In 1940, Britain was at war against Nazi Germany. On 30 September 1940 at about 4.30 p.m. the residents of Sherborne got a shock. As local historian Gerald Pitman wrote “some 300 bombs, about 60 tons, were dropped in under 5 minutes.”Sherborne had become the first town in the West of England to experience a severe enemy raid.
As the map below shows, the bombs fell in distinct lines, starting about two miles west of the town at Wyke and Lenthay Common, through the centre of the town and finishing about a mile to the east.
Lenthay Common was pitted with bomb craters and 108 estate houses near Lenthay suffered damaged and 10 were destroyed. Several children were also killed. As the bombers proceeded towards the centre of Sherborne, the Cemetery Caretaker’s house was destroyed and in Horsecastles, bombs damaged a long row of houses.
Three houses were destroyed in Acreman Street Bombs also fell in the grounds of Sherborne Preparatory School and in the Sherborne School courts. Cheap Street, close to the junction with Hound Street, experienced extensive damage in the road and the shops either side. To a discerning eye, evidence of the damage can still be seen in this area, and it is well documented in contemporary photographs.
Bombs fell all around Sherborne Abbey but apart from a few broken windows the Abbey was not damaged. The closest bombs landed in Half Moon Street. The
damage near the corner of Half Moon Street and South Street was extensive.
As the bombers continued east, a line of bombs caused damage around Tinneys Lane in Newland, totally destroying junior school buildings. Lucky, as the raid was late afternoon, all the pupils had gone home.
Whilst there was extensive damage to the town and disruption to utility services, none of the key buildings were destroyed and all were restored.
In total, 18 people were killed and 32 injured and detained in hospital. A bronze plaque on the War Memorial in Half Moon Street still records the names of all who were killed.
The question is, why was a quiet historic market town targeted? The German Luftwaffe had launched a major attack on the aircraft factories of South West England; the Supermarine factory at Southampton, Westland Aircraft at Yeovil and the Bristol Aeroplane factory at Filton, Bristol.
The main target of the raid was the Yeovil factory but, due to cloud cover, the Germans did not find Westland that afternoon. They were attacked by British fighters and when there was a break in the cloud a town became visible with a railway line in approximately the correct relationship to Westland and the Taunton/Yeovil line and their bombs were released.
This might explain why so many of thebombs landed in the fields near Silverlake Farm to the west side of Sherborne. The German crews would have been briefed that the camouflaged Westland works were situated a kilometre to the west of Yeovil town centre on the north side of the railway line. Navigation in those days was by dead reckoning and the bomber crews would have been told to look out for easily recognizable landmarks to check their position and find their targets.
Having mistaken Sherborne for Yeovil, their targeting was very accurate except they had picked the wrong town.
Several detailed references have been published about the event. The late Jim Scofield wrote a booklet to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Bombing which was published by Sherborne Museum. The Museum also has oral histories relating to the town bombing in their oral archive and website. On permanent display are artifacts, including the nose cone of a bomb which dropped, pieces of shrapnel and material relating to a local ARP warden and civil defence in Sherborne. The Old Shirburnian Society website has fascinating accounts and photographs of the impact on Sherborne School. All in all, September 30th is a memorable day in the town’s long history.
Since 2013, Paul has worked as a holiday guide across southern & south west England and led small private adult groups walking holidays to Devon, Dorset, Somerset & beyond. He became a South West Region Blue Badge Guide in 2018.
His previous career included secondary school teaching in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire; Geography & Environmental Education Advisor for Somerset, Headteacher in Kuwait, Windsor and Somerset, School Inspector and a School Management consultant.
He is very knowledgeable and familiar with the social, economic & political history, geography & geology that create the distinctive character of the West Country.