Accounts written by boys in School House about their experiences during the bombing of Sherborne on 30 September 1940.
Arranged A-Z by surname:
Thomas Stanley ADAMS (b.1927)
Attended Sherborne School (Elmdene [now Wallace House] & School House), September 1940-July 1945; tennis team 1945 (captain).
Age on 30 September 1940: 13.
‘An Account of the Blitz’
On September 30th 1940, I was in room seven during the first period in the afternoon, when the siren blew, so we all went down to the room below as was the custom in those days. After about ten minutes work we heard the windows and door shaking violently and a faint rumble in the distance so we immediately ducked under our desks. Before we had a chance to think the rumbling had turned to loud thuds as the bombs came closer and closer until we heard a terrifying crash; when glass and rocks came through the windows. After waiting a few minutes to see if the raiders intended to return, we went across the cloisters, on the way seeing the craters in the courts, here the Head Master told us to return to our houses. When I had made a wide detour of the countryside, I at last found myself back at Elmdene. Here we had tea in the dayroom and packed our hand cases to go up to School House reading room where we were to live for the next week. The reason for this move was that the police had found an unexploded Bomb outside Philips so they took Elmdene as a danger spot and ordered us to evacuate.
After a week the bomb, not having exploded, was taken to be a dud, and it was dug up and we were able to return to Elmdene, after sleeping on the floor in School House reading room.
There were about 300 bombs dropped on Sherborne and much damage was done to the school. The Big Schoolroom was rendered unsafe so all cine show had to be cancelled until the necessary work had been done.
Nine bombs were dropped on the playing fields so for the next week or so after, we were picking up stones on Fields 1 and 7 or filling in the craters, this job was rather boring but it had to be done if we wanted to play.
John Harold Frank BATSTONE (1924-1986)
Attended Sherborne School (School House) September 1937-July 1943; Exhibitioner; School Prefect; Head of House; Ridout Science Prize 1943.
Age on 30 September 1940: 16.
Once more the boredom of afternoon school was relieved by the welcome groan of the “Mariners Lure”, & indeed the sound of its “sweet song” was sought after by many. A watcher from the Abbey tower might have observed the usual ant hill effect as boys came pouring out, & eventually I found myself in the Cloisters comfortably armed with cushions and a book. To me & to everyone it was the same old ‘ramp’ soon to be cut short by the all-clear again. After about 20 minutes, dull (& perhaps even sickening) thuds were heard in the distance. These thuds soon became something more than thuds, but strangely enough became more & more sickening as they drew nearer. Every few seconds the scream & whistle followed by a deafening explosion became more & more distinct, until at last, I thought I was going deaf & that every whistle & scream I heard was the last. Everyone, including myself, was huddled up with heads between hands trying desperately hard not to look frightened. The explosions were making a ring of spite all round, to which the newly erected walls did not seem proof, as showers of cinders & other such worse-for-wear objects blew in through the entrance just by the library steps, resulting in a prompt evacuation of that neighbourhood. The terrifying effect was altogether enhanced by the precision like banging of the heavy door into the School House Studies, which seemed intent on applauding the arrival of each bomb in this manner. Not only this, but the very ground seemed to be shaking too which did not lead itself to equilibrium of mind. However, there did come a time when it was distinctly apparent that the bangs, whistles & screams were receding further into the distance with each second, just as before, they had been approaching. My reaction, as everybody’s was, “what a thrill”, “something to write home about now” & an intense curiosity to see the damage. Everyone was craning necks to have a look, and eventually I managed to slip out through a study window into the courts, where I learnt that the siren was out of action, but that it was ‘all clear’. The examination of the damage done was a very exciting affair, especially as my first estimate of 20 bombs on Sherborne turned out to be more like 200 bombs.
Our escape was miraculous. There were 4 bombs landed in the courts, which released a second later or earlier would have resulted in considerable loss of life.
Richard Bolding BRAYNE (1924-2004)
Attended Sherborne School (School House) September 1938-December 1942; Upper 6th form; XI 1942; Fives 1942.
Age on 30 September 1940: 15.
‘My experience of an air-raid’
On September 30th in chapel we sang Hymn 13. At the time I thought of the unlucky superstition without dreaming of the coincidence which was about to happen, and it was not until that evening in bed did I again think of the hymn.
I was having a French period when the warning sounded and I shut my books with satisfaction and said to myself “Good, now for a nice slack time.” I was ready for a warning and had a book with me. We all went down to Room 1 and had not been there long when suddenly the door rattled continuously for a few seconds, then it stopped. I had often heard it rattling before with the wind, but this time it seemed much more determined and went on too long for a gust of wind, and besides there was no wind blowing that day. When the door ceased rattling for a moment, there was complete silence in the room and I could hear a low rumbling, rapidly approaching, and I could distinctly feel the ground shake. It was just the same sort of trembling as if an earth-quake was beginning except that the lights were not swinging. Suddenly we were told to lie down and it all seemed so much like a dream that I did not do it at first, but as soon as my mind came to bear I realised what was happening, but still I was not in the least frightened. I even felt like laughing at seeing the sedate master hiding under his table looking anxiously at us. It was so out of place. But all these comic thoughts vanished and when the bombers were almost over us I got a queer feeling in my stomach which ran all the way up my spine. I instinctively put my book above my head and faced the floor, an act which I was sorry for later, but I am sure I never opened my mouth, as one is told to do. Soon there were the really big explosions and I was biting my teeth together so tightly, I cannot think why but I know that I was, and as I kept looking at the ceiling to see if it would come down my mind was fully occupied and it seemed very soon that it was all over.
When I had time to think I thought that the bombs were about a hundred yards oft as a few windows were broken, then I got that queer feeling in my stomach again and I tried to read, but I could not concentrate as the continual roar of aeroplanes made me think that more bombs would follow. I got a dreadful shock when a motor-cycle accelerated just outside the window and went up Hospital Hill and I was glad to see somebody else pat his stomach as if to say “That made my inside jump!” Several people went to the windows but I preferred my place on the floor. In about a quarter of an hour a few people had left their shelters and were in the courts so I at last plucked up courage and went to the window and saw to my amazement that the nearest bomb was barely twenty five yards away, and I also saw bits of rock lying all over the place and I wished that I had not kept my face covered so that I could not see the rocks being thrown out of the ground.
I soon got out my camera and took a few photographs, but owing to the bad light I got poor results except for one time exposure of the interior of school room.
As a result of the raid I got what one might call “bombitis”, and any door banging or similar noise made me jump, but that went off in one or two weeks. I had always been wanting to be in an air-raid, partly I must admit, because I thought it would be grand to say I had been in a raid, but thinking it over, now I have experienced one, which perhaps accounts for my new attitude, I would much rather say that I had never been disturbed or molested in any way by bombs, during the whole war.
Christopher Hugh COURTNEY (1924-1994)
Attended Sherborne School (School House) May 1938-July 1942.
Age on 30 September 1940: 15.
‘Impressions of September 30th’
I was struck by the number of things that would rattle, the door, the radiators, and even the wall seemed to join the novel cacophony.
The general movement appeared downwards so I followed suit, feeling the need for company. I felt vaguely contented that my trousers need a clean anyhow, so that an encounter with the floor would not show.
A paragraph in the paper ran through my mind suggesting the removal of spectacles and the placing of an India-rubber between the teeth were good precautions in such an emergency, so although my rubber seemed to have been mislaid I carried out the other part of the advice.
The noise of the performance was altogether too great to have any real impression on the mind, it was like a silence only the other extreme.
The glass seemed hesitant to leave its accustomed position but it gave in after a short time, with such noises which stood out against the background of sound.
I felt somewhat shaken by this unprecedented event and prayed that the end, one way or the other, would shortly be reached; it did not really seem to matter which way. And all the time I felt rather the unreality of everything and the phasing of an A.R.P. notice floated before me, “In the unlikely event of an air-raid…”
After the noise had died away the silence remained unbroken for some time, relieved by the sound of other aircraft which did not appear to be hostile.
The noise of feet on broken glass was carried to my ears and I felt an [incredible] curiosity to see what had occurred.
My imagination mulled gruesomely over the possibilities, from those near at hand slowly further outwards, like the waves produced by a stone thrown into still water. When it became too uncomfortable I mentally changed the subject, and considered my immediate surroundings. After being released from the confines of the room, I walked slowly back to my house [School House], [?subtly] numbing my preconceptions until my imagination ‘boggled’.
I was as a man in a dream, my mind would not adapt itself to the sudden change of circumstances. I did my studies mechanically but I did not really become adjusted until some time later. I knew what the term ‘shaken’ meant.
Alec Stuart DANDRIDGE (1922-2011)
Attended Sherborne School (School House) September 1936-July 1941; House Prefect.
Age on 30 September 1940: 17.
The School Archives include photographs taken after the bombing by A.S. Dandridge.
The warning went in the middle of an English period, and the set proceeded to the classroom below. The various members of house fire squads went to their houses, I went with two other boys to my post at the top landing of the School House dormitories.
We had intended to read Hamlet, taking a few parts each, but our minds wandered, and A produced a clockwork car whose direction could be controlled by a steering wheel on the end of a bit of wire connected to the car. The idea was to knock over as many skittles – also provided – before the spring ran down.
We were fully absorbed in this ingenious toy, and emitting shrieks of girlish laughter because B would keep steering the car round chair legs, when we felt the first vibrations and heard the first rattlings of window frames and dormitory doors.
We were not long in taking up the undignified but recommended posture on the stone floor. The vibrations got worse, and it sounded as if there were madmen rattling the doors. I looked at A, he said – and I could hear him quite plainly, “I doubt whether we shall get through this.” The floor underneath us was moving up and down, not in quick shudders, but in slow waves.
Looking back on it now, the thing that impressed me most is the collection of queer noises. There were no individual explosions, no ear splitting crashes; but loud cracklings and the noise of rushing wind, which, coupled with the short sharp whistles of the bombs, the crashing of doors and window frames, and the swaying of the building, made those short two minutes appear a lifetime of apprehension. I regret to say, no thought of praying, no thought for the safety of anyone else, entered my mind at all, I think that my mind was blacked out for most of the time.
Then everything was quiet, oppressively silent, little streams of dust were falling from the lathes whence the plaster had fallen. The building was creaking as if it were on the point of falling down.
“Downstairs?” I said, and A & B were half way down the first flight before the word was finished. I followed; I don’t remember touching any stairs, I just flew down them. All was quiet and I looked out of the house door. I could just see the mound of earth in the middle of the courts through the haze of dust. At this moment the Headmaster charged past me in a dressing gown and a towel round his waist, his slippers scraping in the thick layer of dirt on the concrete paving. It transpired that he was in the middle of having a bath when the bombs began to fall. Rather like the case of Archimedes in some respects.
David Robert Maxwell GLASSE (1926-1949)
Attended Sherborne School (Elmdene [now Wallace House] & School House), May 1940-July 1944.
Age on 30 September 1940: 14.
‘September 30th 1940’
When the Air Raid Alarm was sounded, I had to run back to Elmdene [Wallace House] as I was in the fire-squad. When we had been sitting in the passage for about a quarter of an hour, we heard ‘planes coming over and they sounded like Huns, then suddenly the doors and windows began to rattle. The air was filled with dust and there was a horrible whineing, punctuated by dull thumps and thuds.
We all crouched on the floor, and the doors blew open, but nobody troubled about them. Luckily Elmdene was sheltered from the blast by other houses, and the whole show was over in about three minutes.
It was over so quickly that I only began to feel frightened afterwards, and even that did not last long as we all went up into an upper dormitory to watch a big fire that had broken out in Long Street direction. Suddenly four Bristol Fighters came over from Yeovil and flew round in the smoke which had risen to about 800 feet.
When the rest of the house came back at about 5’clock they told us that there had been 4 bombs in the courts and one in the road outside the armoury.
The next day we discovered that there was an unexploded bomb in the road outside Phillips [now the Melbury Gallery] in Half Moon Street. So we were told that we were going to sleep in sleeping bags in School House Reading Room and that we would have our meals in the San. When we got back to Elmdene, I was so used to sleeping in a bag that I couldn’t get used to a bed at first.
Newlands was very heavily bombed and so was Lenthay. 6 bombs fell on the Playing Fields, one in the Headmaster’s Garden and a time bomb in Parry-Jones’ [Abbey House], which went off about four hours later.
Peter Nicholas MAAS (b.1924)
Attended Sherborne School (School House) May 1938-July 1942.
Age on 30 September 1940: 16.
‘The Air Raid’. 5 March 1941.
To be bombed is not a pleasant experience, but one which is very well worth while experiencing, and to write an account of a raid months after it happened is an extremely difficult task. Such a description can never be completely painted unless put down in writing a week or so afterwards. The inner feelings and emotions are somewhat hazy. However, an idea of what happened in that raid is indicated.
I happened to be leaving Tudor history with Mr Brown in the Lower Library, and it was just after a strenuous corps parade from which I had begun to suffer the effects – sleepiness and a general fatigue. The siren, that dreaded banshee wail, sounded the alert about a quarter of an hour after school had begun, and as was quite usual no one took very much notice. However a few minutes afterwards we all heard the drone of many aeroplanes in the distance, and then to our great discomfort we heard far away the thuds and dull explosions of bombs. In a matter of seconds I had rushed under the table, a good weighty piece of wood capable of holding up pretty nearly anything. Everyone did the same including the master and for just a short while I felt thoroughly frightened. I could hear the bombs whistling down, and the thunder of their explosions; the walls, ceilings, windows and doors thudded and rabbled backwards and forwards. No one said a word during the falling of the bombs and what was most terrifying was listening to the whistling of the bombs and the suspense in not knowing just where they were going to fall. This, I am sure, was in everybody else’s mind.
When the planes had disappeared the room became full of the smell of cordite, and looking out of the windows which curiously enough were still intact, I saw a gaping hole in the roof of the Oak Room. The greens outside the Headmaster’s house [School House] were littered with rocks and other kinds of debris.
I felt a sense of extraordinary security afterwards. I thought to myself well it’s all over now, and we have had our share, and they are not at all likely to come back again for a very long time. It seemed that here was something that would really break up the monotonous routine of the term, and here was something that would for ever be imprinted in my memory. Here was an event that would be written in the annals of Sherborne, and when I had become an old grandfather, with a pipe and sitting in a large armchair by the fire, I would be able to say “Well, my boy, it was many years ago back in _40, when I was at Sherborne that…”
Anthony Charleton VIVIAN (1924-2000)
Attended Sherborne School (School House) September 1937-July 1942; House Prefect; PT Instructor; Corporal in JTC.
Age on 30 September 1940: 16.
The School Archives include photographs taken after the bombing by A.C. Vivian.
‘Sherborne under Bombs’
I am sure few people have had such narrow escapes from bombs and other aerial missiles as we did on September 30th 1940. I can only think that it was the hand of God which preserved our lives during those dreadful three minutes.
The episode is still vividly imprinted on my mind, and I doubt if I will ever forget the experience of being bombed – and bombed ‘hard.’
The first indication that anything was about to happen was a distinct thump, which must have been out in the country somewhere; I thought it was a gun until some more following in quick succession, told me they must be bombs. On deciding this I moved away from the door by the chapel steps in the cloisters, where I was sitting and lay down further inside while everyone else did the same. All the time the bumps were coming nearer and then the storm was upon us.
Just before the four bombs came down in the Courts, I saw one explode behind the Abbey, throwing debris high above the nave. It looked very much as though a part of the Abbey had been struck.
The noise was really deafening and I have never heard anything like it before. At the same time the buildings shook violently as if it would fall in any minute. I believe only one bomb whistled, but I was only half-conscious and would not be prepared to bet on the subject.
After the noise and shaking had finished I raised my head to find that I was still alive and none the worse for the experience. I remember the air being filled with the intense smell of fireworks accompanied by clouds of dust aroused by the bombs.
Nothing more occurred, although several more planes went over, each of which made us duck down on the floor again prepared for another dose.
The headmaster provided a welcome diversion; by coming into the cloister in his dressing gown and slippers, since he had been enjoying a bath until the first bomb.
The ‘All Clear’ was eventually blown by wardens and police on their whistles, since the siren had been put out of action the power cables being cut; we went out of the cloisters to find the place in a sad state. But now everything is as it was before the thunder cloud burst and we have not been reminded of the experience by a repetition of it; and all hope that we shall live peacefully until the joyous day when the Armistice is declared.
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