‘Nuisance raids’ were now almost an everyday occurrence up and down the country, sometimes causing little harm, sometimes causing immense suffering to small communities. Such was the case in the quiet rural town of Petworth in Sussex on the morning of the 29th September:
There has been no damage of national importance. The more outstanding incidents were at Hastings on the 24th, when 19 people were killed and 17 seriously injured, and at Petworth (Sussex) on the 29th, where a boys’ school was completely wrecked; casualties are reported to be 23 killed, of whom 20 are children, and 30 seriously injured, of whom 24 are children. It is feared that 7 children are still missing and must be presumed dead.
Other incidents involving fatal casualties and damage to private property and/or utility services were reported from Seaford (the 24th), Penzance (the 25th/26th), Colchester and Broadstairs (the 28th), Somerton (Somerset), Shrewton (Salisbury Plain), Betteshanger Collthbourne (Kent) (the 29th), Ashford, Worthing. Lancing and Colchester (the 30th).
The estimated civilian casualties for the week ending 0600 hours the 30th September are 62 killed and 82 seriously injured
From the Home Security Situation Report for the week ending 30th September, as reported to the British War Cabinet, see TNA CAB 66/29/23
John Exall was 11 years old at the time and a pupil at the school:
It was a damp and miserable day when we went to school that morning. My brother Bob was twelve and I was eleven.
At break time I was playing around in the cloakroom when the first bomb dropped. I remember seeing the dust fall from the ceiling. I ran to get out of the building but was told to go the other way as we had been told there was an escape route through the laundry into the tunnel that went into Petworth Park: but that was not to be as the bomb fell on the laundry too.
There were two more bombs and by that time I don’t remember much more as I was buried under the rubble. I came to and heard a lot of voices and realised that I couldn’t move except for one arm, which I managed to push up through the rubble.
It was like a very bad dream and when I heard the other boys shouting and screaming I realised that it was not a dream.
My father, who was a part-time fireman, was on his way to Billingshurst when he heard the bomb drop. He made his way back to Petworth and realised it was the school that had been hit.
Firemen already there, who knew he had two boys in the school, turned him away, so he went home to tell Mum and the other parents in Grove Lane what had happened.
They anxiously awaited news!
Bob had been blown onto the wall the other side of the road then fell off.
When my arm was spotted I was rescued by the Canadian soldiers and taken by one of their army trucks to the Cottage Hospital, but was then transferred to Chichester Hospital.
I had quite serious injuries to my back and leg and a smashed up arm. I awoke in the ward and found out I was next to my brother who had injuries to his leg and knee. He was in hospital for 7 weeks and I was there for 8 weeks.
My parents had not heard what had happened to me until the evening. What a relief for them to have both sons alive. The Canadians were wonderful during this time and Petworth will be forever grateful to them.
Read this story on BBC People’s War.
All images are © George Garland, courtesy of West Sussex County Council Library Service, which has much more material on the episode.