Market Place & Queen Victoria Memorial c.1903

Northbrook Street c.1906

Cheap Street c.1900

Newbury bombed during the Second World War

The first bombing of Newbury in 1940

On 7th November 1940, the people of Newbury experienced their first air raid. An oil bomb was dropped on Goldwell Park on the south side of the Bath Road, two high explosive bombs landed just west of Castle House in Speen, resulting in several windows being broken by the blast. The town suffered little damage, and there were no lives lost during the air raid.

In the Evening, about 40 incendiaries were dropped by a German bomber over the town. The Parish Church was damaged when an incendiary fell on the North porch. The incendiary burnt its way through two coverings of a water tank made from metal and wood, and dropped into the water. The fire was put out by the Newbury Fire Service and an R.A.F man that climbed a stack-pipe to the roof of the porch.

An incendiary landed in a builder's merchant yard along Bartholomew Street, incendiaries also fell in gardens along Andover Road, Rectory Close, near Dower House in London Road, and Hovis Mills. Local children extinguished an incendiary that had landed in the middle of Victoria Park, by covering it with earth.

german luftwaffe dornier 217 bomber
German Luftwaffe Dornier 217 bomber

Newbury attacked during air raid in 1941

On 26th March 1941 at 1:20pm the air-raid siren gave the 'Alert' of German bomber approaching Newbury, when immediately six high explosive bombs were dropped. All the bombs fell on open ground with no direct damage being caused. One of the bombs exploded behind the Albert Works, with another in West Fields and also Summers Meadow. The blast of the explosions broke windows in nearby buildings, and a few people suffered slight cuts.

Some of the German bombers flew along the streets machine-gunning the houses while passing through, roofs were damaged by the bullets, bringing down slates. One bullet went through a window of the Newbury Weekly News building and into the linotype room, the staff escaped without any injuries.

Mr J.W. Adnams, aged 56 suffered a heart attack while hurrying to report for duty at a rescue and demolition squad.

During the afternoon, another German bomber machine-gunned the streets of Newbury as it flew over.

st.johns church sign still intact in 1943
St.Johns Church sign still intact in 1943

15 people killed during a daylight raid at Newbury in 1943

On 10th February 1943 two German Luftwaffe Dornier 217E bombers from ll/KG40 Bomber Unit in Holland on a nuisance raid, followed the Great Western Railway line running west from London to Reading. At 4:35pm one of the bombers veered off towards South Reading while the other continued to follow the railway line to Newbury.

At 4:43pm the Dornier Do 217E bomber arrived at Newbury and dropped eight high-explosive bombs - there was no time for a warning siren. The first four bombs were 500 Kilograms each, followed by a further four bombs at 50 Kilograms each.

looking south towards newtown road in 1943
Looking south towards Newtown Road in 1943

The first bomb to be dropped struck the house of the Mr E.H. Hutton, the Borough Surveyor. The bomb travelled through the roof and out of the wall, then through the neighbour's house belonging to Mr. R.L. Barnes, finally landing in the centre of the three end blocks of Southampton terrace, where the 500kg bomb exploded.

The second 500kg bomb went through roof of the First Aid Post, and exploded in the centre of St. John's Church. The Church was totally destroyed, leaving only the altar standing. The Boys School, known as the Lancastrian School on the corner of Newtown Road and St. John's Road also suffered some damage from the blast, along with houses along St. Johns Road and adjacent.

The third 500kg bomb went through a house in Madeira Place, it then struck the centre block of St. Bartholomew's Almshouses.

ruins of the st.bartholomews almshouses in 1943
Ruins of the St.Bartholomew's Almshouses in 1943

A handful of children were attending an after school club that was held in the Science block adjacent to the Senior Council School. Margaret Vincent, an eight year old girl was one of those children who that at the time was sitting on a wooden bench and looking out of the classroom window, when she saw the approaching German Bomber. Margaret called over to the teacher 'look miss, its dropping sticks!'. The teacher realised what was happening and she quickly took shelter with the children underneath some wooden desks. The fourth bomb travelled through a window and a nine-inch thick wall of the school, where the 500kg bomb exploded on impact.

The Science block had escaped any damage, but 50ft away, the Senior Council School (Eastfield) had suffered a direct hit leaving the building in dust and rubble, all the nearby windows had been blown out by the explosions. Fortunately, most pupils at the school had left for the day. Mr F.G. Ball, headmaster, his wife and Mr H. Reid, the caretaker, were badly injured and taken to hospital. Mr R. Swingler, Education Secretary had been in the headmaster's room at the time and was rescued with a broken arm.

ruins of the senior council school in 1943
Ruins of the Senior Council School in 1943

The fifth bomb dropped was the first of the four 50kg bombs which landed on the railway embankment, demolishing a hut next to the signal box near Black Boys bridge. The blast from the bomb rendered part of the Woodlands Laundry unusable.

The sixth and seventh 50kg bombs straddled a bungalow in New Square. Some people in Cheap Street were blown off their feet by the blast, with wood flying past them from the nearby explosions.

The eighth bomb travelled through a wall at the back of Brain's, struck their office, and cut a telegraph pole behind the late Dr. Hickman's. The 50kg bomb then grazed the roof of a house at Falkland Terrace, finally landing in the yard where it came to a stop and failed to explode.

ruins of the senior council school in 1943
Ruins of the Senior Council School in 1943

The Dornier Do 217E Bomber was fitted with two 13mm Caliber MG 131 machine guns, the forward gunner and dorsal gunner machine gunned incessantly through the streets. Fortunately, it was a Wednesday afternoon, early closing day, and the streets were practically empty. Much damage was done to shops in Cheap Street, Bartholomew Street and Northbrook Street with plate-glass windows shattered and roof tiles by the machine gun bullets.

Once the bomber had reached three-quarters along Northbrook Street the pilot turned the aircraft right, passing over St. Joseph Catholic Church and then in the direction of Thatcham.

Altogether 10 houses were totally destroyed, 16 were so badly damaged that demolition was necessary, and 13 had to be evacuated. 294 dwellings and other properties received slight damage, excluding broken windows. Many of the building were later demolished.

The local civil defence commanders had to use the Police and Home Guard to keep back the crowds while there was an organised search for survivors. 15 people were killed, a further 41 people who were injured, which 25 were seriously hurt.

bomb crater at st.bartholomews almshouses in 1943
Bomb crater at St.Bartholomew's Almshouses in 1943

Eyewitnesses, which at the time were children at St. Bartholomew School, said that they had only left school about 20 minutes before and remembered seeing the German bomber releasing its payload as they were walking home. Out of the 15 people who died, three were pupils and two of their teachers who had stayed behind to finish off some work.

In contrast, the Reading raid fell across the town centre, straddling what is now the site of the Oracle shopping centre and moving north to the Town Hall. There was greater loss of life with 41 people killed in Reading, despite an air raid warning. 35 of those people were dining in the People’s Pantry, a Government-sponsored restaurant behind the Market Place. The other casualties, including two children, were taking shelter as best they could.

Both bomber crews became victims of war, their Dornier Do 217E bombers were fired upon and brought down by RAF Spitfires as they flew back on their homeward journey.

railway signal box and senior council school in 1943
Railway Signal Box and Senior Council School in 1943