80 years on from the Bombing of the Bay
EIGHTY YEARS ON FROM THE BAYS’ DEVASTATION
At 11.30 on Friday 17 February 2023 , mourners gathered at Shanklin Cemetery to commemorate the tragic events of 80 years ago, when enemy bombing raids killed young and old, fire personnel, wrecking families forever and destroying the homes of residents, who thought they were nowhere near the front line
An Account of the events as they happened
5pm on January 3rd 1943, days after travel restrictions to the Island were relaxed to allow firefighters, caught in the London blitz, to get R&R (rest and recuperation) in Shanklin, a flight of Focke Wolf 190’s darkened the skies over the Town.
Minutes later bombs were dropped on the Roman Catholic Church, destroying the Atherley Road Church and killing several of those at the service; and moments later firefighters of the National Fire Service fell victim when bombs dropped on their Landguard Road Depot and Gloster Hotel.
6 weeks later, on 17 February 1943, at 11.30am bombs were dropped on St Paul’s Church, in Regent Street, killing the Vicar Rev Irons, and his family; with houses in Landguard Road also suffering tragic consequences.
One resident, June Watt (nee Kingswell) recounts both events in Vectis View today, losing both her parents in the raids, as well as baby sister and Grandmother.
Other residents, including former Shanklin Mayor John Fleming, vividly remember getting off the bus at the Bus Station and witnessing the carnage that lay ahead of them.
A special film tribute has been produced by Shanklin VYCC and IW Film Club, with help from Sandown and Shanklin Historical Associations, and part-funded by CCIF, and is freely available on youtube on the ‘Growing Up In The Bay’ site.
The film includes interviews with a Fireman, the late Henry Appel, who recounts rescuing children from the rubble of the church; rare government pictures from the time; and other eyewitness accounts.
Shanklin Rowing Club President Pat Glover recalls being ‘Up in Rylstone with my Mother and sister, near where the caged birds were, and all of a sudden we saw German planes in the sky above us, they swept in and hit Shanklin Fire station, and were away in minutes’.
5 years ago, in February 2018, June, and her family, returned to Shanklin to take part in a commemorative service at St Paul’s , and unveiled a commemorative plaque, with the Bishop of Portsmouth, Lord Lieutenant and High Sheriff, outside of the Shanklin British Legion and dedicated to all those residents and fire personnel that were killed in the town during World War II.
5 years on, at 11.30am today, RBL Chaplain Rev Tony Richards, with RBL President Ian Ward BEM, will lead a graveside service dedicated to the memories of those that perished 80 years ago, with Bugler Stuart Kent playing the last post.
Organisers thank the IW Council for their support in organising this commemoration, and local town and parish councils for their support.
June Watt (nee Kingswell)
Survivor of 1943 Bombing Raids in Shanklin
17 February 1943, 80 years ago today, is the day that changed my families lives forever.
The 1939-45 War started with me living in our parents rented 4 bedroom Landguard Road house, now Shanklin Fire Station, with younger Brother (Arthur), Sisters (Joan and 3 year old Audrey), with our 68 year-old grandmother, on Father’s side, Mary Ann Kingswell, worshipping Sundays at Regent Street’s Methodist Church.
Us children slept under a table shelter at night in the living room. Our father, a part-time gardener at the Crab, worked 48 hours on/24 hours off as a Fireman and Air Raid Patrols around Shanklin, listening to the Radio news, about devastating mainland bombing raids.
Christened at St Paul’s, where our parents married, remembering pre-war Carnivals, Regattas, on the beach before it was cordoned off, troops stationed in Town and at Ventnor Radar Station; Shopping at Regent Street bakers for sixpenneth of stale-next day cakes, nearby Dairy selling patted butter, with Tea and Sugar in Brown Paper Bags, weighing biscuits out of a tin; Godmother, Frances Day, giving us her sweet ration in exchange for Tea Rations.
Walking to Albert Road’s Shanklin Primary School, with class room coal fires, a big wooden play-horse, respecting 2 minutes Armistice Day silence in the playground, crates of milk at break time – air raid shelters in the playing field, told to get under our desks when sirens went off hearing German planes.
At home with Mum, Dorothy Kingswell, breaking her leg working at the Crab, on 3 January 1943, days after travelling restrictions to the Island were partially relaxed. Around 5pm we heard a tremendous nearby explosion, the whole house shuddered, windows blew out, sirens rang out – the all clear sounded, Mother asked me to see what had happened, I saw devastation all around, the Fire Station Depot where my Father was, next to Gloster Hotel, was carnage – just a smouldering heap of rubble, being told to go back inside to my Mother, later someone telling Mother that her husband, Edward James Kingswell, had been killed in the raid, with other fire personnel.
6 weeks later, on 17 February 1943, I was in class, at 11.30am, hearing planes overhead, machine gunning nearby, and hiding under our desks, going to the brick shelters when the all clear sounded. Other children went home, leaving my Brother and I to have lunch with family friends who walked us past our wrecked house in Landguard Road, staying the night with elderly cousins in Green Lane, before our Portsmouth grandparents came to collect us, being told our Mother, Grandmother and sister were killed, and we were to stay in Portsmouth for the remainder of the war, including seeing preparations for D Day.
Leaving home at 16, training as a teacher; sister Joan, in Basingstoke hospital for 3 months, skin grafts until 16, life-long scars on her back, became a nurse; and Arthur joining the Air Force – never a day goes past without our thinking of the events of 1943, the family taken away and the impact on our lives.
Blessed with 3 children, 6 grandchildren, and 7 great-grandchildren, keeping strong Christian values, but remaining heartbroken that my parents couldn’t see their children marry, having families of their own, hopefully following pathways and careers that would have made them proud.
Currently in sheltered accommodation, just welcoming a Ukrainian refugee, I can’t help but think haven’t we learnt from the lessons of the past. I’m eternally grateful that my children and children’s children are safe from harm, fully aware of how fragile this is and, on this day of all days, hope that they never have to go through the experience that I, with Arthur and Joan, endured, like so many families, 80 years ago.
Thank you for taking time to read about this moment in the live of our, Kingswell, family.