When Banwell and Weston-super-Mare were bombed
Just over 70 years ago saw the start of World War 2; no one in Banwell could have anticipated the dreadful events that would occur in Banwell just one year later. There was some concern, bearing in mind the village proximity to RAF Locking and the aircraft factory in Ellborough.
At 9.30pm on September 4th 1940, a lone German bomber approached Banwell from the north, for what particular reason we will probably never know. It could have been driven from Bristol and wanted to unload its 1500 lb bombs to lighten the plane for its getaway; or it could have been aiming for RAF Locking or the aircraft factory at Ellborough (the latter being unlikely targets for just one bomber).
Whatever the reason, sadly they dropped their bombs on the village, killing 5 people and injuring 50 more.
The first bomb dropped on Banwell House, destroying some outhouses, then they dropped two bombs near the Grange – one on the road just outside and one in the garden, neither of which exploded (apparently, the bomb in the garden was never found). The Grange was being used to store aircraft parts at that time.
Bomb number 4 destroyed two houses, one owned by Mr and Mrs Sam Parsons, which stood where the entrance to the car park is now. It took a quarter of an hour to dig the Parsons out of the debris. Next door to them Mr William Jarvis and Mrs Eliza Steer were both killed.
Number 5, exploded on the home and tailor’s shop owned by Mr Samuel Lewis. Mrs Lewis was blown into the street by the blast and was taken to Weston Hospital: shrapnel from the bomb hit the railings in front of the school, which are buckled to this day. This home was replaced by the public toilet and the council flats.
Bomb number 6, totally destroyed the Post office and telephone exchange (then in the Narrows opposite the War Memorial). The damage was so great that it was thought that no one could have survived, but Mr and Mrs Pratt and her mother Mrs Reid, along with 2 telephonists Miss Barbara Fowler and Miss Preece crawled out of the wreckage. (photo from the Roy Rice Collection) PC Basil Stockbridge, on special duty from Weston, was standing outside the Post Office and his body was found next morning in the garden behind Butstone House. Special Constable Ronald Clark was standing at the front of his own home in the Narrows and was killed.
Number 7 dropped on a small workshop owned by Jim Emmerson in Church Street and it also blew out the wall of a house, owned by Fred and Dot Yarde, overlooking the Bowling Green. Their bedroom was undamaged and they escaped without injury and their son Michael, who was then around 4 years of age, never even woke up.
A further two bombs were dropped at the end of Dark Lane, on Cherrymead where one damaged the gable end and the other on Woodlands where it did little damage.
In another raid, two German land-mines were dropped by parachute, one of which exploded on impact, near Park Farm on Wolvershill, causing a huge crater.
Another German bomber venturing over Banwell ran into flak from an anti-aircraft gun battery based behind Park Farm at Wolvershill. The bomber crashed into the ground at Hewish and it said that the cheers from the Airmen based at Locking could be heard in Banwell.
Banwell Home Guard used the Bowling Club as their Headquarters and members of the RAF Regiment were billeted at the Castle along with St John’s Ambulance who were based in the Castle Entrance. Air Raid Wardens used Banwell House and the Abbey was used as a base for a Searchlight Group.
Bristol Aeroplane Company moved into a shadow factory at Banwell; the main A368 road to Banwell village was widened to allow aircraft to be moved along it. The factory built and repaired thousands of Beaufort and Beaufighter aircraft, and also a small number of Hawker Tempests, and the RAF ran an acceptance facility at Locking airfield.
The Banwell factory became the centre for design and development of rocket motors for the new guided missiles, in a joint venture with the USA known as Bristol-Aerojet, and for a time 800 were employed.
Acknowledgements to Lynette Rice for information from her book “Lest Banwell forgets.”
From Banwell History.
Weston-super-Mare’s nights of devastation in World War 2
In his book Weston At War: 1939-45, historian John Crockford-Hawley wrote of the damage wrought upon the town.
He said: “After two nights’ continuous bombing, the full brunt of destruction was everywhere to be seen.
“Buildings lay smouldering amidst dust and smoke. Walls tottered on the brink of collapse and a weary population wandered around bewildered or exhausted.”
In total 102 people were killed in the raid, while 400 were injured.
The rescue operation was particularly difficult as it was tourism season and the town’s population had significantly swelled for the summer – meaning it was hard to ascertain how many people were in each building and who was not accounted for.
Town centre buildings suffered immense damage, with many of the main streets lined with rubble, broken glass and bodies.
The Tivoli Cinema, in the Boulevard, and Lances department store, where Argos currently stands, were flattened by the explosions.
The Bournville estate also suffered significant damage during the raids.
A mass burial in Weston Cemetery following an air raid in 1942.
Why did the Nazis target Weston?
The blitz was one of the Baedeker raids, which were targeting tourist destinations well-known to people on the continent who followed the famous Baedeker guide books.
The other targets were Bath, Exeter, Norwich, Canterbury and York.
“Why Weston was included in such august company is unknown,” said a Civil Defence book which recorded the chronology of the raids.
Mr Charsley believes Weston had been a target for ‘several reasons’.
He added: “These raids were called the Baedeker raids because the Baedeker guidebook listed all the places of holiday value in Britain.
“Britain bombed a city in Northern Germany called Lübeck and burned it down. In retribution, Hitler decreed that he would bomb Canterbury, York, Bath, Exeter and Weston among others.
“There were aircraft factories, and secret weaponry was being developed at the old pier.
“The main cable office between England and the United States was in Richmond Street, so there were numerous reasons why the town was targeted.”
From the Weston Mercury