• The Bomber Will Always Get Through

    Compared to many other evacuees I was treated rather well, and despite the lack of any plumbing, electricity or basic bathroom facilities (the toilet was situated in a garden hut), life was not too bad.

    Three miles to the northeast of Houghton Conquest, there lies the vast green hangars at Cardington. These were originally used for the development of blimps and airships, with the most famous being the ill-fated R101. During the war, Cardington was an RAF barrage balloon depot and became a training unit. Also, not far away in the nearby small village of Elstow where John Bunyan lived, there was a large ordnance factory making heavy guns and other military supplies.

    Barrage balloons     Cardington 2003

    In 1940 my parents moved to a small farm cottage in Wrington, North Somerset, a place they thought offered relative safety. However, not soon after, they discovered that their safe haven was actually on the boundaries of three decoy sites for Bristol. The decoys, known as Starfish, were large areas of countryside situated near large cities and towns to entice enemy aircraft into thinking they were over their target area. If hostile aircraft flew over the entrapment sector, they were met with anti-aircraft batteries controlled by radar firing rockets, the intensity of which was akin to a shotgun going off. The site proved its worth by being hit with a number of bombs, one of which landed in my parents kitchen. Fortunately, it did not explode, and my mother, father and my youngest stepbrother Tony survived. Suffice to say, I remained at Houghton Conquest.

    Starfish     Family Starfish

    One night in early 1942 whilst lying in bed, I remember hearing the drone of a low flying aircraft (one I had not heard before) and wondered what it might have been. Unknown to me at the time, this was actually 161 Squadron of the RAF, a highly secretive base located at Tempsford, around 10 miles away. Initially the base used Lysanders for ferrying supplies and agents to support the French resistance movement. One of the unsung heroes of the squadron was the CO of the base, Group Captain Hugh Verity, who during the course of the war, flew 36 solo missions to France. Later, as the conflict progressed, the small force was supplemented with larger aircraft such as the Wellington, Halifax and Sterling bombers.

    Halifax MK3

    My first sighting of a mass bomber formation was in May 1942, when it was silhouetted against the sky. What I had witnessed was the first part of the raging force which would rendezvous with other heavy bomber squadron for the thousand aircraft attack on Cologne. Some 90% of the city centre was destroyed, at the cost of 4% of the bombing force.

    Cologne

    During late May 1943, my mother came to see me on an unexpected visit. It was such a surprise, even greater so when she told me we were going to Hastings on a short holiday (or so I thought). We travelled via London and stayed the night at my Aunt Min’s flat. The next day, all three of us travelled down to Hastings by train. It was a good job we went when we did, as a day later the flat was destroyed in a bombing raid.


    11 Comments
    1. alanmerry's Avatar
      alanmerry -
      Great story. Always fascinating to read personal memories of the war as against the more general histories.
    1. AlyMac's Avatar
      AlyMac -
      what a super read - thanks for sharing
    1. MrYorkiesWorld's Avatar
      MrYorkiesWorld -
      A fantastic read Peter, many thanks for sharing this amazing story!
    1. tirith63's Avatar
      tirith63 -
      Thanks for sharing your personal history. Very glad you're here to tell the story - it was fascinating!
    1. widowmaker320's Avatar
      widowmaker320 -
      My Dad was in SOE F-Section, and will have flown out with 161 Squadron
    1. rcogg's Avatar
      rcogg -
      Thanks for sharing. A great read!
    1. kalizzi's Avatar
      kalizzi -
      Awesome article you shared Nels. Enjoyed reading it thoroughly. Thank you.
    1. BarryDon's Avatar
      BarryDon -
      Thanks for sharing your story Peter. Vey interesting reading.
    1. Aviation392's Avatar
      Aviation392 -
      Fantastic read. Unfortunately so many of our younger generation, have no idea of the destruction and fear so many ppl witnessed and experienced personally. Thank you for sharing your story, and we all wish you the best of health./ Ten
    1. SWM1968's Avatar
      SWM1968 -
      Peter, what a fantastic article!

      I can only imagine what it must have been like for all those who lived during that time. The generations that had to endure all of this we must always be eternally grateful to, and we should not forget the sacrifices people made, both on the home front and also overseas. Times were tuff indeed. Fantastic stories like this deserve to be kept alive so that younger generations appreciate what went before.

      Thank you so much for sharing your personal experiences of this time, really appreciated!
    1. PaulMort's Avatar
      PaulMort -
      A great insight into the human aspect of WWII. The memories of a time of self-sacrifice, loss and eventually the joy of victory will never be erased from the minds of the people who were around at that time. Fascinating recollection and a great story.
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