Thirteen essays written by boys in Abbeylands about their experiences during the bombing of Sherborne on 30 September 1940. These are part of a collection of 160 essays written by boys at Sherborne School (aged 13-18), and one housemaster (A.H. Trelawny-Ross), about their experiences that day. They appear to have been written in November 1940 and February and March 1941, and were probably set as English ‘hall’ (homework) by A.H. Trelawny-Ross.
Arranged A-Z by surname:
Desmond Kerr BUNGEY (1924-2012)
Attended Sherborne School (Abbeylands) May 1938-July 1942, School Prefect, Head of House.
Age on 30 September 1940: 16.
Previous to Sept.30.1940 Sherborne had experienced few warnings and we did not expect much to come from this one. From a Spanish lesson, we ran back to the house [Abbeylands] very pleased to be missing some work, and took up positions on the landing upstairs and in Big Dorm. There was only supposed to be one fire-watcher on duty at a time, but the rest of us, with the exception of 3 people went up to Big Dorm to get a good view in case anything might happen in the direction of Yeovil. A short time after the warning, about 6 minutes I should say, we saw planes which looked like fighters rising from an aerodrome some miles N.N.E. of Sherborne. This aerodrome was probably Yeovilton. About 3 minutes after this the drone of enemy bombers was first heard. They seemed to me to be coming from the South, but it appears later that they came from the West, from Yeovil. The sound grew louder and more thunderous and considering discretion the better part of valour, we jumped down from our window vantage point and [dived] hastily under the nearest bed. There were four of us in the dormitory.
There was a great deal of low cloud about although the day itself was dry and still. The first imitation we received of any actual activity was a roaring and rattling sound coming from Lenthay Common. This very rapidly increased, till we heard crashes nearby, followed by a tremendous thump rather too close to be comfortable. The whole building shook like a leaf and my protective bed almost lifted from the floor. We could hear glass and plaster raining down like manna from Heaven and then, as the noise died away, an absolute silence followed for about 10 seconds. I thought they were coming back, as the noise of the engines seemed to increase, but it was probably merely our fighters driving them back.
We ran downstairs and found a few boys and the Matron standing outside the dining room, quite cheerfully though a little subdued and also Mrs Wallace and Mrs Elderton [Evelyn Marjorie Elderton (née Warne) (1889-1965) married to Merrick Beaufoy Elderton (1884-1939), housekeeper at Abbeylands] sheltering under the stairs. The latter immediately asked the whereabout of the maids, but when we started to look for them, we were called back in case the Germans were still around.
It was then that the gardener came in. At first he wasn’t noticed in the general hub-bub, but just stood there until Mrs Elderton asked him if he’d like something to drink and someone else asked him where he had been. “In that wood-pile, Sir, just next to the lawn.” “That wood-pile” was approximately 15 yards from the edge of a large crater in the garden outside. He added that something had hit him on the head.
The main feeling during the bombing was one of numbness and resignation. I did not seem to grasp the situation, fortunately, until the danger had passed, but was trying to think whether I should block my ears and open my mouth or open my mouth and block my ears; and it was not till the next day that the reaction set in.
Soon the job of clearing up started and I got the shock of my life when I saw the size and the nearness of the crater, only about 20-25 yards away. The weight of its bomb must have been about 550 lbs. There was plaster and glass and dust over almost 2/3rds of the house especially on the Private Side where most of the ceiling had fallen down round the stairs. A boulder, approximately 1 ft 9 inches in diameter was hurled clean over the top of the roof and crashed through the other side, through the maid’s bedroom and buried itself in the floor of a dormitory below. We spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning the place up as best we could carrying away debris in buckets and the large dayroom waste-paper baskets. I went along to the Eastbury Hotel by Newlands with a friend. We stumbled over piles of rubble and earth, passing craters and shattered houses with their occupants standing outside, a dazed look on their faces as if to say, “what’s all this for?” In our wanderings we came across a dead horse and passed 3 or 4 broken water mains, with water gushing out into the street. Although I didn’t know it a man had been killed on the corner of St Swithins road turning into Long Street. There were few houses, if any, gutted by fire, even though incendiaries had been dropped.
When we got back to the house we went on clearing up and found that water, gas and electricity were all off, so our tea was eaten in candlelight. There was officially Hall on that night but few people did any and we just talked most of the time after which we each went to a very welcome bed.
John CHING (b.1925)
Attended Sherborne School (Abbeylands) September 1938-July 1943; School Prefect; Head of House.
Age on 30 September 1940: 15.
‘My impressions of the afternoon of September 30th’
“Please Sir, the siren’s going!” was the phrase which arose from maths set A2, on that fateful afternoon, late in September. “Right, leave your things where they are and come along to the cloisters. What a nuisance!” What joy! It was the third alarm of the term, and we were all thrilled with the thought of half an hour or so without work. But alas! This was not to be.
After wandering around the cloisters and pound [the computer room in the library]. I had gone to the foot of the chapel steps and was reading the notices, when a deep rumbling commenced in the distance. This was followed by the drone of many aircraft approaching towards Sherborne. Bump! “Lord, what on earth was that?” Bum-m-mp! Tehn I knew. I rushed down the steps and threw myself on the floor under the games notice board. Everyone was dropping down now. The unexpected had arrived in force. Swish-sh! Bump! Crump-le! Getting closer now; where’s the next one coming? These were the thoughts that were flashing through my mind. Then – Sw-ish-sh! Cr-rrr-ump! Boo-oomph! Tinkling and crashing! The pound window had been shattered to pieces and the remains had falled [sic] on to my flattened body. Again! Sw-ish-sh! Cr-rrr-um-ph! Swi-sh-sh! Golly! What an inferno! Surely the next will hit the chapel? Surely the building would collapse with the terrific trembling and shaking? But no! There was comparative quiet; only the hum of acro engines and the rattle of machine-guns! I was still alive, thank god! But for how long?
Then the droning increased.
“They’re coming again!” was the saying, “Keep down there!”
Through the clouds of dust, I looked at the chap beside me. I wondered how he flat.
A voice coming from the other end of the cloisters shouted:
“They’ve got one down! I think it’s a jerry!”
Then a cheer, such as I’ve never heard before rent the air, or should I say the dust: this encouraged me, and I felt happier. It was all quiet up above now and we were chatting to each other, when several members of the staff, including Mr Davies [Henry Cecil Waring Davis (1903-1989) assistant master 1928-1967] and Scott [Stanley Westcott Scott (1908-?), laboratory demonstrator], and the Toey [tuck shop] hostesses were led in by Mr Parkes [B. Parkes, temporary assistant master 1940-1942] and General Moberly [Archibald Henry Moberly (1879-1960) assistant master 1939-1945]. All the sweet bottles in the Toey [tuck shop] were broken, we were told, and there was a bomb in the laboratories [Carrington Buildings]. “Good Heavens!” I thought, “There can’t be much of the place left.”
The masters kept walking up and down, and between their orders to “Keep down!”, we would glance over the sandbags at the mess in the courts, until the order to return to houses came through. “Golly, what a mess!”, “Jolly lucky to be alive”, and “Wonder if anyone was hurt?” were the questions fired at everybody.
I thought it a miracle when it was announced that nobody in the school was hurt, and I shall never forget the calm and resolute way in which everybody “took it”, and never will the impression of that fateful day fade from my memory, as long as I live! “Trust in the Almighty and he will deliver you!”
Neville John COOPER (1924-2002)
Attended Sherborne School (Abbeylands) September 1938-July 1942; Scholar; Parsons Divinity 1942; boxing 1939-42.
Age on 30 September 1940: 16.
It was rather a dull day: now and again the warm sun broke through the clouds, and then it was covered up, and the room darkened again. We had begun to take notes on English Literature when the siren whined; it was very welcome. As I was in the Fire Squad, I started off for ‘the House’ [Abbeylands] . I crossed the Courts, slowly, for I did not want to look perturbed: I wasn’t actually. The sky was grey and patchy with clouds, and there was no sound of aircraft. I hoped that the warning would outlast the English period, and a good deal of French. When I reached the House I went first to my study, collected a book and a cushion and strolled over to the Dayroom. I saw the Daily Sketch there; I was reading it when the house first was shaken – then the whole earth shuddered again and again, and there was no doubt what was happening. There were two of us reading; we hurried over to the little passage corner that was the Fire Squad’s rendezvous. The others were not all there. The walls trembled more violently now, and doors were rattling, as I sat down on the floor I heard the next bombs – there was a long ‘swoosh’ and a tremendous thud, nearer than before: that was the terrifying thing, the bombs were falling closer and closer, approaching remorselessly with a horrible inevitability; the explosions increased afterwards a terrible climax. It was as if they were being AIMED at our house. I stood up when the next bomb fell. I told myself that the odds were against my dying, but a terrible little whisper reminded me of the odd chance. I was confused, amazed, at the thought of death. I half-crouched in a corner, my hands above my head, for I was certain that the roof would fall.
If a bomb fell close it would hit us I thought – and then it came: the ‘swoosh’ seemed to last longer. I could almost see the bomb coming from the roof above me. I did not think clearly. I knew it had not hit us; dimly I knew that the windows near me had shattered; a pair of antlers fell with a thud and some vases smashed. There was a splitting sound from some part of the house, and the crash of falling plaster. The air was full of a pungent smoke. For a moment there was silence: we stared at each other without a word. Then there was another ‘Swoosh’. I think I said: “There’s another!” I wanted to sound calm but my voice cracked and I wished that I had not spoken: the thud came; the roof above the stairs fell in and there was dust everywhere. Someone had been on the landing; I could not see him now, for the dust was very thick there. I did not wonder where the next bomb would fall. I did not quite know what had happened. There was a numbed feeling in my brain. Some more bombs fell, but further off. The house trembled, and a little more plaster fell. I noticed for the first time that I was still holding my book. I remember looking at the gigantic crater in the garden and seeing the glass and plaster on the ‘Daily Sketch’. I remember that the house was suddenly filled and there were excited chattering voices. I think that I told dozens of people about my own experiences; I know that I did not listen to theirs. Some fighter planes zoomed overhead; I remember ducking. I was very dazed. The next few days drifted on in a confused procession. It all seems now like a curious melodramatic dream; I have forgotten most of the details; I seldom think consciously about it: but there is in my mind an impression, a vague DIFFERENCE, that defies the power of words. Perhaps someday, even that will have gone.
Philip Canning FARRANT (1925-1998)
Attended Sherborne School (Abbeylands) September 1938-July 1943, exhibitioner, Upper 6th.
Age on 30 September 1940: 15.
‘Impressions of Sept 30th 1940’.
It was a nice afternoon. Decidedly nice since we were nearly starting October. The sun was shining as much as the clouds in front of it would allow. Since the beginning of afternoon school, except for the first ten minutes or so, we had been sheltering, sheltering because the siren had sounded. Everyone knew what that meant – that bombs would be dropped on defenceless women and children somewhere. Besides that it was the second warning we had had that day, the first day of the term when we had missed amounts of work.
Most people thought it was just another of those day-raids when forces of bombers about 30 strong go over being continually attacked by fighters. Everyone was either sitting down on walking up and down the cloisters chatting to friends about the latest rumours or scandals. I, myself, had walked up to have a look at the Roll of Honours on the Chapel Notice board. I had just seen that there were no new additions when I heard a flight of aeroplanes flying lower than usual, in fact they must have been diving, but why diving, why were fighters diving at Sherborne, or were they really British fighters? In the distance came confirmation of my doubts – a far off muffled noise, then another, again another, this time louder – I ran to the main cloisters, jumping the steps in my haste. Were they dropping bombs? Yes they were on us. Each sound was louder, nearer – then they stopped, how lucky to have stopped before they reached us – but had they stopped? No on they came again. We had thrown ourselves to the dusty floor immediately they started and now it seemed necessary. Surely they must have stopped by now? But no, a high-pitched devilish whistling – a sickening thud when the stones shook as if in an earthquake, and broken glass falling with a merry tinkle on the ground.
Then I looked up; dust was everywhere and broken glass abounded. It seemed as though the last bomb must have been the one near us for I had heard no other thuds or whistlings. Everyone else began to raise their heads and sit up. Then we smelt a horrible smell, wafted over from the Courts. It was the smell of cordite, of exploded cordite. By this time we were all sitting up and conversation began again, but not on the subject in the middle of which it had been interrupted. ‘I wonder where the nearest one was’, ‘Quite a distance I should think’, ‘Did you hear that horrible whistling’, ‘I wonder if anyone’s hurt.’
Planes still roared overhead and everyone listened intently for expected thuds and breathed again when the noise of the engines died away. Then someone ventured to look over the protecting sandbags and to his surprise saw four craters in the courts, as if some hand had moved the ground. I did not know it was as close as that and thought that more names would have to be added to the Roll of Honour. Then a cheer arose and everyone joined in, not knowing why until afterwards [I was] told it was a parachute floating earthwards in a sunny sky. A sudden silence – why? No, not bombs but a Headmaster’s speech [Alexander Ross Wallace (1891-1982) Headmaster 1934-1950], delivered impromptu as none before in history. So no one had been hurt; how lucky it was. Then we went out of the cloisters, paused to find splinters in the bomb craters and went back to French- the normal routine.
David Meadows FORSELL (1925-2010)
Attended Sherborne School (Abbeylands) September 1938-March 1942, 6th form.
Age on 30 September 1940: 15.
‘The air raid on Sherborne’
It was Monday afternoon and I was feeling tired, partly, I suppose, because it was Monday and partly because Mr Thomas’s [Meredith Dillon Thomas MC (1894-1979) assistant master 1921-1954] English period always has a soporific effect on me. The class was meant to be reading “good books”, the works of such writers as Dickens, Thackeray or Tennyson; I myself was reading one of the books of P.G. Wodehouse which was carefully screened from view by a large Waverley novel.
The siren sounded and its noise made most of us rather pleased; some because they would probably miss the next period, or at least a part of it, as they were members of house fire squads; others because they could now read the books of their own choosing without the camouflage of a classical volume as Mr Thomas was an air raid warden and had to report to his post for duty.
As the classroom in which we were was not made too strongly, we crossed over the road to Abbey House to seek shelter there. Mr Parry-Jones [Percival Edward Holland Parry-Jones (1892-1942) assistant master 1919-1942, Housemaster of Abbey House 1928-1942] ushered us into the dayroom and told us to continue with our work; and “If there are any bombs, just hop beneath the table”, he added in his peculiar joking manner. We all tittered with “counterfeited glee”, and went on reading our books.
After we had been in the room for about three minutes the sound of German aircraft came to our ears. I knew they were German machines, because I had not spent a good part of my holidays during that troubled summer near a great naval base without being able to recognise the hum of their engines. We all looked up and for a moment were paralysed like rabbits on seeing the approach of a ferret. We certainly had not expected this.
Then it happened; somewhere in the distance there was a dull thud of an exploding bomb, then another and another, each thud coming alarmingly nearer. We dived beneath the table; my movement was a literal dive, and heard the sound of the bursting bombs come closer and closer. The room vibrated and the window panes rattled. Bits of earth and stone came flying in and fell onto the top of the tables. One of the pieces looked remarkably like a man’s hand, but as it bumped on the floor and broke into several pieces I knew it could not be. The German aeroplanes flew on and we could hear the sound of the bursting bombs die away. There was silence for a moment or two, then the shrieks of a dying dog cut the air and brought me back to reality. Ambulances moved to and fro through the debris to bring help to the shattered mind or body of some unlucky person.
During the attack, while I was beneath the table, I remembered three distinct things which I know will remain with me until I die. When the bombs began to fall I cursed Hitler as best I was able; then, as the bombs came closer this rage changed to a feeling of horrible homesickness, the like of which I never wish to experience again while I live; then as the noise died away I felt furious with Mr Parry-Jones for his joking remark when we entered the room.
When I went back to my house to clear up broken windows, bits of plaster, earth and fragments of rock, I felt very excited: but that evening when the German bombers crossed above the town, I was terrified, far more so than during the bombing itself; it was not so much the fear of being the target of the “Luftwaffe” once more that brought about this feeling, as much as the terror of having to undergo that feeling of homesickness a second time. That fear has almost vanished now; but when I am away from home and am out of doors under the blanket of night and the anti-aircraft shells burst around German aeroplanes, I see myself beneath the table in the dayroom and this fear creeps upon me once more.
I have put down the events as I know them and in all truth and doubles if I reach a great enough age I shall take great delight in telling my grandchildren these things that I have recorded.
Michael James JACKSON (1925-1995)
Attended Sherborne School (Abbeylands) September 1939-December 1943; Exhibitioner; Head of House; Aston Binns Modern Languages prize 1943.
Age on 30 September 1940: 15.
‘Sept. 30th 1940’
On Sept. 30th Sherborne was unceremoniously blown out of its habitual small tranquillity by a few enemy bombers. Why the Germans should want to bomb Sherborne is a matter for conjecture, but the theory generally advanced is that, owing to the appearance of one of our fighters through the plateau of cloud, the bombers unloaded their bombs and prepared for action, imagining the fighter to be the spearhead of a squadron.
The day itself was cloudy and oppressive, the conditions were ideal for the enemy because of the patchiness of the cloud. In fact a warning seemed certain during some part of the day, and it was no surprise for it to come in the first period in the afternoon, for at that part of the term afternoon school was almost invariably interrupted.
As I was in an upstairs classroom when the siren sounded, I had to go downstairs. But as the block of buildings happened to be the Tower ones, people from three other classrooms poured into the one downstairs room. The sound of the siren produced general joy as it seemed quite probable that there would be very little more work that afternoon. Downstairs there was a state of fairly average chaos, the master there could not continue his lesson nor cope with the influx of people. Everyone was talking and fooling generally, a French master had come in to announce his hall and the last thing that occurred to our imaginations was bombs, although some aircraft had passed overhead earlier in the afternoon.
Rather a funny incident occurred before the bombing, the master in charge left the room, why, nobody guessed, but there were several rumours that quarter of a minute after he had gone, the door began shaking as though half-a-dozen devils were trying to force an entrance, everyone thought that he was returning and could not open the door. But the rattling continued and finally the door burst open & the master dashed in, chucked himself under his desk and howled for everyone else to do the same. The laughter froze on everyone’s faces and they sheepishly got under their desks. In retrospect it must have been amusing to see that particular master sprinting across the courts beating the bombs by a short head.
Then the fun began, the whole place shook, bits of glass tinkled musically on the floor, clouds of dust filled the room, dull thuds sounded outside and the general effect was more like the Judgement Day than any other experience that I have had. My only thoughts were that it would be just too bad for all concerned if the roof fell in, as it seemed quite on the cards that it would do so. Time seemed to stand still and I have no idea how long we stayed on that dusty floor, it appeared an eternity before the inevitable stillness which followed such events enshrouded the place. A stillness which was punctuated by the agonised howls of some poor dog suffering outside: that stillness was the stillness of the grave.
At last someone plucked up courage enough to look out of the window, which curiously enough was still there, and announced that there were a lot of holes in the courts. No one believed him but seeing was believing. I was astounded, for I expected that the whole place would have come down with H.E. that distance away. I thought that the nearest bombs were in Cheap Street or Abbey Road. But a bigger shock still was awaiting me back at the House [Abbeylands], for a bomb had landed just outside the Dayroom, blowing in all the windows and building a miniature garden several inches deep on the floor. It is interesting to note that the upstairs windows which were all open suffered no damage, while those downstairs being shut were smashed.
For a while afterwards it was great fun rushing around the town and seeing the damage, but after that the horror of the situation came home to me. I realised that although the Hand of Providence had miraculously saved me, other families and people had not come off so well. Many hearts were broken for those whose hearts were still. I can somehow never understand that I have been bombed, and I feel as if it was some passing nightmare, but yet I have only to take a short walk up the town to find that it is really true.
Thomas Richard PEARCE (1926-2017)
Attended Sherborne School (Abbeylands) May 1940-1943,
Age on 30 September 1940: 14.
‘Sherborne’s Air Raid’.
It was on Monday afternoon the 30th of September, just after 4.30 that the siren went. At the time I was having Physics in the Heat Laboratory with Mr Davis [Henry Cecil Waring Davis (1903-1989) assistant master 1928-1967], and he told us to go to the cloisters, which we did. There I just walked around and talked. Quite soon we could hear the drone of German planes, and then suddenly we heard the bombs. Quickly I flung myself onto the floor by one of the walls, and everyone else did the same. I blocked up my ears and with my hands, and then it was all over, in what seemed like a second to me. The explosions of the bombs came nearer, and louder, and then a terrific explosion, when, I found out later, the four bombs landed in the middle of the courts. Glass flew all over the place, some bits landing by my feet, others flying over my head. During this I heard a plane, which I thought was a German dive-bomber, but it must have been the British Plane which crashed nearby. We were told to stay lying down, but no more bombs were dropped. After a little while I got up and looked at the craters in the courts. Soon the all clear went, and I returned to my house to find a large bomb had landed in the garden and blown out the windows of our dayroom.
Robert William PEMBLETON (1924-2012)
Attended Sherborne School (Abbeylands) May 1938-July 1942.
Age on 30 September 1940: 16.
‘4.45pm approx on Monday September 30th 1940’
At about half past four on Monday afternoon the air-raid siren went and fire squads returned to their houses. All this procedure of returning to houses to put out fires, which few thought would ever break out, was regarded as a nice way of getting off a lot of work and I was very glad to hear the siren as were most of the others in our fire squads. I had the job of sitting in a passage on the first floor of the private side of the house where I usually read a novel of some description. Ostensibly I was there to see if any incendiary bombs should hit that part of the house – a job which always seemed to me to be rather unnecessary as a bomb going through the roof, even if it does only weigh tow pounds, makes quite enough noise to be heard downstairs. At about 4.45 I heard the noise of the engines of several aeroplanes which seemed to be flying low towards the town. I leant out of the window to see anything that might be going on, a thing which, although pointless and stupid, I regularly did whenever I heard any planes, together with most other of the squads. The planes got nearer and nearer and I was wondering where they were because I could not see them although it sounded as if they were very close.
Suddenly I heard a few dull thumps which I recognised as being the sound of bombs hitting the ground. I hastily threw myself on the floor. Even now I did not take the raid very seriously because I thought they were probably only dropping one or two bombs to lighten their planes – a thing they had done once or twice before just outside the town. But the bombs came closer and closer and the roar of low-flying aircraft louder and louder. Soon I could hear the bombs on their way down but even then I did not think they were landing less than about quarter of a mile away from me. It was not the first time I had heard a bomb come down but generally those I heard on their way had landed as much as half a mile away. By this time the doors were rattling and the building was shaking and the maids, who were downstairs, were screaming. I remember being very annoyed with them for making such a noise but it was quite unreasonable of me because the ‘cracks’ of exploding bombs was much louder than ay body of women could produce. Suddenly I saw the ceiling in front of me collapse amid clouds of dust. I was rather amused at this for some reason, probably because I thought that if ceilings collapsed when bombs fell at least a quarter of a mile away they must have been put up very badly. However, by now the bombs were getting further and further away and I got up to survey the damage. It was then that I got my greatest surprise of the whole raid. I looked out of the window, which had been broken without my knowledge although I was directly underneath it, and saw an enormous crater in the garden, not more than twenty-five yards from where I had been lying.
This shook me a bit and I went to the top of the stairs to find out if anyone had been hurt. I promptly got “told off” by Mrs Elderton [Evelyn Marjorie Elderton (née Warne) (1889-1965) married to Merrick Beaufoy Elderton (1884-1939), housekeeper at Abbeylands] for standing on the broken plaster and making a mess. That brought me back to earth and I remembered what I was there for. I had another look to make sure and then informed the prefect in charge of my squad that no incendiary bombs had landed in that part of the house.
After a short while I managed to get someone to take my place while I looked round the house to see what damage had been done. There was not much to be seen except a few broken windows and piles of broken plaster where the ceiling had collapsed. On the whole the house came off very well. It had undoubtedly been saved by the walls which had stood in the garden. Needless to say most of these were now scattered over various parts of the neighbourhood, one large boulder having taken up residence in one of the new studies, not mine luckily.
Later that evening I went out into the town to see what had happened. Besides four bomb craters in the Courts, and one outside the science buildings there was a great deal of damage done to the playing fields and other school property. But the School came off lightly. The houses at Lenthay and Newlands had been very badly damaged and I spent most of the next few afternoons shovelling rubble out of a hole in the wall of a house in Newlands.
All through the raid itself I was very afraid, although I never actually thought I was in any danger myself, and very indignant lest they should make a mess of my property – I did not care about anyone else’s.
Timothy John Godfrey ROGERS (1927-2006)
Attended Sherborne School (Abbeylands) September 1940-July 1945; Head of House; English Verse 1945; English Essay 1945.
Age on 30 September 1940: 13.
‘The afternoon of September 30th’
Spanish was in progress in No.5 Classroom at 4.10 on Monday, September 30th, when the alert sounded. As was usual in Sherborne at that time little notice was taken of it: those who had been working upstairs came down to the lower storey, remarking that it was really rather unusual that the siren should go just then – it generally blew, they said, during English. Soon the work proceeded and between the sentences of a Spanish Prose I gathered that we were acting as hosts to Form One.
The master in charge was walking up and down the room, inspecting our work, when the door suddenly started quivering on its hinges, and banged repeatedly against the door post. He looked at it as if it were a naughty dog which has just come in from the garden covered in dirt, considered it again, this time rather seriously, and then muttered “Strange”, which he followed by: “Better get underneath the desks, I think.”
We did so, and it was only just in time, for immediately afterwards there was a piercing scream, and a violent explosion shook the building. This was followed by another and another, and still more. As I lay on the floor I could see large spurts of gravel in the courts outside. This gravel surged towards us and crashed through the windows, leaving a mess of broken glass and rubble on the floor.
And all the time the din continued, each explosion sending the whole classroom shaking, and almost, it seemed, tottering from the floor. Yet in the midst of this inferno I did not feel heated or afire. I do not believe I felt even fear: rather a feeling of helplessness, coupled with a strange appreciation of the unknown, which sent an icy shiver down my spine. But I do not think the thought of a direct hit or its results once entered my mind. It was much too sudden for that.
Perhaps the two things which are still most fresh in my mind are, firstly, the sight of my form master sitting under his desk, which was subjected to a hail of glass, and occasionally peeping out to see if all was still well with us; and secondly, the behaviour of Form One during the whole bombardment. As the bombs fell in the courts and the screams pierced the air they hopped on to the desks, looking out of the high windows, yelling: “Oooo… wizard”, and, “I say look at that one.” This was interspersed with short periods of lying flat on their stomachs. During one of these periods I felt a sharp tug at my hair, and looking up, found one of the form looking at me. He was… roaring with laughter.
Almost as quickly as it had come the hail of bombs passed on. I got up and went to look at the courts. I was just in time to see the Headmaster [Alexander Ross Wallace (1891-1982) Headmaster 1934-1950], an unusually agile Headmaster leaping from side to side of the rubble, wearing only his underclothes and a dressing gown. He has been caught in his bath.
The next day I went round Sherborne looking at the damage. Lenthay and Newlands seemed to have suffered most. But the School had taken a very bad knock. The more I thought about the damage done and the fact that no one had been even scratched, the more I felt more that there is a time when Chance stops and Providence steps in.
Richard Dawson SCOTT (1924-1944)
Attended Sherborne School (Abbeylands) September 1937-March 1942, House Prefect, PT Instructor with Badge, Sergeant in JTC, member of Duffers.
Age on 30 September 1940: 16.
‘Sherborne. September 30th 1940’
At a quarter to five on Monday afternoon, the 30th of September, I was in afternoon School, leaving Spanish. The siren had sounded some minutes before, & from the room above us – No.7 classroom, Form I had come down to join us. After the interruption which their entry caused, we worked on peacefully until suddenly about then to five the door started banging, & the windows started to vibrate. At the same time we felt the ground beginning to tremble slightly, we did nothing, until when it began to draw nearer, & we realised what was happening, we got down on to the floor by the walls, & waited, hoping that they would come no nearer.
The floor however began to vibrate more ominously than ever, & the door indulged in a frenzied opening & shutting. Each noise was louder than the last, each vibration more terrifying. Suddenly we heard a noise like an express train, followed by a terrific crash, as if the end of the world had come. The floor seemed to rise up & try to hurl us towards the ceiling. The windows in many places were broken & twisted, & dust & gravel poured in from the courts. Finally they got further & further away, & disappeared altogether. We did not however get off the floor! Then the Abbey clock struck five o’clock, & we realised that at any rate it had not been damaged.
The Headmaster suddenly appeared in the doorway, & said that we were all to go to the undercroft as there was a time-bomb near the back of the gym [now the dining hall]. We went out into the Courts. We had been told beforehand both by Mr Baker [Henry Howard Baker (1902-1977), assistant master 1929-1965] & Col. Randolph [John Hervey Randolph (1898-1975) assistant master 1922-1967], that there were three bomb craters in the Courts, & someone had remarked, “good there won’t be any P.T. for some time!” But we were not prepared for the sight we saw. Some of the panes of glass in the chapel smashed, the slates off the Big Schoolroom, whose windows had disappeared, all that remained there being a little twisted lead. As we hurried over the Courts, – we did not like the idea of walking slowly! We looked back & saw the windows which had been broken in the classrooms, & as we climbed over the heaps of gravel, several people found pieces of bomb which were still warm.
In the cloisters we found most of the School, after waiting there for a few minutes we dispersed to our Houses, & started to try & clear the mess up a bit. We walked back along Abbey Road, on which there was much rubble to be seen, & went into Abbeylands. The dayroom windows had all been blown out, we looked into the garden to see why, – there was another large crater. We tidied up the mess in the dayroom a bit, & went out to have a look at it. Then blankets were temporarily fixed over the windows for black-out purposes, & after cleaning up the debris in the dormitories we adjourned to tea; where by candle-light, we were told to use the water sparingly, as we only had what was in the tanks. Then, hastily we wrote notes to our parents, saying that we were all safe, in case they heard anything about it.
That night, in the now cleaned dayroom, I took an hour’s Hall by candle-light, things were beginning to go back to partial normality already, soon everything was back to the usual routine.
John Howard WAKELY (1925-2006)
Attended Sherborne School (Abbeylands) September 1938-March 1943; Head of House.
Age on 30 September 1940: 15.
‘Air Raid on Sherborne’
It was a Monday afternoon and we had gone into School as usual. During the first period we were reading for Mr Thomas [Meredith Dillon Thomas MC (1894-1979) assistant master 1921-1954] & for my part I was indulging in the cheerful activities of Mr Pickwick during the fine Victorian era. About half way through the period my mind was recalled to the realities of the present conflict by the low wailing sound of the siren. We all leapt to our feet and made our way to Abbey House which was the nearest place of safety. As I crossed the road I heard the drone of aircraft, & looking up into the clear blue sky I thought I could distinguish white puff of smoke from the anti-aircraft shells. Once inside Abbey House we seated ourselves at the dayroom table & in vain tried to concentrate our minds on our reading. But to me the activities of those stuffy conceited old Victorian gentlemen seemed too far away from the present age of aggression & wanton destruction. And all the time I had a nasty feeling that perhaps this was our turn to go through the valley of death.
Suddenly the drone of the planes grew louder & we glanced at one another uneasily. Then a rattle of machine guns came to our ears and uneasiness turned to alarm rending us petrified unable to stir a limb. But on hearing the whistling sound and sickening thud of bombs we were under the table in a flash. We heard more thuds and each one seemed to get nearer and nearer until I felt sure that the next one would get us. Above the tell-tale whistling of bombs we heard a yelp and then a howl of agony from the road. Anger surged within me at the thought that innocent animals should suffer at the hands of these ruthless murderers. What a reward for the simple loving trust that every dog has for his master. There was the poor animal perhaps dying out there in the roadway, while I was lying safe & sound terrified lest my own wretched skin should be harmed. How unfair it all was!
At last those fearful seconds came to an end and we clambered out from under the table and rushed madly into the dimly lighted passage outside. There we stood white-faced with excitement and most of the boys around me at once began chattering like the majority of people do when they are excited. But I remained strangely silent struck dumb by the terrifying experience through which we had just passed. Meanwhile the others were asking one another whether anyone had been hurt in other classrooms. In a few moments however they were to be reassured, for Scott came in with the astounding news that no one in the school had been hurt.
I shall never forget that evening when I returned to my house [Abbeylands] to see the damage done there. What had once been a well ordered garden was now a heap of rubble and where the dayroom windows had been, was now just a gaping hole. We at once set to work to clear up broken glass and fallen plaster and it was not long before the place was reasonably tidy again. Meanwhile, outside in the streets people wandered to & fro, trying to satisfy their morbid curiosity with the sense of destruction. When I went to bed that night I felt really tired & inspite of a restless mind, managed to get to sleep before long. Time flies and it was not long before we had settled down again and did not talk wholey of bombs, planes, & anti-aircraft shells. Personally, I agree with the Headmaster that miracles still happen, even in our very midst.
Berry Robert Geoffrey WEBBER (1923-2015)
Attended Sherborne School (Abbeylands) September 1937-March 1942, Upper 6th form, School Prefect, Head of House.
Age on 30 September 1940: 16.
‘September 30th 4.50 pm’. [rough copy]
I am a Londoner [lived at Bickenhall Gardens, Gloucester Place, London], and like most of its citizens, I had had some experience of air raids at unpleasantly close quarters. Therefore my feelings during the ‘Blitz’ on Sherborne were not those of a Greenhorn, and I had full knowledge that in order to do any real damage a bomb had to make a direct hit.
We were working quite normally during afternoon school, and when the warning went, we continued the lesson with little or no suspicion of any activity in the near vicinity. It was a usual occurrence for aeroplanes to pass over every few minutes, and we were quite prepared for many hours of this regular drone. However, to the amazement of all, the heavy classroom door of no.5 began to rattle alarmingly. Without quite realising what was the cause, I felt some intuition, some inexplicable hunch that “something was up”. I looked at several people, hoping for an explanation, but seeing nothing but similar enquiry written on their faces, I took cover, not under my desk, but leaning against an outside wall. I was conscious of the gradual intensification of the noise as the aircraft approached, and then I heard the whistling of the bombs. Although the bombs could only have been falling a mere mile away, the noise was not nearly deafening enough to make me feel any real fear. I was convinced in my own mind that we were off the line of the attack, and that for some unknown reason the aircraft would not even by accident drop their cargo in the immediate proximity of the school. Here I was in error, and no sooner had I reassured my doubting mind than I was jolted somewhat forcibly out of my complacency. A crump much louder than any previous noise and my back was jerked from the wall from the force of the repercussion.
‘September 30th 4.50 pm’.
I am a Londoner [lived at Bickenhall Gardens, Gloucester Place, London], and like most of its citizens, I had had some experience of air raids at unpleasantly close quarters before this experience. Therefore, I must state that my thoughts were not those of a Greenhorn, but aware that a bomb had to made a direct hit before the casualties occur.
We were working in No.5 classroom when the warning went, and following the usual routine the lesson continued normally. But about ten minutes later the door began to rattle in a most extraordinary fashion. It appeared to me as though someone was deliberately and savagely trying to pull the door off its hinges. Without being able to make any comprehensive definition of the cause, “I knew something was up”. I looked at several people, hoping for an explanation, but seeing nothing but a similar look of enquiry on each face, I moved from my desk to the outside wall backing on to the Courts.
I was now sure that bombs were falling thick and fast, but as yet some distance away. I listened intently hoping that the noise was diminishing, vainly trying to lull myself into a feeling of assurance, but then the whistle of the bomb became as plain as a pikestaff. Yet somehow I was convinced that nothing would happen to me, and as the noise intensified I studied the opposite windows trying to imagine the path of a bomb which would be visible through the glass. Then whilst I was worrying about this possibility of a bomb in front of me, I felt the repercussion of bombs falling behind me. I still imagined the nearest bomb was at least two hundred yards away, and with this thought in mind, I felt sure and yet… It was over in less than five minutes, and then our form master told us that there were craters about fifteen yards away in the Courts. I was frightened for the first time. After all the space of fifteen yards is not exactly the same as two hundred, which I had fondly imagined. I am not so happy during raids now, but on that afternoon a sixth sense told me that we would pull through all right. (I gave in the rough copy before).
- Boys’ accounts of the bombing of Sherborne on 30 September 1940
- The bombing of Sherborne, 30 September 1940
- Sherborne School and the Second World War
For further information about the Sherborne School Archives please contact the School Archivist
Return to the School Archives homepage