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15 October 2014
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The End of the Supermarine Works (Wooston): Home of the Spitfire

by Bob Wood

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Archive List > The Blitz

Contributed by 
Bob Wood
People in story: 
Bob Wood (L.Cpl HR Wood)
Location of story: 
Southampton (Wooston)
Article ID: 
A2074754
Contributed on: 
24 November 2003

My first appointment after completing my university course, limited to two years under wartime regulations, was as a teaching assistant on the design staff of Supermarine at Wooston, Southampton.

I took it up on 8 July 1940. On 26 September came what proved to be the final air raid on the offices and works, strongly rumoured to have been led by the German pilot who’d been on a courtesy visit just before the war. Having landed his seaplane on the River Itchen and had it ‘beached’ on the works’ slipway he had certainly gained a first-hand view of the local geography.

As a lance-corporal in the LDV (Local Defence Volunteers…fore-runner of the Home Guard), I took shelter with my platoon under the flimsy five-storey office block, crouching in a reinforced concrete basement with limited headroom. We were rocked as if at sea by bombs falling close all round. When we finally emerged we found that a bomb had come through the roof directly overhead the chief draughtsman’s office, out through his window, and — mercifully unexploded — into the River Itchen. The works, the main centre of spitfire production, was completely destroyed.

The railway bridge, under which workers were still making their way to air raid shelters, received a direct hit, as did one of the already occupied shelters. Many workers preferred to take the air raid sirens as their signal to make their way up the hill to Peartree Green and their foreboding proved only too justified as those two hits caused grievous casualties.

The next day, my twentieth birthday, I was on the remains of the railway embankment with my LDV armband and my empty rifle to discourage people from falling into the gap left by the destruction of the bridge. My American Springfield rifle was empty because the .300 cartridges were not available, but the regular army did have .303 ammunition for their Lee Enfield weapons! Presumably we had been issued with rifles because of the importance of defending aircraft works…but with empty rifles? Some time later we received five rounds each…to shoot our way out of trouble with enemy parachutists!

Hand grenade-throwing practice formed part of our Home Guard training. Being hopeless at ball games my dummy grenades went all over the place one Sunday morning, so, with throwing of live ones scheduled for the following Sunday, I spent the whole of the preceding Saturday throwing stones of a similar size and weight in the garden of the house where I was living! Next morning, as we marched up to the range, the company commander came alongside me and muttered ‘You can fall out if you like, Wood’.

I replied ‘No thank you, sir. I’ll be all right!’

When it came to my turn my grenade destroyed the target! Surprise, surprise…the only one to do so!

Lance Corporal HR Wood (Bob Wood)
The Cottage
Belle Vue Farm
Benlease Way
Swanage
BH19 2SQ
01929 423 590

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