Please read Ministry of Home Security - The R&E Files, before continuing.
On October 15 1942, referring to a tip-and-run raid he’d carried out two days before, Luftwaffe Oberleutnant Leopold Wenger (The Enemy of the People) wrote a letter to his parents, including the following - Day before yesterday I was back in England again. This time we attacked the city of Shanklin on the Isle of Wight. I looked for something like a big four-storey house and dropped my bomb very exactly, flying low, then watched the effect from a backward curve. I never saw anything like it before. First, nothing happened, then it was like somebody had turned on all the lights in the whole house. Then the walls slowly collapsed outwardly and a gigantic dark red column of flame burst out upwards from the rubble. I think there must have been something highly explosive stored in the house.
The elderly Mrs Brinton possessed no high explosive in her home, which collapsed about her, trapping her in the scullery, pinned by debris, unable to move and suffering painful injuries. The IW County Press reported that she bore her agony bravely and patiently while an ARP Rescue Squad cut and picked their way to her rescue as members of the National Fire Service, despatched from Shanklin’s Station 14D3Z, the requisitioned former Gloster Hotel, arrived to suppress flames that emerged from the shattered remains.
Insignia of the Red Foxes, SKG10.
Less than three months later the same pilot, in cohort with three of his comrades of Luftwaffe SKG10, the Red Foxes, prepared to launch further terror on the seaside town, writing in another letter home – this time it was Shanklin’s turn to get it!
The IW County Press of Saturday 2 January 1943, referring to the declaration signed by the leaders of 26 Allied governments that pledged to rid the world of Nazism, proclaimed – the sky is now brighter by far than when this beacon fire was lit. Streaks of light herald the dawn. Should that dawn break upon us in 1943, which may, heaven grant, it will indeed prove what we wish for all readers – A Happy New Year.
It was a murky, overcast and miserable New Year’s Day 1943. It mattered not to three men of London, uniformed in the serge blue of the National Fire Service, each bearing the breast badge of Region 5, who disembarked the steamship from Portsmouth and strode on to Ryde Pier with bulging kit bags over their shoulders. Each had protected London with the A.F.S. through each of the harrowing nights of the blitz, each continued to face the perils of the city as nationalised firemen and two had family reasons for defying the Nazis.
The three were identified as men needing a break from the intensity – exchange postings to areas deemed of lower risk were the answer and the trio couldn’t have been more excited when receiving the news of their comparative break at a small seaside town called Shanklin on the holiday Isle of choice. David, Ivor and Harry clambered onto the train and sat back to absorb the tranquil views of the Island’s countryside.
Harry Glantzspigel was an East End fashion salesman and window dresser who in everyday life was known as Harry Lewis; only formal documents such as his N.F.S. service records recorded his Jewish family name. David Cohen, also Jewish, was the youngest of five children of Hyam Cohen and Ada Rabinowitz of Edgware, both of whom died in the 1920’s when David was a teenager. 39-year-old Ivor Day of Palmer’s Green wasn’t unaccustomed to travel. As an eighteen-year-old he left London for Liverpool with five pounds in his wallet and sailed to Canada to work at his uncle’s farm in Manitoba. Two-and-a-half years later he returned, stating that he was a farm labourer, something he wasn’t likely to have continued once back in the capital. All three had volunteered when the call came for auxiliaries. Although they hadn’t known each other until they gathered on the platform in London, they had shared the most protracted of terrifying experiences endured by any British firefighters, the connection was palpable.
None of that mattered to them that New Year’s Day. They were on a train, trundling through green and gentle country and the promise of a few months of comparative calm at a temporary NFS sub-divisional headquarters staged in a requisitioned hotel, detailed in their detachment orders as the Gloster.
3 January 1943 – Shanklin
The R&E files covering the tip-and-run raid on Shanklin of 3 January 1943, comprise a total 127 individual sheets of information. Some, being handwritten, have been challenging to decipher. The reports are located within file RE/B16/21/1 – General, accompanied by RE/B16/21/2 - Bomb No. 4 at Gloucester (sic) Hotel, RE/B16/21/3 – Morrison Shelters, and RE/B16/21/4 – Bomb No.3. The raid was carried out by four Luftwaffe fighter-bombers, each armed with a single underslung 500kg S.C. bomb, plus cannon and machine guns.
Shanklin was enjoying crisp, bright and pleasant conditions. A mid-afternoon raid alert that never transpired failed to upset the mood of a seaside resort in unseasonably good weather. The temporary lifting of the ban on visiting the Isle of Wight enabled some to take advantage of the sudden good fortune of the weather and make the crossing. It was January, crisp and cold, but bright and sunny and East Wight’s coastal resorts enjoyed a resurgence of day visitors who were keen to take advantage of both favourable weather and the unexpected accessibility of the Island.
People of the town went about their lives. A lady who had spent an enjoyable few hours at her daughter’s home, bade farewell and walked the short distance to attend late mass at the Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart in Atherley Road. A 13-year-old evacuee dutifully led his younger sister and her friend to the same destination. An elderly veteran of the Second Boer War began packing up his gardening tools as the sun lowered in the sky above Landguard Road. A young mother, eager to be home before dark, hurriedly conveyed her infant daughter to home in a pushchair after feeding the ducks at Shanklin Manor.
At the former Gloster Hotel, N.F.S. sub-divisional HQ (14DZ3) for the Shanklin district, the twenty-one resident firemen, firewomen and despatch riders settled in to their respective posts, hoping for a quiet evening having checked the readiness of the trailer pumps, the Burford, utility trucks and hose lorry, some positioned in the adjacent Southern Vectis yard. Beneath the open fire and warmth of the HQ Tactical Room at the front of the building where Acting Company Officer Bernard Upward entertained Column Officer Hector Scott, the former garage basement, cleared and prepared to shelter over 300 persons in the event of a raid, stood cold, empty and uninviting. 49-year-old Ruby Howard, Firewoman, wife of Reginald and mother of four girls, went about her administrative tasks in the neighbouring office.
NFS Company Officer Hector Percy Scott, photographed in the 1930's when a member of Newport Fire Brigade.
Most of the duty watch played cards and exchanged chitchat in the dining room from where the appealing aroma of the impending meal wafted in from the adjacent kitchen where nourishment was being arranged for Shanklin’s national firemen under the supervision of Cecil Charles Matthews. Matthews was born in 1875, joined Shanklin Fire Brigade in 1895 and retired in 1923. Responding to the call when his town’s brigade needed firm leadership, he returned in 1928 as Chief Officer and held the position until it was taken from him at the age of 66 years when the brigade was absorbed into the National Fire Service. Under Matthews’s command the brigade developed into one of the Island’s pre-war finest, winning drill competitions both at home and on the mainland at a rate far exceeding any other regular brigade of the Isle of Wight during the 1930’s. When, in August 1941, N.F.S. Fire Force 14d was first established, its initial commander, Column Officer Thomas Upward (no relation to Bernard Upward), former Chief Officer of the Cowes (combined) Fire Service, considered Cecil too old to remain the senior Shanklin fire officer.
Matthews had not just been overlooked for command of the Shanklin Company of the N.F.S., but had been demoted to fireman where, much to the chagrin of the Sandown-Shanklin District Council and his former regular brigade subordinates, he was assisting as a cook. Matthews, a builder by profession and a fireman by vocation, was a stalwart soul committed to his town despite the poor treatment. Cecil may have had little in common with the gaggle of younger men about him, but the indefatigable 68-year-old understood the task of protecting his home town as well as any and rebuffed Upward’s inference that he should retire.
17-year-old Lawrence Eldridge, originally from Birmingham, and his 16-year-old pal and fellow messenger Robert Attrill, son of a former Hampshire Regiment Warrant Officer, sat together. The two boys were never made to feel anything but a vital part of the service by the battle-hardened firemen they idolised and yearned to succeed, but in respect took themselves to one side in hushed association.
No more battle-hardened were the men of London among them, Daniel Cohen, Harry Glantzspigel and Ivor Day, who mixed freely with the local men of the N.F.S. despite their conspicuous London brogue carving harshly through the district dialect. Everyone was acutely aware that these men had endured the trial of the London Blitz and had earned their place at any table at which they cared to sit. Married father, Leading Fireman Alfred Brown of 1 Lind Street, Ryde, formerly an employee of Duke Brothers’ builders’ merchants in Newport, absorbed the latest N.F.S. circular while keeping an eye on proceedings.
The men were contented although it was only a few months since they had attended the funeral of one of their own who suffered terrible injuries during the Cowes Blitz in early May 1942. Finally succumbing to his plight months after the event, Firemen Burberry, Hall, Hiscock, Whittington, Smith and Kingswell could afford to relax and chat over the table that day in January, but they’d not forgotten the inordinate load of their friends coffin upon their shoulders that summers day at St Saviour’s.
Focke Wulf 190
From over the sea reverberated the sound of engines. Four Focke Wulf Fw 190’s led by Lieutenant Leopold Poldi Wenger had departed Cherbourg headed for Shanklin. With perfect conditions Poldi required little navigational aids being highly familiar with the Island’s coast. In the previous summer and autumn, he’d led multiple attacks against Ventnor, Shanklin and Bembridge, all in accordance with the doctrine of airborne terrorism to destroy the spirit of the British public. His preferred target were the relatively lightly defended residents of the Isle of Wight. Sticking to the tactics that had allowed him to enter Isle of Wight airspace virtually undetected on multiple occasions in the previous year, Poldi kept his quartet low to the surf until rearing up at the last moment, strafing, exposing their single under slung 500kg bombs, catching the anti-air gunners oblivious and pairing off to begin their devastating work.
17-year-old Ken Williams vividly recalled the start of the attack - Steve Peddar and myself, were walking towards Shanklin along a rutted grassy lane. To our right was a field in which was stationed a searchlight unit. Its defensive Lewis gun was just over a thorn hedge that marked the boundary of the field with the lane. Over to our left was the so-called County Ground and the main Shanklin-Sandown road across which, in full view, was Winchester House of the Girls Friendly Society.
We were surprised to see the local ‘Raid Imminent’ red maroons fired into the sky over Shanklin to be followed only a second or two later by a gaggle of FW 190s racing above the rooftops of Shanklin. Youthful excitement was quickly dispelled by some consternation on our part as one FW 190 banked sharply to its right and headed straight down the lane towards us, as I recall it now, 30 feet (or less!) off the ground, all guns firing. I do not suggest that the pilot was the slightest bit interested in shooting two boys in a lane – I doubt very much he even saw us. Banked at a steep angle, the FW 190 continued its turn and headed over Winchester House, still firing its guns, and off out to sea. All over, all quiet. Total time of raid perhaps 20 or 30 seconds, not more.
The opening paragraph of the IW County Press report of 9 January included a similar estimation – The planes came in at roof-top height, dropped bombs, machine-gunned the streets, and flew out to sea again within two or three minutes.
In the next paragraph the County Press dialled back the timeline – Residents out walking saw the planes – Focke Wulf 190 fighter-bombers – swoop in from the sea, so low that their markings could easily be distinguished, and many had to dash for cover as the raiders opened up with their machine-guns. Bombs were seen to leave the planes as they swooped over a residential area, and clouds of dust and debris filled the air following the explosions. There were many narrow escapes, from splinters and debris.
R&E File RE/B16/21/1 - General
Bomb No.1 – Roman Catholic Church, Atherley Road
Type - 500gh S.C. Time - n/k
Extract from As Severe a Test (History of IW Firefighting Vol.7)
It was the opening of gunfire that alerted the 13-year-old who showed great presence of mind for one so young, withdrawing from his position at the entrance to the Roman Catholic Church he pushed his sister and her friend under the pews. As they arched their backs protectively from the terror the spattering machine gun fire was followed by the eerie wail of the bomb.
Extracts from the R&E report
D.H. on wall of Church; penetrated to ground level before exploding. Crater size unobtainable.
Construction of Church
- Modern first-class construction.
- All-brick with main stresses on hexagonal piers 2ft 3in. thick.
- Roof boarded, felted and tiled.
Photos show the damage inflicted on Church which was practically demolished: two statues, one over main entrance and the other in an alcove, remained intact.
Extract from ‘B’ series report
As mentioned on the B.C.4, this bomb made a direct hit on the south wall of the Roman Catholic Church. It penetrated to ground level before exploding but no crater size could possibly be given, as what crater there was had been completely covered by debris.
Extract from the IW County Press
A church, at which the congregation consisted largely of children, received a direct hit, and the resident priest was pinned down by debris before the altar at which he was officiating. He escaped with head injuries, while a boy server named Heath, received serious injuries. Sister Claire, from a local convent, Mrs Fraser, two elderly gentlemen and a little girl were killed, and Sister Veronica (organist) was among the injured. A member of the Church, who was not present at the service but gave assistance with the rescue work, told a reporter that there were only 26 in the congregation. Another member of the church said that though some were buried beneath the wreckage, and were extricated only after prolonged operations by rescue party workers (one of them not till the next morning), they escaped remarkably lightly. Under the circumstances it was miraculous that the entire congregation was not killed. The bomb fell at the eastern end of the church, demolishing the greater part of the building, but leaving the tower standing. Two statuesque figures were left standing, though the organ between them was smashed almost beyond recognition, and the stone altar suffered comparatively little damage.
Photograph note - all photo-captions on this page are exactly as they appear in the R&E file.
View of damage to the Catholic Church looking east. The officer in the photo is standing over the centre of the crater which is filled with debris.
View of damage to the Catholic Church showing the western end of the building. Taken from the window of a damaged house at the rear of the Church.
View taken looking into damaged Roman Catholic Church from roof of neighbouring house. X – marks approximate position of bomb.
View taken from front of Roman Catholic Church from the corner near the road. Note the statue over the main entrance intact as is the statue to the right of the picture.
Bomb No.2 – Gas Works and Groveway Cottages
Type - 500kg S.C. Time - 16:28
Extract from R&E report
The following schedule of damage sustained by the Gas Works was obtained from Mr Leslie G. Payne, the Manager and Secretary. Both Bombs No.2 and 3 were, undoubtedly, responsible for the damage to these works.
A special plan of the Gas Works has been obtained and is submitted herewith, on which are shewn the various buildings referred to in the schedule and their relative positions to the crater.
- Retort House – The whole roof to be re-sheeted. Brickwork damaged by fragments.
- Coal stored/Old Retort House – Extensive damage to roof sheets.
- Other buildings – Damage to roof slates and tiles.
- Showrooms and Offices (on works) – Extensive damage to plate glass windows, and frames, doors, etc.
- 1 Holder Tank – (brick and concrete) leakage of water.
- 2 Gas Holder – Holed in about 12 places, presumably by machine gun fire.
- Gas Works House – Slight damage to roof. Extensive damage to glass, windows and some internal damage (ceilings).
- Gas Works Cottages – Two destroyed and the other two very badly damaged and not worth repairing.
There was no interruption of the supply of gas resulting from this enemy action.
Extensive fragmentation was noticed on the west wall of the Retort House. A photograph of this was taken and is submitted under separate cover. This Retort House is a steel-frame building with 4 ½” brick panels. It was noted that in one case a fragment from Bomb No.2 had penetrated the 4 ½” brickwork, passed right through the web of a 16” x 6” R.S.J. and had entered the brick chimney stack inside the building.
It was noted that water was leaking from the brick and concrete ‘sealing trough’ of Gas Holder No.1. It is understood that this was originally constructed entirely of brick but when, some years ago, it was decided to extend the depth, a further 4 feet was added by building a concrete extension to the existing brickwork. At this stage it is impossible to say exactly what has happened but, apparently, either earth movement or blast has caused a fracture in the bonding of the new extension and the old wall. It is understood that excavations will shortly be made to ascertain exactly what is the trouble.
As a point of interest, it was observed that a railway arch at a distance of 115 feet from centre of crater was quite undamaged. This was a four-ring brick arch 18 feet long x 12 feet wide, carrying a single line of traffic.
In the garden of Gas Works Cottage No.1 was a home-made shelter. This consisted merely of an ordinary trench dug in the ground and covered with some 3/8“ iron sheets, with about 6” of loose earth on top. Although only 38 feet from the centre of the crater, this shelter was quite undamaged except for a little loose earth which had apparently been caused by earth movement.
Gas Works Cottages
Also shown the plan are four cottages, two being ‘A’ and two being ‘B’ damage. These were four-roomed cottages of very old construction, probably over 80 years old. A Morrison shelter was observed in Cottage No.2 and a photograph showing the debris covering this shelter is being submitted under separate cover.
The survival of the Morrison shelter in Cottage No.2, beneath a total collapse, was of such interest to R&E investigators, that the General report (RE/B16/21/1), that opened on 15 January, was extended by addition of RE/B16/21/3 Morrison Shelters, acknowledging that the same type were present in all four cottages. This additional report provides additional interesting detail concerning the passage of the bomb until its point of explosion.
500kg HE bomb ricocheted off bowling green, cleared railway embankment exploded 250ft. distance, 11ft. from 4 small cottages. Crater 28ft. x 7ft. in garden clay.
Construction of Cottages
Built 1890. 2 storey, length 49ft. width 28ft. External walls 11” cavity brick, internal walls 4 ½” brick. Each house contained Morrison shelter. Floor above shelters 5/8” boarding on 3” x 2” joists spaced 14” apart C to C. Probably on sleeper walls but these were not visible no drawings exist. Roof, slates, on wood trusses.
11ft. from bomb which was 25ft. from Morrison shelter, completely demolished, joist over room containing Morrison shelter hinged on party wall and lay across shelter at approx.. 45o, outside walls collapsed, party wall intact, partition walls collapsed. Position of shelter unascertainable probably against partition wall if so it had moved 16”. Shelter did not bend or fracture but took a decided ‘lean’ (see diagram) out of plumb ½” at one end 1 ¼” at other, due to bolts being loose fit, shelter gave sufficiently, to take up slack, probably assisted in softening blow. No bolts sheared. Shelter otherwise undamaged. Nettings only fixed on one side, and one end against walls. Shelter unoccupied. Casualties were in kitchen. Position of casualties in cottage plan, details in file.
Bomb was 23ft. from house, 32ft. from shelter. Roof completely collapsed, external walls demolished, party walls partial, window frames pushed out, floor above shelter did not collapse. Plaster, glass, and dust in shelter otherwise undamaged. Casualties see plan and file (shelter unoccupied).
Bomb was 34ft. 6ins. from house, 44ft. 3ins. from shelter. Roof collapsed, external and party walls partially collapsed, glass broken. Floor above shelter did not collapse. Plaster glass and dust in shelter, otherwise undamaged (shelter unoccupied)*
Bomb was 46ft. 3 ins. from house, 52ft. 6ins. from shelter. Roof collapsed, walls intact, Glass broken. No damage to shelter, plaster dust and glass inside. 4 occupants of shelter uninjured.**
*&** - in these elements of the general report it appears that R.A. Francis has muddled the details. The shelter in Cottage No.3 was occupied, and the same in Cottage No.4 was not, as becomes apparent in the protracted report of the Morrison shelters (RE/B16/21/3).
10ft. x 4ft. wide, 6ft. deep covered by scrap iron earth cover, 35ft. from crater, not damaged (see plan).
Extract from the IW County Press
The fourth bomb came down in gardens at the rear of a row of workmen’s cottages, which collapsed and buried several of the inmates, one of whom was extricated with a broken shoulder. Here a mother and her little daughter were killed, whilst the father received minor injuries. Business premises and private houses over a wide area suffered damage from the blast, and roadways were littered with broken glass, slates, and other debris. Machine-gun bullets also did some damage to property but caused no casualties.
General view of the demolished house, showing debris piled on the sloping first floor joists, which rest on the Morrison shelter.
Further on in report RE/B16/21/3, Mr Francis added in direct reference to No.1 Groveway Cottages – I was informed by Mr Callcut*, the occupier of No.2 Cottage that the floor above Room (1), hinging on the north party wall, collapsed on to the south end of shelter. This, assisted by the weight of the brick rubble from the demolished east partition wall, which was blown into the room caused a slight distortion of the frame of the shelter which was 1 ½” out of plumb at the north end and 1 ¼” at the south end.
*45 year old Leonard Callcut, who was also a member of the ARP.
Debris from the collapsed floor had been removed prior to my visit on 16.1.43 but the Morrison shelter remained. It is possible that the shelter may have been pushed towards the centre of the room about 6 inches, but there is no direct evidence of this. Mr Callcut also stated that at the time of the incident, Mr Hookey the occupier, was resting in bed in room over that occupied by the shelter. On the collapse of the floor he tobogganed on his bed into the garden on south side of Room (1), and he was uninjured. The following casualties occurred in Room (2), all 6 persons being partially covered by debris.
A - Female – Slight head injuries and shock.
B – Female – Killed – head injuries.
C – Female – Killed – head injuries.
D – Male - Head injuries – died in hospital.
E – Male – Seriously injured – jaw and shoulder.
F – Child – Head injuries – died in hospital.
In respect of No.2 Groveway Cottages, occupied by Mr Callcut who was busy at the adjoining Gas Works at the time of the attack, Francis also detailed the casualties involved.
G – Female – Shock.
H – Child – Shock.
J – Child (on first floor) – Slight injury to head, cuts.
K – Child – Bruises.
At No.3 Groveway Cottages, home of the Holbrook family, Francis was able to report that despite partial collapse of external walls, and some internal damage, Mrs Sheila Holbrook and her three children survived unharmed within the safety of the Morrison shelter.
Of No.4 Groveway Cottages, the occupiers 62-year-old Mr Augustus Langdon and his wife Harriet had departed the district before Francis arrived to conduct the investigation. The helpful and knowledgeable Mr Callcut of No.2 was able to advise him that the couple, and two male guests, were resting in beds on the first floor when the bomb exploded. Despite occasioning ‘B’ category damage to the extent of ripping off the roof of the property, all four were unharmed.
View of Retort House of Gas Works taken looking over crater to Gas Works. Note fragmentation of wall indicated by red arrows.
Bomb No.3 – Landguard Road
Type - 500kg S.C. Time - 16:28
Such was the interest in this explosion that Bomb No.3 was also dealt with as an investigation in its own right, spurring from the principle inquiry under file number RE/B16/21/4. R.A. Francis of the Flying Squad opened his report with the raid summary sheet that began – 500kg. fell 8 ½ ft. from small surface shelter and 13ft. from a larger shelter: Crater 23ft. by 6ft. in gravel on clay. Shelters erected at side of roadway which was bounded (on same side) by a retaining wall.
*Quetta bond – a technique developed after the Quetta earthquake (31 May 1935, Balochistan, British India - now Pakistan), used in brick and other masonry buildings, where vertical reinforcement is used to improve horizontal and vertical bond between walls.
Construction of Shelters
12-person shelter – 12ft.3in. by 6ft.9in. by 7ft. 3in. high. (external dimensions)
6-person shelter – 8ft.9in. by 6ft.9in.by 7ft. 3in. high (external dimensions)
Foundations – 3in. concrete.
Walls – 13 ½ in. brick in cement mortar, earthquake bond (Quetta bond)* reinforced with ¼ in. M.S. bars with alternate 5in. return at base of wall (sketch).
Roof – Brick corbal, overlapping 3in. each course, bridges over with 4in. by 4in. precast concrete slabs: 4in. concrete over slabs: no reinforcement beyond hook of wall reinforcement (sketch).
Tie between roof and wall (see sketch) but not between walls and floor: Bituminous felt damp course.
Retaining wall – Drystone 7ft. high by 2 ½ ft. thick.
Damage – 6-person shelter demolished. Wall acted as barrier to larger shelter which was undamaged apart from small cracks in brickwork and slight damage to one side of entrance door. Thirty-six feet of this retaining wall was demolished. Photos show demolished and undamaged shelters also nearby houses which were affected. Shelter unoccupied.
Extract from the IW County Press
Another bomb fell in the garden of a hotel, wrecking a large surface shelter and demolishing nearby cottages.
Photo (B). View of crater from gate post of house opposite, showing demolished section of surface shelter and undamaged section of surface shelter.
Panorama showing shelter for 12 persons intact. Shelter for 6 persons demolished.
Crater in foreground – and damage to houses on west of road.
Bomb No.4 – N.W. of junction of Collingwood and Landguard Roads
Type - 500kg S.C. Time - 16:28
Extract from As Severe A Test (History of IW Firefighting Vol.7)
At the Gloster, Column Officer Scott, Company Officer Upward and all present stood fixedly in readiness for the call. Not for them the safety of the shelter just a few steps away. As the roar of the BMW engines powered the FW 190s about the sky above them, the firefighters waited in anxious silence for the call that had to come. Firewoman Howard hovered in expectation over the sub-divisional telephone. They could see nothing but could hear it all, and they waited.
For many years Shanklin Fire Brigade had been accommodated in a modest fire station in Victoria Avenue. When the National Fire Service was established in 1941, Shanklin was identified as preferential location for sub-divisional headquarters of District 3, which stretched from Sandown to Niton. The capacity of the old fire station was lacking in every respect and in July 1942, less than six-months before the events of 3 January 1943, the Victoria Avenue station was vacated and 14D3Z was established within the requisitioned Gloster Hotel, with appliance accommodation extending into the adjacent bus yard.
Bomb No.4, cited by the R&E investigator as north-west off the junction of Collingwood Road and Landguard Road, made a direct hit on The Gloster building, 14D3Z. R&E’s remit was not that of loss of life, but of effect on buildings and especially shelters. The basement of The Gloster had been designated a safe place for over 300 persons. Perhaps it was fortunate that the suddenness and speed of the tip-and-run raid negated the opportunity for persons to make use of its imagined protection, or the death toll may have been substantially greater. It was this potential that compelled R&E to devote Bomb No.4 its own investigation, under file number RE/B16/21/2.
Reports from RE/B16/21/2
General Construction and Occupation
The Hotel Block measuring 69’6” x 40’6” was constructed in two parts. The front half, completed about 1936, built as Davies’ Motor Showrooms, is a 3 storey, plus basement, steel-framed building, with 11” hollow external panel walls; outer skin of 18” x 9” x 4” concrete blocks; inner skin of 4” breeze blocks. Partition walls are of 4” breeze blocks; pitch roof with light steel trusses 16ft. span and 14ft. apart. The rear part was a later addition of 2 storeys, and of similar construction, but with flat instead of pitch roof.
Extending the whole length of the Hotel Block was a Basement Garage converted in 1940 as a Public Shelter for 335 persons. On the north side and attached to the Hotel buildings was a garage with felt and timber roof supported on 15” x 5” steel beams. At a later date a single storey flat was built over the entrance. Wall construction was similar to that of the Hotel Block.
The premises with the exception of the flat was and two rooms retained by Mr Davies as store rooms in the front half of the hotel block was in occupation by the NFS as Divisional Headquarters* and Instructional School.
*14D3Z was a sub-divisional HQ, not divisional.
Photo No.22, which was found in the debris, of a model taken prior to the addition of the flat, gives a general idea of the layout and construction. The only plans available in the office of the surveyor to the Shanklin UDC were obviously inaccurate as to detail. Every effort has however, been made to build up the plans as accurately as possible from a careful survey of the debris of the demolished buildings, much of which had unfortunately been cleared prior to my arrival.
Hotel Block – The Bomb entered the building on the south face just above the first floor and exploded in the kitchen at approximately the point indicated in Drwg.1 Fig.1.**
** Unfortunately the plans referred to throughout this file are no longer present in the file and untraceable.
The primary 18” x 6” floor joist ‘C’, was buckled by the impact and al ¾ “ bolts at ends failing, fell in the position shown in Drwg. 2 Figs 1 and 2. The top flange of this joist was bowed out 29” and bottom flange 22” away from the bomb on its weaker axis.
For failure of connection with stanchion see Drwg. 1 Fig.10. Although two joists on either side, B and D, were undamaged and remained in situ a considerable area of the 6” filler joist floor measuring approximately 35’ x 15’ was blown out, as indicated in Drwg.1 Fig.1 and Drwg.2 Fig 1 and 2. For failure of connection of joist ‘B’ with stanchion 6 see Fig.8 and Photo 14.
Rear Half – Of the rear half (2 storeys) of the Hotel Block nothing remained standing except some of the stanchions and wall framing joists, at various angles as shown in Photos. For failure of splicings to stanchions 4 and 5 see Figs.6 and 7, and Photo 15. For failure of stanchions 6 and 7, see Figs.8 and 10. For failure of connection to stanchions 6 with two 6” x 3” wall joists see Fig.9 and Photos 13, 14, and 17. The complete absence of any fragmentation on any of the 18” x 6” joists or on stanchions is worthy of notice.
Front Half – On ground floor all external and partition walls were demolished or badly cracked except the N. and E. walls of Control Room. All stanchions remained standing, but some were bowed out, for instance:-
- 25, 6” x 5” was bowed out 5 ½” on its weaker axis.
- 8, 6” x5” was bowed out 2” on its weaker axis.
- 24, 6” x 5” was bowed out 3 5/8” on its weaker axis.
- 9A, 10” x 5” was bowed out 2” on its weaker axis.
Whereas the 25’6” x 14” x 6” wall joist L., seen clearly in Photos 4 and 5, was not bowed out at all, the 11’6” x 9” x 4” wall joist M, left hanging by one 5/8” bolt at its west end , was bowed out 11 ¼” on its weaker axis.
The first floor was considered unsafe for a close inspection, but most of the 4” breeze partition walls appeared to be badly cracked or leaning over. The floor consisting of 1” boarding on 7” x 1 ½” joists at 14” centres remained more or less intact over the area shown in Fig.2. The first floor level was about 18’6” above ground level and 6’6” above the first floor level of the rear half.
Attic – Little could be seen, but the two light steel trusses did not appear to have buckled; about 80% or roof slates were cracked or dislodged.
Garage – The whole garage was demolished. The two 15” x 5” joists H and K supporting the light roof shown in section in Fig.5 were lifted and deposited as shown in Fig.1. Photos 10, 11, and 12. The joist G was of lighter section about 10” x 5”, but I omitted to take the measurements. This also was deposited as shown in Fig.1. and on the left of Photo 12, attached to stanchion. The floor level was 2ft. below the ground floor level of Hotel Block.
Vehicles – The following vehicles belonging to the NFS were in the garage at the time of the incident and were wrecked or damaged as shown:-
- 3 Large trailer pumps - Repairable
- 1 Light self-propelled pump - Wrecked
- 1 Burford light trailer - Repairable
- 2 Austin utility trucks - Repairable
- 1 ATC truck - Repairable
- 1 Hose carrying lorry - Wrecked
In addition one staff car in Collingwood Road was wrecked and one Austin 7, in the approach to the Basement Shelter, was undamaged.
Flat – External walls showed little damage except at junction with walls of Hotel Block, where large fissures occurred. Internal 4” breeze walls were badly cracked specially under the ceilings. The wood floor was supported on two 15” x 5” R.S.J.’s which were undamaged. The roof also was of light timber construction with felt and boarded covering, and was undamaged.
Basement shelter – The old Basement Garage, measuring 67’6” x 38’6” was approached by a concrete ramp on the S. side of the Hotel Block. The entrance under the 20”x 7” joist F was bricked up and a smaller entrance provided alongside as shown in Drwg. 2 Fig.1. Two entrances or exits were also provided on the E. and W. faces. The floor was of concrete. The shelter, intended for 335 persons, was divided up into 6 compartments by 13 ½” brick walls with connecting openings or crawl holes. The brick division walls were not reinforced but were bonded into the walls of the shelter. Support to the 6” filler joist floor above was afforded by 6 rows of timber struts extending the length of the shelter. These were of 6” x 2” timber with two 9” x 3” caps supporting 2” boarding under the floor slabs laid transversely to the 5” x 3” joists. Diagonals were of 3” x 2” timber. It is to be noted that the basement strengthening was not designed as a redundant structure, nor was any cross-bracing provided. The extent of the damage to and displacement of joists supporting the floor above and the damage to the floor itself has already been given above. The damage to walls, timber struts and 4” C.I. water piping is clearly shown hatched in red in Fig.1. All exits, openings and crawl holes remained open and sufficiently clear of debris to allow persons who might have been trapped to pass through.
Mr Scott, the Div. Officer of the NFS, informed me that at the time of the incident, 20 NFS personnel, himself included, were in the building. Of these only 10 could be accounted for as under:-
On ground floor
- 1 Male in Dining Room at K. - Killed
- 1 Male in Control Room at L. - Serious injury
- 1 Male in Control Room at M. - Slight injury
On first floor
- Mr Scott in Coy. Office at N. - Uninjured
- 1 Male in passage at P. - Slight injury
- 1 Male in Section Ldrs. Bedroom at O. - Killed
- 1 Male in Section Ldrs. Bedroom at T. - Serious injury
- 1 Male in station bedroom at Q. - Slight injury
- 1 Male in station bedroom at R. - Slight injury
- 1 Male in station bedroom at S. - Uninjured
Leaving 1 female and 9 males whose limbs were found up to a distance of 120 yards. As in the incident occurred at tea time, Mr Scott thinks it fairly safe to assume that of these 1 male and 1 female would have been in the kitchen and 8 males in the dining room.
Extract from As Severe a Test (IW Firefighting History Vol. 7)
Hurtling in from the south the 190’s path was streaked by the AA rounds of the furious gunners, the desperate pilot climbed in instinctive response, nosed back down to secure his quarry and released his bomb from a greater altitude and angle than the previous bombs. The weapon bore down on the Gloster and smashed through the south face close to the bottom of the middle floor of the three stories, busting through the joists and boards, thundering through the ground floor of the kitchen and exploding. Every pane of glass shattered and disintegrated outwards, the two-storey rear of the property fell completely apart, to the front all exterior and partition walls fell to pieces leaving only the scorched and distorted steel frame of the building standing exposed and vulnerable. The roof lifted and shook off two thirds of its tiles. Some of the RSJ’s were torn from their fixings, pirouetting sideways in a chaotic dance before toppling and crashing down to destroy the hose lorry and a self-propelled pump. Scott’s staff car was showered with high velocity debris and wrecked; other vehicles and pumps were also damaged. Next door at the Southern Vectis depot the roof was torn from the garage and thrown about, adding to the heaped ruins that destroyed a light trailer pump and hose lorry and rendered a further three heavy trailer pumps, two Austin utility trucks and a light trailer pump with damage.
Above the scene Poldi and the other 190 pilots took one last strafing run over the town, their engines deafening before throttling away from the bay on a south-west heading as the grim-faced AA gunners spat a final frantic flurry in their wake. Scott faltered from the wreckage in to Landguard Road, supported by Upward, minds spinning, ears ringing. As his mind cleared the officer’s deliberations quickly turned to their firemen and women. With the remains of the upper floors teetering dangerously overhead on extraordinarily twisted steel girders and with every sign of further collapse they ploughed in to the remains of the rooms and began the search, assisted by ARP squads and residents of Shanklin, compelled to come to the rescue of their fire-fighters.
Immediately a fireman was discovered amongst the mass that was once the dining room, but he was dead and in the ground floor control room two men, one seriously injured laid beside the broken remains of his friend. Proceeding to what comprised the remains of the first floor they discovered one injured man in the passage, a fatality in the Section Leader’s bedroom accompanied by another with severe injuries. In the station dormitory they discovered two terribly injured and another, incredibly, traumatised but otherwise unblemished.
Retracing their steps and rechecking every corner, where definable corners remained, Scott and Upward directed the injured to be taken to the Home of Rest, the peppered but otherwise intact Winchester House.
It was then that it dawned on them that of the persons that were within the building at the time of the explosion one woman and several of the men were missing. One of them was 68-year-old Cecil Matthews. It took three hours to locate and unearth the former Chief Officer from the rubble, where, incredibly, he was found injured but alive. The officer’s desperate uncertainty at not being able to locate the others was assuaged in the most terrible manner when news reached them that body parts had been located up to 120 yards from the Gloster.
Bomb No.4 photos from the Raid Summary brief
View of the rear of the Gloster Hotel – NFS headquarters – showing damage to steel frame building (red line points) to crater in foreground.
View of the rear of the Gloster Hotel – NFS headquarters – showing demolished section of hotel and garage at approximate point of impact of bomb (crater shown at end of red line).
Photo No.8 – View of the damage to the Gloster Hotel, taken from the west looking east at the rear of the premises, and shows the northern half of the building.
Photo No.10 – As Photos 8 & 9, but showing nearly the whole of the building, and taken from north-west looking south-east.
The photographs below are from Brief No.567-S/1-S/5, within the same R&E file, starting from No.1 including different images that carry the same numeric as those within the Raid Summary above.
Photo No.1 – Front half of Gloster Hotel (occupied by NFS) showing hole of entry on south face just above first floor.
Photo No.4 – Panorama from west showing that portion of front half of hotel which remained standing. Note bowing of stanchion 25 and 8.
Photo No.12 – Same as No.11 and showing close-up of R.S.J. ‘K’ which fell on and destroyed NFS hose lorry.
Photo No.15 – Connection of stanchion 4 showing cause of failure. R.S.J. ‘A’, undamaged , in foreground.
Photo No.16 – Showing cutting away of concrete floor at point of explosion (Note, Royal British Legion building in background).
This feature is submitted in respectful memory of the fallen.
- Robert William Attrill (16), NFS Messenger of 25 Wilton Park Road, Shanklin, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel.
- Alfred Buchanan Brown (36), NFS Leading Fireman of 1 Lind Street, Ryde.
- Eva Cheetham (70), of 4 Kent Terrace, Kent Street, Ventnor, killed at the Roman Catholic Church, Atherley Road, Shanklin.
- David Cohen (35), NFS Fireman of 7 Grove Road, Edgware, Middlesex, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel. Temporarily posted to the IW for recuperative purposes after experiencing the intensity of the Blitz bombing in London.
- Ivor Charles Day (39) NFS Fireman of 11 Radcliffe Hill, Winchmore Hill, London, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel. Temporarily posted to the IW for recuperative purposes after experiencing the intensity of the Blitz bombing in London.
- Leslie Frank Drudge (29) of 20 Ash Road, Newport, died of his injuries at the Home of Rest Hospital, Shanklin, the day after the attack.
- Lawrence Desmond Eldridge (17), NFS Messenger of 6 Council Houses, West Street, Brading, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel.
- Harry Glantzspigel (32), NFS Fireman of 70 Chanctonbury Way, Woodside Park, North Finchley, London, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel. Temporarily posted to the IW for recuperative purposes after experiencing the intensity of the Blitz bombing in London.
- Edward Francis Harris (48), NFS Fireman of 1 Arcade, High Street, Shanklin.
- Thomas John Healey (38), NFS Fireman of 14 West Howe Road, Kinson, Bournemouth, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel.
- Florence Mabel Hookey (30), of Maureen, Green Lane, Shanklin, killed at 1 Grove Ground, Hyde Road, Shanklin.
- Stella Frances Hookey (4), of Maureen, Green Lane, Shanklin, injured at 1 Grove Ground, Hyde Road, Shanklin, died at the Home of Rest Hospital, Shanklin, later the same day.
- Ruby May Howard (49), NFS Firewoman of 17 Albert Road, Shanklin, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel. The only female member of the Island’s fire services to die in service.
- Leslie Alfred Jacobs (39), NFS Fireman of Shoreside, The Esplanade, Shanklin, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel.
- Edward James Kingswell (34), NFS Fireman of 85 Landguard Road, Shanklin, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel.
- Sister Mary Clare Joseph McLaughlin (60), Sister of Mercy of St Anthony’s Convent, killed at the Roman Catholic Church, Atherley Road, Shanklin.
- Rosemary Frances Poulter (16), of 10 Collingwood Road, Shanklin, killed in the street near her home.
- Mary Agnes Reddie-Fraser (71), of Maysan, Cliff Walk, Shanklin, killed at the Roman Catholic Church, Atherley Road, Shanklin.
- Harry Rogers (64), of 32 Spring Gardens, Shanklin, killed at the Roman Catholic Church, Atherley Road, Shanklin.
- Helena Kate Rogers (66), of 32 Spring Gardens, Shanklin, injured at the Roman Catholic Church, Atherley Road, Shanklin, died of her injuries at the Home of Rest Hospital, Shanklin, three days later.
- Percy James Sheath (38), NFS Fireman of 14 Caesars Road, Newport, killed at NFS sub-divisional headquarters, Gloster Hotel.
- Emily Mary Dale West (55), killed at the Roman Catholic Church, Atherley Road, Shanklin.
- Nina Frances Wright (35), of 2 Alresford Road, Sandown, killed at 1 Grove Ground, Hyde Road, Shanklin.