Bombs drop on Sidmouth after Exeter raids

Sidmouth author researched Sidmouth in wartime for book

NOSTALGIA continues looking at Sidmouth during the Second World War, through the eyes of local author John Ankins in Sidmouth the War Years.

Many Sidmouth men joined the Local Defence Volunteers at the outbreak of war. This group of volunteers were set up in small groups to defend the country in case of invasion, to delay the enemy troops until the regular forces arrived.

“Most were working men,” writes John. “After a full day’s work, the only time they had to train was in the evenings and weekends. They also had to go out and patrol during part of the night and back to work the next day.

“They had no equipment or arms, only broomsticks, pickaxe handles and perhaps one may have had a 12-bore shotgun.”

Two platoons were formed with an HQ at The Seagull on The Esplanade and also a cottage on Salcombe Hill.

“On the seafront, 12 men mounted guard every night, two of which manned machine gun posts.”

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The Home Guard trained on various open spaces and there was a small assault course in the grounds of Knowle Hotel (now EDDC’s offices).

Sidbury Home Guard were Number Four Platoon, and chemist Colin Tooze, who died, aged 94, in 2001, was its sergeant.

There were 265 volunteers for Sidmouth’s Air Raid Wardens – 86 of them women.

Eventually, a dark navy battledress, beret and steel helmet, marked ARP, was issued as uniform.

The Sidmouth Herald reported in March, 1939: ‘Tuesday showed great activity when at 7.30pm the alarm signal sounded, all the services were manned. The scheme visualised an attack from the sea by planes sent off from submarines in Lyme Bay.

“Eight incidents were reported of various types of bombs and damage, such as might be produced by such an attack’.

The first report was of a bomb in Fore Street, which blocked the road. There was fire at Veals Stores, Fore Street and at 8pm a light trailer pump was sent to Slades Garage, Salcombe Road.

At 8.06pm “Vicarage Road blocked by a crater near Radway.” But of course, this was an exercise. In fact, despite all of Sidmouth’s preparation, it was hardly scarred by bombing.

“The first air raid warning by siren was 11.30pm on Wednesday, August 7, 1940,” writes John Ankins.

“This lasted until 1.13am and it was reported in the Herald that ‘The blackout of house lights was good but traffic on the road was much too bright’.

“The first bombs dropped in the Sidmouth area were incendiary bombs on Friday, August 16, 1940, near Upper Pin Farm, with half-an-acre of wheat damaged.

“On October 17, near Harcombe Farm and Chelson Farm, killing three cows, and on Tuesday, April 15, 1941, bombs near Stevens Cross, Sidford. Saturday, May 10, at Thorn Farm, Salcombe Regis, a barn was burnt down, also damaging a house and cottage nearby.”

In November 1941 a German plane, probably returning from a raid over Exeter, dropped two bombs, one either side of Griggs Lane.

“One went off causing some damage to houses in Fortescue Road…On the next Sunday, a lot of people came up the lane to see the crater, not knowing that another exploded bomb was in the field on the other side of the lane.”

It was found by a farmer as he drove his tractor across the field and people in Griggs Lane were moved out for three days while the 6-foot long, 16-inch diameter bomb was defused.

There was some excitement when two Fairey Battle planes, on a long distance night navigation exercise, collided over Sidmouth Gap in thick fog. Schoolboys cycled to a large barn at the Bowd where one crashed, to retrieve bits from the plane.

The other plane exploded after hitting the hillside on Bulverton Hill.

A German Me110 dropped two bombs on Salcombe Regis while being chased by two fighter planes.

“One bomb fell near Southcombe Farm and the other set a hayrick on fire at Thorn Farm.

“The German plane was shot down into the sea off Weston. One crew member was later washed up on Weston beach.”

Only the rear gunner survived when an American Liberator B-24 from Dunkeswell, crashed into Fire Beacon Hill in bad weather.

There is much more to learn about the war years from reading John Ankins’ book – entertainment, savings and fundraising for the war effort and the arrival of evacuees.

It is on sale at Paragon Books, price �6.99.