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15 October 2014
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Bombing of the Boys School

by angelaguy

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
People in story: 
John and Bob Exall
Location of story: 
Petworth, West Sussex
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
24 July 2005

I thought that my late father John Exall’s story would be of interest to the readers, these are his own words and thoughts of the Bombing of the Boys School in Petworth on September 29th 1942.

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.

John Exall

As a footnote I would like to add that on that fateful day, 28 boys, the Headteacher, a teacher and staff in the laundry all lost their lives, when the lone bomber discharged his ‘deadly cargo’ before going home.

Angela Guy

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