Newspaper Article dated 24 September 1944
Villagers Escape After Flying Bomb Explodes (The village of Pirton)
Although only chickens were deprived of their lives when a flying bomb struct some trees and exploded over a South of England village, considerable damage was done to property and some people had to be treated in a nearby hospital for cuts, bruises and shock. The bomb was heard to pass over nearby towns and those who saw it said it was travelling very low. It exploded as it struck some high trees near a Roman earthwork in the village.
It was then dark and people in many cottages were almost flung from their beds by the blast. For a very wide area around the spot where the bomb exploded, houses were windowless, many almost roofless and the noise of cascading tiles , falling glass and plaster and branches being snapped off trees added to the din.
One villager told an “Express” reporter, ‘The one blessing was that the electric light did not fail. Even so it was a job to find any clothes because the ceilings had fallen all over the bedrooms and you could not move about without shoes because of the glass.’
Smoked While Waiting Rescue
Close to where the bomb exploded in the tree-tops stand some very old cottages and they felt the full effect of the blast which not only took out the glass, fetched down the ceilings and blew tiles off, but also wrecked them internally so that they will not again be habitable. Some of those living in this group of cottages had remarkable escapes and it was from these that the greater part of the few injured people were taken. In one cottage were eleven people, Mr and Mrs Collins, Mrs Collins’ mother, two sons, two daughters, a grandchild, and Mr and Mrs Thwaites, two London evacuees.
Members of the NFS found Mrs Thwaites, although badly cut on the head, sitting up in bed smoking a cigarette!
She with Mr Thwaites and Mrs Race who lived in the next cottage were taken to hospital. With Mrs Race in her cottage were her husband and two daughters, a son and three grandchildren.
Members of the NFS in a sub-station near where the explosion occurred were blown from their beds and the roof, which collapsed, was held up by the trailer pump and other equipment. Despite the shock this must have been, the personnel there got a call through to the NFS control in the nearest town and then got on with the rescue work.
Their call was quickly answered and other NFS appliances were on the scene within 20 minutes. Altogether, nine parties of NFS from surrounding towns and villages, including three from the next county, eventually came on the scene. Operations were directed by the Divisional Officer, W J Malster.
Septuagenarian Trapped by Roof
In one of the cottages, Mr Odell, aged 75, was trapped by the roof, two beams from which pinned him to his bed which was bent under the weight. Firemen rescued him after some very difficult work, one beam having to be sawn through and the roof, from which loose tiles had first to be taken, lifted in a combined effort.
All the time Mr Odell assured his rescuers that he was all right and when he was drawn from under the wreckage on his mattress he was found to have practically escaped injury but was sent to hospital – under protest – suffering from shock.
Daylight revealed the full extent of the damage and some two hundred firemen, CD Rescue Parties, Wardens and Home Guards set to work on clearing houses which had been badly damaged. The NFS rescued unbroken furniture which was removed to the Methodist school room while at the Village Hall where, although its roof had been badly damaged, a Rest Centre was opened within half an hour of the incident and fires were soon lighted and the homeless made comfortable. In the adjoining school two hundred people were served with a mid-day meal and, after an afternoon spent in putting tarpaulins over the damaged roofs, boarding up windows and generally tidying up, tea was served.
The village church was a sorry sight. Only one small window over the altar remained and the other windows, including a stained glass one in memory of John Davis, crunched under the feet as one walked up the windswept aisle. In two cases even the window mullions had gone and the lead which had held the diamond-shaped pieces of glass of which the windows were composed hung down inside the building. The church clock stopped at the time of the explosion but was started again.
A Methodist church had some of its windows smashed and in others the lead which held the glass was buckled and large patches of plaster had fallen from the ceiling. When the organist tried the organ he found it was still in working order but the found himself covered in plaster dust which blew out of the pipes.
The old Baptist church was also extensively damaged.
It being impossible to hold a service in the village church, such of the villagers as could find time from their repair work attended a united evening service in the damaged Methodist Church. The service was conducted by a local lay preacher and the Vicar of the parish whose congregation was also invited to the service at which thanks were offered for deliverance from what might have been a very tragic happening.
Police and special constables were drafted into the village and to these, as to the other workers, a mobile canteen brought warming cups of tea and food.
One or two public houses were damaged and on the boarded windows of one was chalked in big letters the welcome word ‘Open’. Greenhouses on land adjoining one public house and another range of greenhouses in another part of the village were wrecked by the blast.
Although a horse was out in the field over which the missile exploded, it was unhurt but a number of chickens nearby were killed or hurt, one owner losing nearly 20. Another poultry keeper also had a hutch of ferrets. Both poultry and ferrets were blown out of their homes and the ferrets had the time of their lives among wounded chickens.
Horse Held up Stable
Another horse comes into the story. It belongs to Messrs Buckett and was in a small stable. A pig was nearby. One of the brothers went out in the darkness to see if the animals were safe and found both pig and horse unperturbed. The horse was standing quietly in the stable. When daylight came it was seen that the roof of the stable was in a pretty bad condition and the owners decided to bring out the horse.
Before they could do so the roof had to be shored up because the patient horse had been standing with the roof beams on its back holding up the roof. When the animal was removed the stable collapsed.
In one house an old lady of 96 indignantly called out to her daughter that her bed had ‘gone’. Her daughter assured her that the bed was all right but the window had gone. ‘The window blown out??’ exclaimed the old lady indignantly, ‘then someone will have to pay for it!’
During the day Regional officials visited the village as did also the County ARP officer and a senior officer of the Home Guard, and all were very satisfied with the work which the NFS, Home Guard, CD Rescue Squads and WVS were doing. The Rest Centre was a hive of industry and assisting the many helpers here were three part time women members of the NFS. Everyone gave a hand in true village spirit. Fortunately most of the homeless had relations in the village and were able to go to them but accommodation was quickly forthcoming for the less fortunate and the lot of everyone was made the happier by the spirit of good fellowship which prevailed in this second visitation from a flying bomb.
It was seen that the old thatched roofs withstood the blast far better than the tiled roofs.