Please read Ministry of Home Security - The R&E Files, before continuing.
Saturday 9th May 1942 was a miserable time for the Island’s firemen and firewomen of the National Fire Service. Coming just four days after the final throes of the infamous Cowes Blitz, from which many remained exhausted emotionally if not physically, on the previous day they had attended Ryde's All Saints Church in their hundreds to ceremonially bid farewell to Leading Fireman Herbert Dewey and Fireman Colin Weeks. Wearing the same uniforms that had been so badly torn, chaffed and soiled in the maelstrom during their endeavours on either side of the River Medina, they dusted down to pay further respects on the day after the double-funeral at a service in Shanklin.
John Howard Blundell of 68 Newport Road, Lake, was a fireman of Shanklin. He was not killed by bullet or bomb but was undoubtedly a victim of the Cowes blitz. After the most notorious night in the history of the Island, particularly for its firefighters and civil defence workers, Fireman Blundell was a victim of fatigue, crushed to death between two slow moving vehicles as those who had laboured through the night of peril attempted to untangle their equipment and appliances from the debris and chaos with but one thought on their minds - to return home to their loved ones.
It's no more or less tragic than the deaths of the Ryde firemen, but there is a heart-breaking poignancy that Fireman Blundell survived the greatest test any IW firefighter could ever be exposed to and was then taken so cruelly by a momentary want of concentration the next morning.
A large procession shuffled in the wake of Fireman Blundell’s coffin including his NFS colleagues at the slow march from the church to the cemetery. Among a lengthy list of mourners, the firefighters were joined and comforted by the Rev. Robert Beattie Irons of St Paul’s.
17 February 1943
This morning, we followed suit with a bigger squadron towards Shanklin on the Isle of Wight and gave them a good beating – wrote Leopold Wenger, a young Luftwaffe pilot (Enemy of the People), late in the evening of 17 February 1943 following his exploits of earlier the same day.
It has taken me some time to locate, unearth and access the content of Ministry of Home Security file RE/B16/24/2, and when I did it was with some disappointment.
As described in several of the R&E feature pages, the objective of the department was to study the effect of enemy ordnance, particularly where it struck buildings or structures designed for public safety. In the case of RE/B16/24/2, the magnitude of what happened that day is cast aside in favour of one bomb, one house, and one Morrison table shelter, where no persons were present. Regardless this webpage shall reflect on that modest content, alongside extracts of additional content that appeared in Volume 7 of the history of IW firefighting, As Severe a Test, when published in 2020.
Wenger’s good beating caused substantial loss of life and the destruction of residential and other property of no military value, reflected in the R&E form where the box for Assumed Target remains blank.
I have tried to rationalise ambiguities between various reports concerning the weight of the attack on Shanklin of 17 February. The attack of six weeks earlier was conducted by four fighter-bombers under Wenger’s command. Some contemporary publications suggest the same on 17 February, yet Wenger wrote a bigger squadron. The R&E file is interested in only one of the bombs dropped, which they have recorded as Bomb No.6. The IW County Press report didn’t state a number but describes a series of six events each caused by a bomb. Given that they didn’t describe an incident that matches R&E’s report of Bomb No.6, suggests there were at least seven. This is supported by an original letter, written two days after the event by an unknown hand from an address simply stated as The Estate Office – On the 17th we had another visit from enemy raiders dropping 7 bombs and doing considerable damage to houses and loss of life. However, another letter written by George Enos Smith, listed in the 1939 Register as a 72-year-old incapacitated upholsterer of Glenerk, 33 Western Road, stated in a letter written the same day to My Dear Doris and All, that – It is terrible here, one more turn like that and there won’t be much of Shanklin left. There were 8 bombs dropped.
The IWCP report began – Flying low over a South Coast town on Wednesday morning, enemy fighter-bombers dropped bombs on residential property, causing a number of casualties, some fatal. One bomb penetrated the north wall of a church at the height of the clerestory windows, passed clean through the building, and exploded on the adjoining vicarage, which was practically demolished.
The church was St Paul’s, the vicarage was the home of 65-year-old Rev. Robert Beattie Irons.
George Enos Smith described to Doris in his letter – Then there was 1 bomb on St Paul’s Vicarage, where Rev. Irons, his wife, and her mother was killed. The County Press provides more detail – In the house were the Vicar, his wife, and her mother. After strenuous work by the rescue squad the last-named was extricated and removed to hospital suffering from wounds and shock, but, though operations were continued without cessation, no trace was found of the Vicar and his wife until Thursday evening, when their bodies were found lying together near the back door of the vicarage. In all probability the Rev. Irons and his wife Alice Isabella (58) were killed instantly. Alice’s mother Mary Alice Robertson (86), died at the Home of Rest hospital (Fig.1) on the following day.
George emphasised that he had hurriedly written to Doris lest she should hear of the attack on the wireless and fear the worst. However, his continued description of events would have afforded little comfort – The front of the old coastguard station and houses up to Clarendon Road and some on the other side of the road are in a terrible state, part of that high wall is blown down, then one pitched at the back of those houses and knocked down a bungalow and electric light transformer, one lady was killed there. I was at work in the bungalow, I thought that it was coming down, in there I had a washstand and --------- on top of a chest of drawers, that was all shook down and even the chest was thrown over on its face. As I went in to see if your mother was alright, I could hear all sorts of things falling. It is a bit nerve racking while it is on.
Another bomb rendered tragedy on an already stricken family. The attack of 3 January took the life of Fireman Edward James Kingswell, a 34-year-old married father of 85 Landguard Road. The IWCP report remarked – A bomb that hit a cottage killed Mrs Kingswell, wife of a fireman who lost his life in a previous raid, another victim was her mother-in-law, and her daughter Audrey Kingswell was seriously injured and died later in hospital. 34-year-old Dorothy Kingswell, her three-year old daughter Audrey, and Edward’s mother, 68-year-old Mary Ann were the victims at number 85. The blast also took the lives of 57-year-old Ethel Fanny Pike and her 27-year-old daughter Marjorie Frances Pike next door at number 87. Both houses were practically demolished.
The County Press heaped due praise on the emergency responders - Civil Defence workers, police and W.V.S. responded admirably to the calls made upon them, and the military did excellent work in retrieving property from the damaged premises and assisting with rescue operations. Dreadfully, one of them, 61-year-old Fireman George William Squibb of Apse Heath, was responding to the cries for help when he was struck and killed by a strafing of machine gun fire.
As is often the case, alongside heartbreak emerged tales of close escapes. An unnamed lady in an undisclosed address was preparing dinner in the scullery as the attack commenced. She dived into the modest protection of a Morrison table shelter. At that moment a bomb hit the adjoining property, demolishing both it and her scullery. Windows were blasted, shards of glass seared the dust laden air, walls shook apart, and a piano crashed down from the floor above and smashed into the floor alongside the table shelter. The sheltering woman managed to extricate herself from the rubble sporting only cuts and bruises.
However, for R&E the good news was unworthy of investigation, unlike the occurrence involving the same device at a residence recorded only as Melrose.
R&E File RE/B16/24/2
The R&E raid summary stated – Bomb 500kg. SC – Direct hit on house, no details of construction. Bomb probably exploded inside shelter. House completely demolished; shelter destroyed. Top plate of shelter wrenched off, badly bent and buckled, all bolts torn away, some pulled through top. Large, jagged hole in plate, possibly penetration of bomb. End frame had one leg completely removed from main angle, the other main angle had penetration holes on inside, in outward direction, these show signs of intense heat. Two longitudinal angles found amongst debris, one complete in length but twisted at axis, other badly bent and practically sheared through at one point. Remaining angles not found. No occupants, house evacuated.
The formal report contains little else of value and ends with a handwritten note – It was not possible to obtain details of the position of the shelter from the wardens, as they had no knowledge of it. It may have been privately fixed, and in any case it would have been supplied by the county authority direct and not through the local warden service. The bomb probably exploded inside the shelter itself as in each case the penetration of fragments was from the inside in an outward direction.
Evident from the page featuring submissions is that the investigating officer took a range of photographs, only three of which were submitted with the report. They appear below with original unaltered captions.
Photo No.6 – Shows the roof of the shelter which was found outside the house at the rear. There is a large jagged hole in the roof plate, possibly caused by penetration of the bomb, though it is not absolutely certain. All bolts torn away, in some cases pulled through the plate.
Photo No.7 – End frame of shelter. This was outside the house at the front. Note that practically the whole of one leg of the R.H. main angle has been blown away. Note also the penetration of fragments in L.H. main angle in an outward direction, with numerous small holes, which shows signs of intense heat from the fragments. There are distinct signs of melting in these small holes.
Photo 8 – accompanied by an extract of the original handwritten note which includes basic line drawings.
This feature is submitted in respectful memory of the fallen.
- Elizabeth Janet Buckley (68), killed at home, 52 Queens Road, Shanklin.
- Dorothy Elizabeth Holden (38), of 7 Culver Road, Shanklin, killed at North Road, Shanklin.
- The Rev. Robert Beattie Irons (65), killed at home, St Paul’s Vicarage, Shanklin.
- Alice Isabella Irons (58), killed at home, St Paul’s Vicarage, Shanklin.
- Dorothy Kingswell (34), killed at home, 85 Landguard Road, Shanklin. The widow of Fireman Edward James Kingswell who was killed in the attack in January.
- Audrey Frances Kingswell (3), injured at home, 85 Landguard Road, Shanklin. The daughter of Fireman Edward James Kingswell who was killed in the attack in January. Died at the Home of Rest Hospital, Shanklin, two days later.
- Mary Ann Kingswell (68), of 2 Albion Cottages, Western Road, Shanklin, killed at 85 Landguard Road, Shanklin, the mother of Fireman Edward James Kingswell who was killed in the attack in January.
- Lily Violet Niblett (30), of 46 St Paul’s Avenue, Shanklin, killed at Chandos, North Road, Shanklin.
- Ethel Fanny Pike (57) killed at home 87 Landguard Road, Shanklin.
- Marjorie Frances Pike (27), killed at home 87 Landguard Road, Shanklin.
- Mary Alice Robertson (86), injured, died of her injuries at the Home of Rest Hospital, Shanklin, on the following day.
- George William Squibb (61), NFS Fireman of Grove House, Apse Heath, killed at North Road, Shanklin.
The image below, Shanklin's War, is the design of Island based artist Karl Stedman and can be seen on a memorial plaque at the Royal British Legion, Collingwood Road, Shanklin, where it was unveiled by the Lord Lieutenant on 11 February 2018.