1941-02-27 YATE – PARNALLS – BOMBING OF
By: Des WATKINS
You will note that the letter has had the address removed by censors and also various words are redacted
14, Eggshill Lane,
27th. Feb. 1941
Got your letter today, and with reference to the horn of mead old cock, you as near as damn it had a pint awaiting for you. I came within an ace of gracing the outer hall of Valhalla, I’m going to try to give you my impressions, and to tell you just what occurred. For censor’s benefit I’ll state here and now that nowhere in this letter will I make any reference to what
Parnalls make or will I speak of production. You mentioned what they made in your letter Ken and got it censored.
It was 2.30 on a Thursday. Joyce, Olive and I and Bill Jenner were all leaning on the heating radiator talking when the sirens blew. We took no notice and just leisurely drew the curtains across the windows (anti blast precautions) suddenly there was an awfull Bop – Bop – Bop – Bop – Bop I bundled the girls under my table and dived in on top of them, Bill shot under his, just as I landed under the table the whole world split into bloody fragments. The floor heaved, the air was thick with glass and bricks, steel cabinets spun in the air like gossamer. My lungs hurt, my face stung as again and again the whole universe
Burst into scorching searing bloody madness. My table groaned under the pressure of the steel girders cabinets and debris the sickening stench of cordite filled the atmosphere. I clung around the girls like grim death, not to protect so much as to comfort my own reeling nerves. They were crying and Joyce kept wanting to get out and run, I held her there – Bill called encouragement at the top of his voice.Above the rumble and crash could be heard the scream scream scream of girls.Although I’ve been here only brief seconds a thousand impressions crowd my mind. The girls are whimpering. A man stumbles over the debris, he’s blood from head to foot Jesus its Smith our
“Lie down you bloody fool, under the table you daft sod” that Bill shouting. But he took no notice, he bubbled blood and said “Laws is gone (Laws an ) “He’s dead” “Hes dead” “Hes dead” He scrabbled back the way he came – he must have been stunned on his feet.There’s bedlam all around us girls shrieking and men shouting. The main beam has sliced the steel cabinets in two. I feel outside of myself – remote, disinterested.
Bill is getting out, he stands up amid the falling debris, he scrabbles up a pile of loose stuff, an engine roars “He’s coming back for Christ’s sake get back Bill” I yelled it, but I was quite surprised
to hear my voice. The air trembled. My back and neck crawled as I waited for the awful thuds and rending crashes of more hell. We waited huddled for the world to split again. I reached out an arm and fished two tin hats under the table. Nothing came.Olive looks numbed, “Frightened” I ask, she nods dumbly.
Bill is getting out again. God what a mess. If those girls outside scream any more I must shout for quiet. They must stop screaming or my ears will burst. – They scream on.
“Quick Watty (that’s me) get ‘em out of there we’rre ablaze” that’s Bill shouting. I kick a wooden cabinet away from the end of the table – we wriggle out. My God the whole of one side is a roaring inferno. The whole building is a smoking shambles.
We scrabbled to the Main entrance or where it used to be. Bill has gone the other way.The girls legs just drag – they’re OK, but knocked silly. They’re big girls but they feel light as dolls, Everyone who can run is scrabbling madly over the mess. I’m not here really of course – that isn’t me walking down there – its – funny feeling as though you’re outside of yourself watching yourself from a distance. My God look at those Cost Office girls, ragged and bloody and powder blackened. They’re in heaps – all bloody and tangled.
Everyone is helping everyone, carrying, helping guiding. Here a man with bloody legs leans one with a bloody arm.
I can see Jotce and Olive standing shivering on the outside – I must have taken them out and come back in again, because I have a girl in my arms, there’s no muscular effort to carry her, shes a doll, a limp inert doll – but its not sawdust on her legs.
Someone must have taken her from me because I’m running up the tarmac, with the girls on each arm again, now.I went with them to Joyce’s house across the road, then I dashed home, said I was OK then dashed back. In 8 minutes from the first bomb. I was back. By now a delayed action has gone off and killed many would-be rescuers. The factory belches horror, the horror of little girls smoke blackened and crying, the horror of horrible injuries, the horror of faces all pain.
We who are OK take off our coats and wade into them – I take one of our fellows hes got another man’s brains streaming down his face – I wash him and find hes got a damaged arm, and cuts.Help me with “this one” says someone. I bend to lift a stretcher onto a lorry. But “this one” rolls his bandaged head, drums his feet under his blanket and dies. Leave him.
Oblt. Hermann Lohmann + He111 crew
before bombing raid on Parnall Aircraft
A Heinkel IIIK dropped out of the low lying mist – visibility was almost nil. He dropped down 2 minutes after the siren with his canons blazing and dropped 8 bombs five went up and 3 didn’t one was delayed action. I find only the offices have suffered badly. Four 550lb. bombs into a space 150’ by 100’ subdivided by plasterboard walls. Almost a ton of searing, blasting, blinding, all destroying hell.
Not a soul had gone to shelter, they got it as they sat. Pretty little girls, jolly young men. All blood and rags, and dirt. Twenty two young draughtsmen alone, as many girls, making a total all round of 60 dead, and 150 injuries.
The end of the office block is Hawthorne’s (he wasn’t in it) next to it is ours, between it a lathe wall. The first bomb fell plumb on Hawthorne’s girder in the ceiling, turned off and burst in the shops some 20’ away from us, if it had richochetted the other way:—
A bomb fell on Works Orders, a bomb on Costs, one on The Drawing Office, the latter one delayed action. Which means 2 550lbers. Fell 15’ each side of me roughly and 2 within 70 odd feet.Only God knows how we got out alive. If that first one had hit that girder square it would have burst 10’ above our heads with a lathe wall to protect us.If he hadn’t cannoned us we should
Not have had time to get under the table, and if we hadn’t been cut to rags with glass, the other debris would have got us for cert.Two of our examiners got killed, 4 injured, besides Hawthorne, at first we thought he was to lose an eye, but now there is hope for it. One examiner got his head and shoulders cut off in our outer office.I could write a book on the miraculous escapes of others besides us, and the awfull injuries of others.How one of our fellows, saw a wall about to crash on him, just as it fell a cistern out of the girls’ lavatory blew over his nut, the bricks peppered on there like a tin hat. Hes in hospital with terrible bruises mind, but if it had hit his head it would have finished him. Hes very annoyed about it, he said he wouldn’t have minded one out of the mens’ bog, but one out of the girls’ he objected to.
The works nurse was dug out of debris after 45 minutes to give wonderful service at the clearing centre.How men refused treatment to severe cuts to enable those in pain to have full attention. How a man said when Bill pushed his handkerchief into a hole in his back – “I’ll see its washed and sent back – “ poor sod.Of mortuaries with pulverised remains.
Of a man beyond recognition but alive.Of the horrible discoveries they made after the fire had abated.
How Sarafian (*1) when he got home wept over the casualties.But above it all there lasts longest in my memory those awful moments under the table as the ‘world went bloody mad’. The Swish – Swish as they fell and the reverberating, ear splitting, head bursting, Bash! As they hit. With the rush of hot stifling air that burns the skin and bursts the lungs.
I went to Wick then as we had an office there, I went with Hawthorn, Bill and 2 others to headquarters to the official enquiry. I was officially thanked for getting the girls out, the cool way, the youngest member of staff had proved himself and so on and so forth – Bullshit. I was scared stiff same as the rest and what I did I did automatically and in any case I didn’t do anything – there was a lot of this back slapping mind but the big noise made a damned nuisance of himself over me.. This was at AID HQ. see. Just 2 big noises and we 5. Anyhow he treated us to a wonderful blowout.Well today is Saturday, 9 days ago the big blitz happened. Yesterday – Friday. I was in the exchange at the Canteen, with Tooth an examiner talking to 2 girls on the switchboard when a Red came through. The siren went – first since the blitz. We made to go – the girls leapt up and shut the door – made us stay.
Then the switchboard rang, and a message came through that a man had died of fright in the shelter – he had too, sheer
(*1) Doctor Sarafian’s medical practice was a family practice run entirely by his family from the right hand building at the Yate end of The Plain in Sodbury – he would have known many, if not all, of the victims.
Bloody fright – poor devil.
Then came an imminent danger signal, some 10 minutes later bugger me if I wasn’t lying on the floor going through it all again. Two frightened men, two frightened girls huddling in a heap in the corner – 2 telephone fellows came in and got on top of the heap of us as well. BASH. BASH. BASH.The bastards tipped another 8 bombs on us, I was 100yds. Away from it this time, but the terror was just as great. He raked the place with machine guns.Our guns answered – he got away with a piece shot out of his tail.I got up – Tooth and I raced down to the factory – more smoking ruins – 16 casualties, 5 dead. Jumping Jehosophat I’m bloody fed up with this. I was more scared this time – very very aware of my whole cringing (that spelt wrong) body. My hair bristled my guts crawled, and I couldn’t pull myself close enough to Betty – that’s the girl on the switchboard. Not that detatched feeling. Hawthorne and rest weren’t on the building this time only 5 AID. We got down the bottom of the tarmac in time to see the same cortage of mangled souls – smaller scale deaths but agonies to watch.
My nerves were awful last night. Bang Bang Bang, I had my tin hat and was half under the table before I realised it was the woman next
Door Knocking at the door.I shall be glad to get in the RAF for some peace. I’m OK today – theres a raid on now, but I don’t fancy his chances today, both times hes been the visibility has been nil.
I’m moving into an office in the end of a wrecked building Monday – all set for the next lot. There’s a sharp corner to go round to get to the shelters from this new office, I’m going to have a steep wooden banking put up, so I can negotiate it without dropping my speed down to less than 275mph. A man selling corks outside of Parnalls would do a brisk trade during air raids. Don’t worry about us Ken. I can take it, the family can take it, and so can Marge, but it is a bit of a bugger waiting for the next packet.
Your loving and thankful to be alive brother,
ALSO AVAILABLE AT:
27 February 1941
This was the most serious, in terms of casualties, that Yate suffered.
At 14:36hrs. a single Heinkel He111 (G1+CC) of II/KG 27 piloted by Oberleutnant Herman Lohman dropped 7 x 250Kg. high explosive bombs on the Parnall factory.
A number of these bombs had delayed action fuses which exploded about 10 minutes after being dropped. These caused the majority of the casualties.
Oblt. Lohman flew over the target from the north and dropped the bombs from around 100 feet. The result of flying so low was that the aircraft was that Yate air defences hit the plane 15 times with their anti-aircraft fire.
Oblt. Lohman limped his Heinkel back to base at Bourges in France on a single engine.
There were 52 people killed in the raid including 3 people who were never identified.
The daed are remembered on a special memorial in St Mary’s Church in Yate. The Memorial was erected by the Parnall Aircraft Company.
BARNES, Thomas Arthur
BATTEN, Edward Robert Edgar
BEGERNIE, Maurice Edwin
BOOTH, Maurice Hilary
BURR, George Alec
BUXTON, Kenneth Reginald
CURTIS, Cyril Frederick Tom
DAMSELL, Edward John Damsell
DAVIES, Edward Geoffrey Heir
DAVIS, William John
DAY, Ivy M.
DYSON, John Bernard
FRY, Frederick Purse
GUEST, Ronald Thomas
HATHAWAY, Charles Henry Thomas
HOLE, Herbert John
HUGHES, Stanley Herbert
HUTCHINSON, Frederick William
JAMES, Ernest N.
JEFFERIES, Percy J.
LAURIE, Frederick Guy Selaurin
LAWLESS, Mary Monica
LAWS, Percy Jack
LUTON, Douglas Daniel Thomas
NEWMAN, Rupert Maitland
ORTON, William James
PARKMAN, Betty Doreen
REEVES, John William
SQUIRES, Robert Colin
STILL, Arthur Albert
TOVEY, Phyllis May
VOWLES, Prudence Pamela
WHITE, Alfred Percival
WHITE, Geoffrey Barton
WILLIAMS, Douglas Lloyd
WRIGHT, Walter James
A more comprehensive list of details of the dead can be found from page 69 onwards at: CLICK HERE
Further details of Parnalls of Yate can be found if you go to:
The Bombing of Parnalls Aircraft Factory of Yate
People in story:
Mrs Dorothy Wall
Location of story:
Yate, South Gloucestershire
Background to story:
01 February 2005
My parents were licensees of the Railway Hotel in Yate during the War and of course they were very busy because Parnalls had two lunch hours, one for the aircraft factory workers and one for the administrative workers. Parnalls had a canteen run by a gentleman who had been a catering officer for P and O cruise lines. Even so, there was only 45 minutes for the workers lunch break. so the hotel bar became very busy and there was also a market every week. We had just closed, it must have been about 2 o’clock. The siren went off and immediately, before it had stopped, the bombs were dropping. It was a single aircraft. Some bombs dropped on the factory, but some dropped on a gunnery school which probably tested the gun turrets, a number of them were killed during the air-raid. In that first raid a number of factory workers were killed. The German aircraft came in so low that you could see the pilot, a large part of the factory was very badly damaged so they evacuated some departments and then scattered them where they could. The cider factory at Melksham was a dispersal point, one in the Keynsham area, Bath, Wickwar and also in Bristol. Coaches would pick the workers up every evening from Yate and take them to the different premises for the nightshifts and also dayshifts. Parts of the factory were still usable, the factory made gun turrets for bomber aircraft. On the next payday Parnalls set up a couple of tables in the car park and paid the wages from there. The second time Parnalls was bombed, it was again by a lone plane, but by this time most of the production was elsewhere. The plane only had to follow the railway line to find the factory, which lay alongside the line at Yate. There were women working on the Production line at Parnalls all through the war. Until the Second Front was opened there were always three or four long Red Cross carragies waiting in the siding at Yate until they were required. Yate also had an engineering factory called Newmans and they made shell casings there; and there were women working there too, although it was realy far too heavy work for them.
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