruction wrought might have been a hundred times worse.

When we arrived in the Cloisters, many were talking and laughing cheerfully, none the worse for their providential escape from the jaws of death.  Suddenly there was a hush, the Headmaster was speaking to us.  In an unemotional voice he told us to go back to our Houses and, “Work, work, work!”  Several had lost valuable possessions, but all were thankful to have been spared.

On the way back several Spitfires could be seen and heard circling round.  Going up the hill [Hospital Lane] I saw a workman with a gory bandage round his head, making his way to the Hospital, but looking as cheerful as ever.

Since there was neither gas, electricity, nor water, the “Raiders Passed” was never sounded, and thus it was we found ourselves eating a ham roll for tea, and two large kettles boiling on the coke fire [at The Green].  Later on, after much gossip, we vainly tried to do our Hall by candle-light, during which time we dispatched brief postcards to our parents to tell them that we were safe after our escape.

We had an early bed, just before settling in our attention was riveted on a burning house, not far distant.  The rafters could clearly be seen against the red glow.  The fire was due more to mismanagement and carelessness, I believe, than to anything else.

During the night we were called up no less than three times by police whistles.  At about 2 o’clock there was a violent explosion – one of the time-bombs dropped during the raid had exploded.  This was followed a few minutes later by another explosion, and the sound of falling masonry.  Neither of the bombs did serious damage.  The suspension while waiting for the explosion was ghastly; no more exploded, however, and the rest of the night was spent in comparative peace and calm.

Our miraculous escape was due to One, and only One, as the Headmaster said in Chapel the following morning.  Such an escape, and such an experience, is certainly not likely to be forgotten by anyone of us, even in our wildest moments.

Patrick Cunliffe HEPHERD (1926-2014)
Attended Sherborne School (The Green) September 1939-December 1943.
Age on 30 September 1940: 14.

‘November 30th 1940’
It was not in the minds of anyone on that winter’s afternoon that something unusual was going to happen.  It was a very ordinary day, the weather overcast as usual, and the ground soggy with earlier rain.  In fact, there was nothing noticeably different to the day before or the day after, except that on the latter date, the old town of Sherborne was in chaos.

The first warning of the storm came from the Sherborne police station, when the siren on the top of that building started its wailing and sent its shriek out into the country.  Soon it died down, and then all was quiet again.  The boys amused themselves in several ways.  Some went round the Book Pound and found pleasure for themselves by reading the best books they could find there, others were contented to sit down on the ground and hold lengthy conversations with their friends, and some poor unfortunates had ever to go on with their work.  Theirs was the hardest lot of all.  Nothing was different and everybody thought it would be over in an hour or so, and as so many other raids, not a sound would be heard.  These were vain hopes however, for in an hour, many pounds worth of damage would have been inflicted on Sherborne.

The first warning of danger was as sudden and unexpected as violent.  About one half of an hour after the siren had sounded, the bombs started dropping.  The first caused the ground to shudder, and warned the boys to lie down.  Then they fell thick and fast.  Slowly their terrible booms grew nearer and nearer.  The atmosphere grew more tense.  Louder and still louder, until suddenly there were three whistles and a terrific roar.  The window in the Book Pound swung round swiftly on its hinges, with no glass in its centre, and banged loudly on the wall.  The curtains stood out straight in the gale caused by the bombs, and the books showered down.  Slowly, however, the bangs grew fainter till again all was still.  The boys picked themselves up from off the floor, and rubbed the glass off their clothes.  A little while after, they were allowed to leave and go out into the fresh air. Inside the Pound the dust was still thick though by this time it had partially settled down again.  The bombardment had only lasted three minutes, but during that time the excitement was intense.  When it was over, everyone was naturally relieved.

Outside the whole outlook had been changed.  Instead of the usual tidy town, the place was littered with glass and debris.  Houses were battered and torn.  Streets were jammed with stones and wood, and doors were blown in.  I should not think anyone here will forget the raid on Sherborne, and Old Shirburnians will tell their children after them about the bombing of Sherborne.

James Thomas JERMAN (1924-1987)
Attended Sherborne School (The Green) September 1937-July 1941; Hockey XI 1941.
Age on 30 September 1940: 16.

‘THE AIR RAID’
It is not usual for one to be walking up to one’s house during the middle of the school hours; that is why I used to think it great fun when the dear old siren wailed forth like a lonely flute at the back of some large orchestra, and I, being one of the lucky few in the house fire squad, left the rest of the form, and went up to my house [The Green], working out as I went how long the alarm would have to last if I was to miss the next period as well, and at the same time looking around the sky, hoping to see one of those dog-fights which I often read about, yet have never been fortunate enough to see.

Once in the house, I got together as many cushions as possible, and spread myself out on them on the dayroom floor, pleased to have this pleasant change from sitting on a hard bench, copying out history notes and trying to understand them at the same time, but really letting my thoughts stray too far away regions – well beyond the walls of this old school.

There were some six of us in the dayroom; the idea being that if anything happened, we were to lie on the floor with our heads under the desks.  But would anything happen in a country town like Sherborne, which contains nothing worth a bomb, except perhaps a few old gossipers who stand in bunches in the main street, trying to give each other the impression that they all know what is going to happen next in this dreadful war.  We used to hear the monotonous drone of the bombers going towards the West, and sometimes the rumble of the A.A. guns at Yeovil.

After a little time a completely new thing happened – something which caused a complete break in the usual dull life during air raid alarms, a thing which will always remain imprinted in the minds of those who were present at the time.  The first thing that suggested this break in the normal routine was that the door and windows began to rattle, making a sound like machine gun fire.  At first I did not realise what was happening, yet I soon found myself under a desk.  Now the whole house seemed to be shaking, and we could also hear the crash as the bombs found their mark.  Every one seemed to get nearer.  Now I could hear the shrill whistle as they came down.  What a lot of thoughts I crammed into that short space of time.  “This one sounds as if it is going to be the fatal one.  No, it is not – not for me anyway, but it must have got somebody.”  It seemed to go on for ages, and when at last the lull came, and we were able to sit up again, I realised that I was covered with sweat, and still shivering.

Our first thoughts were “Thank God its over.”  Then those thoughts extended themselves.  Perhaps it was all over for somebody else; I had not thought of that.  Those bombs must have hit something; perhaps they had killed some of the good friends I had met since my arrival at this school.  However we were not allowed to move, and had to wait until somebody came and told us what damage had been done.  What a nasty feeling it is, knowing that perhaps some of your best friends might be buried beneath piles of masonry, yet not being able to do anything about it yourself.

I swore that over twenty bombs had fallen, yet someone else in the room was certain that there could not have been more than twelve.  How amazing this is, considering that the number was well over two hundred. It rather suggests that during the period while the bombs were falling, our minds were rendered stagnant by the terrifying experience they were passing through.  Yet that could not have been so, as the whole time a myriad of thoughts were passing through my mind; so many that perhaps they expelled all the remainder of my thoughts which would normally have been counting up the bangs.

However, the rest arrived from school to announce that they had all escaped, and we all appeared outwardly very cheerful – yet there was something about that conversation which suggested that at the back of most people’s minds, as at the back of mine, there was a feeling of thankfulness that they were safe, mixed with a feeling of “I hope it never happens again.”

Downtown the streets were littered with rubble, the windows were broken, but the bulk of the town and the spirit of the people remained.  Already there were the street-corner gatherings of the local gossipers, pleased to have something to babble about, to tell Mrs Brown how their windows were going this way and that – “just like a concertina, like.”

Patrick Macdonald MOSSE (1924-1966)
Attended Sherborne School (The Green) September 1938-December 1942; Head of House.
Age on 30 September 1940: 16.

‘The Air-raid on September 30th 1940’
At the beginning of a term, before things get settled down, any break in routine is always welcome, and as the break on that particular Monday at the beginning of the Christmas term was an air raid warning, it added a certain amount of excitement. Though some people may by then have got to the stage when a warning had no effect on them, I was always rather thrilled, for at my home in Kent a siren, during the previous holidays, had very often heralded the chance of watching a dog fight.  And so it was that afternoon, I was doing English with Mr Brown in the Lower Library when the first low moan of the siren was heard.  As I was in my house fire squad I had to return to the Green.  Halfway up Hospital Hill I joined a couple of friends, and we walked up the hill discussing the possibility of the warning lasting the whole of evening school.  I remember thinking, as I looked at the balloons over Yeovil how wrong it was that such seemingly beautiful things, indeed they did look peaceful as they lay at rest in the summer sky, like majestic yachts at anchor on a motionless sea with the sun playing on their dazzling sails, that such beautiful things should have anything to do with war.  However had I been able to see ten minutes into the future my thoughts would not have dwelt so long on such peaceful things.

When we got back to the house I went along to my study to get a cushion and a book.  As there was no proper shelter then we had to do into the dayroom which was considered the safest room in the house, though it gave me no impression of safety a few minutes later.  There must have been seven or eight of us altogether and, though we were supposed to like on the floor, we were sitting about reading and talking.

A quarter of an hour after the siren went the first bomb dropped out on Lenthay copse, a couple of miles away.  I felt it more than I heard it, there was a slight tremor and the windows rattled, however that was quite enough.  In less than no time everyone was flat on their faces under desks and tables.  I should love to have been able to look on during those few seconds.  There we all were laughing and talking when suddenly there was a thud and the windows rattled.  I am sure there must have been a funny variety of expressions during the seconds silence that followed, and then, like rabbits popping down holes, we disappeared under benches and desks, though of course there were no white tails and there was a good deal of noise.  There was one good thing about that raid, the bombs dropped so quickly that you did not have time to wonder when the next one was going to fall.  However that did not mean that you could not think at all, the crash of the bombs seemed ever to be getting nearer, as indeed it was, and there was one moment when I was sure that the next bomb would fall on us, however it did not and as it happened the line of bombs was below us, and the nearest bomb must have been the one opposite the Carlton [cinema in Newland], about a hundred yards in a straight line, quite near enough!  The most vivid impression I had when it was all over was more of the shakings and shocks than of the noise.  The floor seemed to come up and hit you in the face, and though I am sure I never looked at them I have a clear picture of the walls shuddering as a sail does when it cannot decide which way to swing when the wind is directly astern.  Though I am sure that there was a good many remarks about the German pilots, there is only one which I remember distinctly.  It was after the bomb that blew the lights out someone said with a good deal of feeling, “The Bloody Swine!”

After it was all over I think I must have expressed everyone’s immediate feelings when I said, “That God that is over.”  Our first thoughts were for the rest of the school, as from the sound the bombs must have dropped somewhere in that direction; it was rather worse for a boy who lives here as he had his family to think of.  And so when Mr Hey told us that no one connected with the school had been hurt we were both relieved, and rather thrilled for it seemed a miracle that those four bombs should have fallen in the one open area, and I could not get over it for the rest of the evening.

The remainder of the house came back shortly after Mr Hey and everyone was relating experiences.  One rather interesting fact was peoples’ estimate of the number of bombs.  Before the rest arrived our guess was about fifteen but later we realised that it must have been a lot more.  As there was no electricity we had tea by candle-light.  The rest of the evening was rather disorganised and I think everyone was glad to be in bed.  A time-bomb, which exploded in the middle of the night, woke me, but not for long.

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