The night Penzance was bombed


28th October 1942

The night was calm and moonlit. Along the shores of Mount's Bay all was peace, and the whole scene was bathed in a soft light, while at times rain clouds scudded across the moon's face and now and then showers fell sharply. The waves rolled sparkling over the seashores, creamed phosphorescently and washed back again. It was on a night like this that the Nazis thought it would be fun to bomb the non-industrial town Penzance, nestling in the corner of the bay. The night was quiet. Presently far off was heard the now-familiar sound of the approach of a German raider, and from that time, until some time later, when fires were blazing in Penzance, and buildings had been reduced to rubble, the district was not to find any peace again. Diving and roaring raiders came rushing over the town. Gun and machine gun fire lent the air, and red tracer bullets wove their pattern into the night sky. One large bomb fell in the centre of a block of buildings in the Greenmarket and Market Place. One of the hit premises was a brewery, while the West of England Knitting Factory, which is the adjoining place, was also hit. Messrs. Osborn Hall's, the wholesale grocers, suffered badly, as did other premises. The White Lion Hotel, too, had more than its share of blitzing.
North-parade, the office of Mr. A. W. H. Harvey, the well-known Penzance solicitor, and hit by a bomb and was soon blazing, while the houses on either side were severely damaged, and their occupants had frightening times. Meanwhile other bombs had fallen on a housing estate, and here in Trezela road, the flat which was occupied by Miss Mary Bodilly, aged 67, was hit, and she was killed. Across the way, the little home of Mrs. L. Waters, who lived there with her four-years-old daughter, and her mother, Mrs. Seaborne, was hit. The place came tumbling down around them, and those who viewed the scene after thought it impossible that anyone could have emerged from it alive. But they all did. They had sought shelter under their Morrison table, and there they were when the bomb fell on their house. Unhurt, they were got out. Wherever the bombs dropped large boulders were scattered in all directions. Perhaps the most freakish hurtling of all was that of boiler on the brewery premises. This, weighing several hundredweights, was thrown from there Tolver Place, where it pitched on the roof of a house. This was a distance of over half-a-mile. All those who were in this blitzed block on this night had terrifying stories to tell of their escapes. Listen to this story, told me by Mr. C. H. Hichens, over a cup of tea. "I had been expecting this," said Mr. Hichens, who is the manager of Hepworths, and had prepared for it. Every night I used to leave the children's clothes at the foot of the stairs outside flat. On this night when the planes came over my wife and I, with our two children, Jill, who is 8 1/2, and John (he's five), had decided to get down to the ground floor. We were going down the stairs, when bang down came the bomb and we were blown down them by the blast. The children were in front of us, and as we felt we were able to throw ourselves on them and protect them. "We picked ourselves up and found we were trapped. Neither could we get out into the street, because the door was jammed, and we could not get back up the stairs. I started to shout for help, but nobody heard me. And then I saw fire. I thought it was our building, and with this I became frantic, as I thought that we were being trapped in a place that was ablaze. We were all choking from the dust and fumes, and in effort to escape barged against the ground floor door, and at last got it down. We were free. "Three times we made a run for safety, and each time a 'plane came over machine-gunning. My little girl was terrified. After the raid was over, we ran down Queen Street to the Marine Hotel. lam very grateful to the people who run that place for the way they took us in and looked after us. Later the manager there helped carry one of the children to Newlyn." Mr. Hichens also expressed his appreciation for the way Mr. Bill Bailey, the porter at Burton's next door, who was fire-watching that night. That night he came around to see how they were faring, and looked after one of the children. He was the only man, said Mr. Hichens, who came to see whether they were there or not. The four women and two children who were sleeping at the White Lion also spent a night that was terrifying. They were Mrs George, Mrs Joyce Philp, with her two little boys, Miss Lugg and Miss Bawden.

Mrs. Philp who was bombed out in a Plymouth blitz once before, and once before that she had a time bomb near a shelter in which she was in. She has had an extremely alarming experience. She was in bed with her two children, and when the planes came over she covered the faces of the children and herself, and when the debris came in over their bed they were sheltered. But a large piece of furniture struck Mrs Philp, causing bruises. Mrs. Philp's luckiest escape was when a large lump of granite came through a window of her bedroom This pitched near the door, and for a while prevented her escape. The managing director of the brewery who was on fire-watching that night, rushed from his office see how they were getting on, and taking an axe with him he was able to release Mrs Philp and her children. After it was all over, many offers of accommodation came in for many people. Miss Poole who lived in Market Jew Street looked after Miss Bawden while the others went to the home of Mr Poole, to whom they were very grateful. The manager of the White Lion showed the damage. He was in his office when the bomb fell, he was untouched, but Mr Benney, who was standing near the door was blown away. The occupant of the flat over the National and Provincial bank, with his wife and six-week old baby also had an unpleasant time.

Penzance recently had one of the worst air raids it has experienced for the war. Although there was only one fatal casualty, devastation was caused over a Wide area. One high explosive bomb fell in the heart, of the town, almost wrecking block of business premises. Fire-watchers and residents there had the luckiest escapes from death, while in a row of houses nearby a solicitor's office was burnt out and houses on either side of it were extensively damaged. The offices of the Cornishman newspaper also suffered badly. The printing machines were damaged by stones that came cascading through the roof, and two linotype machines were also put out of action. But the paper came out every day, and on the evening of the raid they carried comprehensive story of what had happened. On the Penalverne housing estate three people had an almost unbelievable escape, when their house had an almost direct hit. They, by great good fortune, were in a Morrison table shelter, and were rescued later unscathed.

The house of Mr. Edwin Hawken, in North Parade, was caught on fire by incendiaries, and after he had dealt with these he went to the aid of Mr. Matthew Rowe, a neighbour. Tredarvah, Devonport High School hostel off Alverton, had a direct hit. There were 33 boys in residence, in charge of Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlain, but miraculously none of them was killed. Six boys in a shelter had a narrow escape when a bomb fell near it. The shelter was covered with debris, but they crawled out of it through an emergency exit, and made their way to the School of St. Clare, where they were cared for by the principal, Miss Browning. It was at first thought that the boys were buried in the shelter, Mr. Chamberlain summoned a rescue party to dig them out. The remainder of the boys were transferred to the Mount's Bay Hotel, the nearest hostel, and through the kindness of the manageress of the adjoining Queens hotel they were given beds there for the night. Three of the boys were injured and treated at the first-aid post. Eva had a severely bruised ankle, but this had since recovered, and he has been playing Rugby, although at the time he received attention at the West Cornwall Hospital. And so was Harvey, who was taken there suffering from minor cuts. Austin suffered from a wound in the foot. and sprained muscles. In a report he has prepared on the matter, the headmaster (Mr. W. H. Buckley) says: "The members of the staff concerned and all the boys behaved with great coolness. I would especially mention Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlain, who acted with promptitude, efficiency and courage throughout; Messrs. H. and R. Ferraro, who, being domiciled close to the hostel, were the spot almost immediately after it had been hit, and who rendered yeoman service in transporting the boys to the Mount's Bay Hotel; Mrs. Ferraro, who cared for and accommodated Mrs. Chamberlain and her two young children; Mr. and Mrs. Hutchings and Mr. and Mrs. Prynn, who received the boys at Mount's Bay, provided them with hot drinks, and cared for them generally until sleeping accommodation could be found for them." Mr. Chamberlain declared that the conduct of the boys was magnificent. He said that the bomb which hit the house came on to the junior common room and his own bedroom. Both he and Mrs Chamberlain were out of it then, although he had only then left it and was half-way down the stairs.
Top Bottom