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15 October 2014
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Home Guard Recollections at Saunders Roe

by Winchester Museum WW2 Exhibition

Contributed by 
Winchester Museum WW2 Exhibition
People in story: 
Ronald Williams
Location of story: 
Saunders Roe, East Cowes, Isle of Wight
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
28 June 2005

This story has been submitted to the People's War website by Sarah Cooper at the AGC Museum on behalf of Jean Luccett daughter of Ronald Williams. Jean Luccett fully understands the sites terms and conditions.

These notes were originally written by Ronald Williams, living at East Cowes during 1939-1945 and working at Sanders Roe. He was a member of the Home Guard.

In the early days of 1940, the L.D.V went on duty on one of the Osborne House towers, two would go up from dusk till dawn. The idea was to report on any unusual activity, we had one rifle between us, some patrolled the East Cowes roads. I had a youngster with me on one occasion, very keen, and along the lower Whippingham road one dark evening, we heard someone approaching, the lad calls "Who goes there?", it turned out to be a policeman. He understood our approach and these patrols were stopped soon after this happening.

After the Dunkirk evacuation when the air raids became frequent, I remember being on H.Gurad duty on the Seahole slipway, Saunders Roe front, wth another HG. The guns were firing and the searchlights were trying to pick up an enemy aircraft, then the guns stopped firing, and we could see a plane caught in the beam, shortly afterwards a mighty roar came from its engines as it plunged downwards. We thought it must have hit the water somewhere off Calshot, a night fighter pilot must have hit it while in the beam. Anti aircraft gun usually stopped firing when a fighter plane was in the area. Its recorded in the Island Book, that a Junkers 88 plunged into the Solent off Egypt point near Gurnard, I think this could be the plane we saw come down. On another occasion from the slipway, I saw a bomb explode on the solent works across the river, like a ball of fire.

As the air raids became more frequent, a lot of working hours were lost, so a spotting system was introduced. A number of observation posts around the island would give a secondary warning, after the main one, of enemy aircraft approaching when they considered the aircraft were in sttriking distance, giving the workforce three munutes or so to get to the shelter. In the shelters one night at the Maresfield works, there was one nearby explosion, and after the all clear, a chap Jim Weekes who lived in Cambridge road close to the works, said he thought he would pop home and see if his wife was alright. He came back sometime after, and said a bomb had dropped at the back of the house next door, killing the owner M. Brinton. It also damaged the house where I was born, Algoa Cottage.

There was an anti-aircraft gun site at Whippingham, opposire the school, it is recorded that they shot down an enemy plane from 37,000 ft. At Seaholme, the Home Gurad had 3 Marlen M/C guns mounted in framework, and synchronised to fire together. I remember one Sunday morning we took an anti-tank weapon out to the downs at the back of the Island for a try out, a Northover Projector (Blacker Bombard). It fired a bottle type grenade 2 dia, they did not seem very pleased with it. We had some scary moments firing grenades from a cup discharge rifle. A cup device attached to the end of a reinforced rifle and fired with a ballistic cartridge, we used to lob them over a 5 foot wall. I was issued with a sten gun and magazine with 9mm rounds. We would go out to Newtown Ranges for firing practice, with Bren gun etc. We once marched out there via Parkhurst Forest one Sunday morning and back.

Early in 1940, a Messerscmitt was brought down at Ashy near the monument, we drove out to see it, petrol was still to be had.

A new M/C shop was built, soon after the Maresfield works were damaged. It was near Osborne on Whippingham road. From there at night we could see the Doodle bugs flying up over the Solent, towards Calshot and the New Forest, not many fell on the Island, one at North Fairlee. One night at Osborne works we heard an explosion across the Solent and heard later that the early mail paddle steamer, had struck a mine, just outside the harbour. A number of the crew were killed, the boat lay there for over a year.

It was not long after Dunkirk in 1940 when sirens warning of enemy aircraft approaching became frequent. The first I seem to remember, was seeing flights of bombers going up to bomb Southamampton, and planes dive bombing Gosport air fields and Lee on Solent aerdrome. 2631 bombs and 31,000 incendiaries dropped around the city of Southampton, 630 peple died, 898 were seriously injured.

Early one morning a flight of Messerschmiotts came up rom the south of the Island, followed the river Medina, dropped a bomb on East Cowes dockyard, which bounced over a wall, and demolished a bakers, another was dropped near the works, demolishing a cottage and killing a woman and her baby who were in bed. The blast shattered the main doors of the machibne shop. I was packing up my tools after a nights work. One could hear the M/C gun bullets spattering over the roof. If the raid had been half an hour later, there would have been casualties among the day shift coming up the road to the works.

The most damaging raid we had, was on the night and morning of May 4th and 5th, and is well described in a book 'The island at War'. I was on nightshift, the sirens went around 10.30pm I went with a mate on to our Home Guard post, he was in charge of the Lewis gun. The Bombers seemed to be coming in very low all, hell seemed to be let loose, with a burst on the Lewis gun, I don't know what at, but it seemed to me, almost immediately a bomb dropped across the road froim us and lumps of clay came spattering down It later turned out the bombs dropped in the middle of a group of works shelters, had gone down deep in the soft clay before exploding, the escape doors were blocked with clay, but no casualties.

Between the raids I went home to Olinda. Mollie, Mrs Hodge and the other lodgers had gone down to the old kitchens in the basement. Set off back to the works, and on the way the guns started going again, shrapnell falling, expolsions etc. I made it to the first aid shelter in the Park behind St James nobody was in it except the attendant, waiting for any casualties. Got home in the morning to discover an unexploded bomb had dropped a few yards from our side of the house, reported t the Wardens etc. at the Town Hall and we were later told to get out.

We decided to have a quick trip over to the Mainland, cycled out to Wooten station, a bomb had dropped on the house at Hendeys corner (at the junction of the the East Cowes and Ryde road), blocking the road to Whippingham station. Back on the Island, George and Julia Berry had offered us accomodation, while the unexploded bomb was dug out. I went back to nightshift, and Mollie spent the nights on Etta Bradings houseboat at Wootton Creek.

43 people lost their lives in East Cowes, and 28 on West Cowes. East Cowes victims were buried in a mass grave in Kingston cemetray EC. Dornier 217s were used in the raids, and almost 200 tons of bombs and thousands of incendiary bombs were dropped, according to the records.

See 'The Isle of Wight at War' for a full account.

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