HARRY MOTTRAM FEATURES: When bombs fell on Bristol and dad shot down half an airplane

Castle Street destroyed. To the right is Bristol Bridge. The ruins are now mainly Castle Park

By Harry Mottram: When Britain declared war on German in 1939 the prospect of the conflict coming to the quiet streets of Bristol, Henleaze and Westbury Park seemed fanciful to some people. How wrong they were as before VE Day was declared in 1945 the city saw bombs, destruction and death on a scale not known since the siege of the English Civil War.

Bristol suffered hundreds of deaths from bombs dropped on the city with one bombing raid in 1941 lasting 12 hours of terror as 160 tons of high explosives wiped out large parts of Castle Street and Park Street. The Bristol Blitz as it was called lasted throughout the winter of 1940 and 1941 leaving some 1,300 dead and a similar number wounded and thousands of residents homeless.

It was a time when some of Bristol’s most famous buildings and streets were damaged beyond repair as the Dutch House, St Mary Le Port Church, St Peter’s Hospital and Temple Church were all gutted by subsequent fires. In St Augustine’s Reach and across the city the Home Guard manned anti-aircraft guns while above barrage balloons with their trailing cables attempted to snare low flying enemy fighters. My father Kenneth Mottram spent many a night manning one of the ‘ack-ack’ guns in Baldwin Street. His crew claimed to have downed an enemy Heinkel bomber over the docks as the bombs rained down. Sadly, the next day another anti-aircraft unit claimed the ‘kill’ and so the hit was shared as ‘half each.’ A very British compromise.

Kenneth Mottram manned an a gun in Baldwin Street and took out half an aircraft in the war

That period was the most intensive bombardment the city had undergone in history although bombs were dropped across the region from the outbreak of war until the 1944 D-Day Normandy Landings put pay to the reach of the Luftwaffe. In Henleaze bombs totally destroyed 54 and 56 Cheriton Place leaving the homes as a pile of rubble – but miraculously the residents escaped having taken to their Anderson Shelter when the air raid sirens sounded on April the 3rd, 1941.

This is Cheriton Place in Henleaze after an air raid

Henleaze Road took another hit during a daylight bombing raid when number 156 was affected by a close explosion blowing out the windows of Gill’s Hairdressers. It may well be that Henleaze on that occasion was not really the target as German bombers would jettison unused bombs on their way home – on this occasion the bombers could have been returning from Gloucester or on a raid on Filton and simply missed the Bristol Aeroplane Company in the confusion.

It wouldn’t have been the first-time bombs were dropped in such a manner, as towns in Somerset, Dorset and Devon often took hits from the Luftwaffe on their way back. Up on the Mendips the authorities constructed a dummy version of Bristol at night in order to confuse the enemy complete with lights indicating the railway yards. It’s comforting to think that the odd bomb landed on Blackdown amidst the bracken and gorse bushes rather than bringing death and destruction to Henleaze and Westbury Park.

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