Many thanks to 88 year old longtime Newbury resident Allan Mercado for sharing his reminiscences with us.
Wednesday 10 February 1943
The morning was cold. Overcast and gloomy. Dark clouds hovered over Newbury. Half-day closing on Wednesday in our bandy-legged, horse-racing market town.
Seemingly the wartime blitz which had devastated London, Portsmouth, Plymouth and Coventry had passed Newbury by without any major incident. A couple of bombing raids in 1940 and 1941 had caused damage but no loss of life. Until the fateful day in 1943.
The warning siren, situated aloft the Fire Brigade Tower in Newbury usually wailed its test howl at 11am each day. But on that Wednesday afternoon the undulating wail sounded over the town at 4.15pm. Danger beckoned and people scurried to take shelter.
Two ten year old boys playing their usual `Dinky Toy` tank war on the Westgate Road sitting room carpet picked up the armoured armies and crept for safety behind the make-do shelter of the sofa. Game over.
It was only a minute or two before a lone Dornier bomber at low altitude began its deadly bombing run from the south. Machine guns blazing, it raked the Newtown Road and Bartholomew Street area dropping a stick of six 500 lb high explosive bombs. The crump of the explosions shook the town. The blitz had arrived with a vengeance.
The bombs destroyed St Johns Church, Wellington Terrace Almshouses, Majendie Close Almshouses, the Boys Council School and the railway signal box. Three school children – Sylvia Bishop (13) Joyce Petrony (14) and Herbert Purdy (12) – and two teachers were killed along with 11 pensioners, many of whom were over 80 years old. Luckily most of the school children had left the school 20 minutes previously otherwise the loss of life would have been much much worse.
Home Guard, Civil Defence and American servicemen helped the injured, over 80 in number. A sad, sad day for Newbury. Perhaps the darkest in its long history. It will not and must not be forgotten.
As for the two ten year olds playing their war game on that carpet? They simply, on hearing the all-clear, picked up their toy tanks and emerged unscathed from behind the sofa and began their toy war all over again. I know – I was one of those boys .
It is interesting to note that during the war the press was not allowed to provide the location of any bombing, nor the names of the schools, hospitals or churches involved so as not to reveal to the Germans the success of any of their missions.
So although the Newbury Weekly News reported a detailed account of the incident on 18 February 1943, they could only say that it was a raid on a ‘home counties town’.
In 2013, on the 70th anniversary of the tragedy, a memorial plaque was erected opposite the Church of St John the Evangelist.
For more details please visit: newburyhistory.co.uk/ww2-newbury-bombing
Allan can be found upstairs at Newbury Library on Wednesday mornings as part of Educafé Community Café and is happy to answer questions about the history of Newbury.
Photo credits: Penny Locke, Allan Mercado