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Close Encounters of the air raid kind

by csvdevon

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Archive List > The Blitz

Contributed by 
csvdevon
People in story: 
Rupert Extence
Location of story: 
Teignmouth, London, Plymouth
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A5263265
Contributed on: 
22 August 2005

This story has been written onto the BBC People's War site by CSV Storygatherer Carole on behalf of Rupert Extence. the story has been added with his permission. Rupert Extence fully understands the terms and conditions of the site.

It was a beautiful sunny summers' evening on the 20th August, 1940. I was on leave from the RAF and walking from Shaldon to Teignmouth across the 3/4 mile long bridge spanning the estuary. About half way across I heard the sound of bomb blasts and machine gun fire from up river, Newton Abbot railway station was being bombed. I saw several black specs in the distance which quickly turned out to be 3 German aircraft closely followed by 2 Hurricanes flying low over the water and straight for the part of the bridge where I was! As the Hurricanes were still firing in bursts I wasted no time flattening myself in the gutter to get what protection I could from the kerb. The planes were so low they had to climb to avoid the bridge and roared straight over to spot where I was lying. By the time I picked myself up they were on their way out to sea.
On returning from leave to my unit in North West London I spent every night for six weeks or more in air raid shelters during the London blitz. Although away from areas of intensive bombing we still suffered from sporadic attacks. After about four weeks we were so tired from lack of sleep we were allowed to sleep under our beds with blankets draped over the sides to protect us from flying glass.
Towards the end of October I was posted to 8 Initial Training Wing in Newquay with it's HQ in the Trebarwith Hotel. In March 1941 I was caught up in the Plymouth blitz on two occasions while travelling to and from home. The first time, on the way from Cornwall the train was stopped between Keyham and Devonport. With all the anti-aircraft batteries and Naval ships firing and bombs and incendiaries dropping it was an inferno - but I fell asleep! The previous night I had been on duty on our telphone exchange taking messages about air raid warnings etc, so had worked for almost 36 hours except for meal breaks. I woke to find myself being shaken and told to get off the train as the line had been hit ahead of us. We were transferred by buses to Plymouth North Road station. A previous train that I had just missed at Par was there, severly damaged by incendiary bombs.
The second occasion was far less traumatic. I was on the way back to Cornwall when we were stopped at Plympton station. It was a beautiful, clear frosty night with a full moon. I and most of the passengers got out on the platform and watched the mayhem in progress over Plymouth. Suddenly there was the telltale whistle of a stick of bombs, descending. I dived under a station seat in a flash!
By mid August 1941 I was on a troopship (P&O Liner STRATHMORE) on my way to the Middle East. Eventually I returned home to Shaldon at the end of September 1945, but that is another story!

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