Accounts written by boys in Westcott House about the bombing of Sherborne on 30 September 1940.

Arranged A-Z by surname:

 Charles Irwin BALL (1924-2002)
Attended Sherborne School (Westcott House) September 1937-March 1942; Exhibitioner; Head of House; School Prefect.
Age on 30 September 1940: 16.

‘Impressions of Sept 30th 1940’
When the German ‘planes had passed over after dropping their bombs I went outside with the House Fire Squad to see what damage had been done.  We were met by a strong smell of cordite.  There was a cloud of smoke over the lower part of the town, but our house seemed to be untouched.  We then made a tour of inspection inside the house, with Minimases [sic] in hand in case incendiaries had fallen, but the only damage was a small hole in the ceilings where plaster had come down, and about twenty windows were also broken.  After that we went out into Horsecastles to see if anything could be done.  Rumours had already begun to spread.  We heard that a block of classrooms had been hit and later the more reliable news of bombs in the Courts and outside the Armoury.  Soon after, the school went back to their houses owing to a time-bomb in Perry’s garden.

It was not long before souvenir hunting began, especially on the playing-fields where several bombs had fallen, including a big one in the middle of the Upper.

We began to feel the effects of the raid in the evening as there was no gas or electricity and afterwards no water.  Hall consisted in discussing our experiences by candlelight.  The main topic was the reason why we had been bombed.  Was Sherborne the target or was it accidental?  There was also speculation about the effect the bombing would have on the school.  We wondered whether panic-stricken parents would take their sons away from the school immediately or whether they would realise that the bombing only proved that no part of England was safe, as no town could be less harmful to German interests than Sherborne.

The worst part of the whole day was trying to get to sleep that night.  The actual bombing was so sudden that I hardly had time to realise what was happening when it was all over.  But that night I heard bombs fall every minute until the early hours of the morning, and it was several days before my nerves returned to normal.

However, we all had a lot to be thankful for that the damage was not far more devastating, and the loss of life greater, especially in the school, and we all sincerely hope that our experience will not be repeated.

 John Maxwell BOYD (1927-1991)
Attended Sherborne School (Westcott House) September 1940-July 1944.
Age on 30 September 1940: 13.

‘English. ‘The Blitz comes to Sherborne’
It was Monday 30th September 1940, and fifteen minutes past four in the afternoon.  We had just had a good game of rugger, and were settling [down] to a geography lesson, when the siren over the police station went.

Our master, being an Air Raid Warden had to go out at once.  He told us to go to the Cloisters, which was our Air Raid Shelter.  When we got there some of us stayed in the Cloisters and some, like myself, went into the Book Pound.  Several others and myself were looking at books which we had taken from the shelves, when suddenly a roaring noise began .  At first it was in the distance, but it was rapidly coming nearer.  Nobody knew quite what it was until somebody told us to lie on the floor.

There were four of us including myself, lying in a bundle upon the floor.  The roaring got louder, the sound of breaking glass could be heard and dust and plaster were flying about.  Then the sound of the bombs died away as quickly as it arose.

After everybody had sorted themselves out, I went out into the cloisters. Almost as soon as I was out there somebody told me in a very excited voice that there was a huge crater in the courts.  Of course I did not believe this, then I was told to go and look for myself.  So I climbed upon one of the sandbags in the cloisters and looked into the courts through one of the apertures in the stonework.  Sure enough there was a huge round pile of earth there, and inside was a very large hole.

We all stayed in the cloisters talking excitedly about the noise and how many bombs fell and other such topics of conversation, until the Headmaster told us that we could leave the shelter and proceed to our houses.  As soon as I got out, the first thought that entered my head was “souvenirs!”  And I and many others started to look for bomb fragments.  I did not find any however and I was about to go back to my house (Westcott House) when I saw, to my great surprise a big crater outside the Carrington Buildings.  I was selected with some others, to put a barrier around the crater.  This having been done I went back to the house, where the electric light had failed and where those few people who had already found pieces of bomb were selling them at fabulous prices.

Then I followed other boys to the “Upper” football ground, where bombs had fallen.  Here I found my first piece of bomb.  After this I went up Richmond Road to Lyon House and to a house nearby which had had a bomb in the garden.  Here I helped to get some of the silver goods out of the nearby wrecked house, and after a short time doing this I went back to the house, where after tea, we had to write letters home telling our parents what had happened, as best we could, having to write by candlelight.

The next day we did lessons also as best we could, because several, in fact many of the classrooms were not useable, so we had the usual lessons in the dayrooms and other portions of nearby houses.

That day, being a Tuesday was a half-holiday, and during my free time I discovered other bomb damage and craters.

A deed that I think is worthy of mention is that a telephonist in the Post Office stuck to her job through the raid and refused to go into the shelter provided. For her deed she received the George Medal.

Just another thing I forgot to mention in the beginning was that after the raid a squadron of Spitfire fighters zoomed low over the town, it reminded one very much of the fact that Britain had and always will have air supremacy.  I think that all the boys responded very well to the raid and treated it just like a sixpenny thriller. I know I did.

 Keith Scott BRUCE (b.1925)
Attended Sherborne School (Westcott House) September 1939-December 1943; School Prefect.
Age on 30 September 1940: 14.

‘30th September 1940’
The siren sounded a short time after afternoon school had begun on Monday, the 30th of September, 1940, and the school duly dispersed to the various parts of the buildings allocated for use during air-raids.  I went to the “Pound”, where all the second-hand textbooks are kept, to while away the time by reading any books of interest such as English short-stories or History books.

A short while afterwards I thought I heard the “All Clear”, and then what I thought was someone knocking on the window to confirm my idea.  But just as I was about to come out, Mr Hey came along shouting, “Lie down! Lie down!” and I realised the “knocking on the window” was caused by bombs!

As I lay down the ground quivered and the windows shook. I covered my head with my arms, stopped up my ears and opened my mouth.  The bombs were now falling in large numbers and came rapidly nearer.  Another second or two and the whole building was rocking, my ear-drums felt as if they were bursting.  Then a ceiling came down just next door to me and a window blew in, showering broken glass all over me, so that I thought a bomb hand landed right on top of us and breathed a silent prayer of relief as I realised I was still alive.  Suddenly the din stopped and after a second or two I sat up, shaking the glass off me, and started to cough as acrid fumes came in through a broken window and tickled my throat.

We were told to stay where we were and so we all started chattering.  A rumour went round like wild-fire that a bomb had fallen in the Courts, then two, then three, and someone absurdly remarked there were four.  We laughed, for we thought that even one, would completely raze all the buildings round.  The Headmaster then said a few words and told us to go back to our houses.

When we went out into the Courts and to our amazement there were four craters!  While the only building that had really suffered was the Big Schoolroom which had had a bomb in the road between it and the Carrington buildings as well as the ones in the Courts.

After returning to our houses, which were all, with the exception of Lyon House, habitable, we made a tour of the neighbouring bombed districts, some of which were in a sorry plight.  I felt very sorry for the bands of homeless folk who were carrying a few prized possessions in a basket or bag to the homes of the more fortunate who gladly received them.  I felt thankful that I had been so lucky and escaped without a bruise or cut, and hoped the Huns would keep away from Sherborne in future.

Charles Michael Kendall BURGESS (b.1926)
Attended Sherborne School (Westcott House) September 1939-December 1942.
Age on 30 September 1940: 14.

‘My personal experience of the bombing of Sherborne’
The incident about which I am going to tell you happened on the thirtieth of September in the year nineteen hundred and forty.  It was a Monday afternoon, bright and sunny.

At about four o’clock in the afternoon the syren [sic] began to wail mournfully.  Joyfully I packed up my books and sped to the cloisters, expecting nothing more serious than perhaps a thirty minute ‘alert’.  I must confess that I should have gone into classroom ten as I had been working in number twelve above; but instead I went over to the cloisters and as I ran across I suddenly wondered if by any chance we should be bombed and I should pay for my disobedience with my life.  However these wistful thoughts were rudely thrust from my mind by a dull explosion in the distance. A voice shouted “lie down flat!”  I did so as quickly as I could.  My mind raced – would I ever see home again? – my parents – surely I cannot die at fourteen? – far too young.  Gradually the detonations came nearer and nearer.  Suddenly a terrific explosion rocked the cloisters.  The pressure on my eardrums was enormous.  A piece of shrapnel whined overhead.  That is my most vivid impression – that piece of shrapnel.  A cloud of brown dust rolled over the lying figures.  Then someone laughed and before I knew where I was, I was laughing.  We all laughed when Scott [the Custos] appeared with his face caked with dust.  I think he must have escaped death by a hair’s breadth.

The next thing I did was to climb up and look over the sandbags.  The Courts were filled with a cloud of brown dust and in the centre it appeared as if some titanic hand had heaped up the golden gravel.  Quickly the word went round that five bombs had landed in the courts.

About half an hour later the ‘all-clear’ sounded and we streamed out to gather souvenirs and inspect the damage.

To sum up everything I think my most vivid impressions were the roof shaking, the pressure on my eardrums, the dust, the crouching figures and above all, the piece of shrapnel which whined overhead.

 

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