Swanage WW2 bomb survivors return 80 years to the day

Two brothers, now in their 80s, led a ceremony in Swanage to remember the civilians who died in the town during a series of bombing raids by the Nazis in 1942.

Nigel and Robin Humphries, then aged five and eight, miraculously survived the bombing in The Square, and the destruction of the Swanage Dairy building in the High Street, which took the lives of five people on Sunday 23rd August 1942.

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Mayor Tina Foster, Nigel Humphries, Gillian Humphries, Dawn Banks nee Churchill, Robin Humphries, Maxine Humphries

Left to right at Swanage War Memorial: Swanage Town Mayor Tina Foster, Nigel Humphries, Gillian Humphries, Dawn Banks nee Churchill, Robin Humphries and Maxine Humphries

Nigel and Robin Humphries

In a short act of remembrance at the war memorial on the Rec in Swanage on Tuesday 23rd August 2022, Nigel and Robin Humphries recounted their story. They were just returning home from the beach around 6 pm on Sunday, when the air raid siren started.

Robin said:

“A few seconds earlier, we would have been still in Institute Road. We would have heard a big bang but not involved.

“A few seconds later and we would have been in the vicinity of Swanage Dairy and the Ship Hotel and probably not survived the bombing of that day!

“Well that did not happen and we were in the doorway of Bick’s, the tobacconists.”

Bomb damage near the Square in the High Street in Swanage
Swanage Museum

The Ship Hotel was damaged (left), the Swanage Dairy destroyed (centre) and Bick’s (right), where Nigel and Robin sheltered was damaged but did not collapse

All three premises were rebuilt including Bick’s which is now the clothes store Tilly Whims (right)

“There was machine gun fire”

Bick’s was where the clothes shop Tilly Whim now is. It was just next door to the Swanage Dairy which took a direct hit.

Robin continued:

“We had just arrived in The Square, when the air raid siren sounded. We quickened our pace, and then a group of soldiers saw us and quickly got us in the doorway of Bick’s. Then there was machine gun fire. We tensioned a little and the soldiers then put their bodies over us.

“We, with our faces to the mirror between the two doors into the shop and they were behind us. I do not remember the explosion but what I do remember was the great silence afterwards.

“Just before the explosion, I remember Nigel, my younger brother tried to look over the soldiers to see what was happening. Then boom! Gradually clearing slowly, the dust strewn air revealed the debris strewn all over the road outside; the odd brick, the bedstead, the mattress. What a mess!

“One of the soldiers had a deep gash to one check that needed medical attention. Nigel has his own story of this event. We had some light grazing to our head and faces, so off to first aid.”

Robin and Nigel Humphries in High Street where they sheltered from a bombing raid in 23 Aug 1942

Nigel and Robin Humphries in the doorway of Tilly Whims on the same spot where they sheltered from the air raid, exactly 80 years ago.

“The pilot in a yellow, sandy coloured flying suit”

Nigel recalled:

“I heard this droning sound and I looked over and two planes flew over and they had these crosses on them. I even saw the pilot in a yellow, sandy coloured flying suit. The next bit I don’t remember – the shock of the bomb.

“The next thing I do remember is being carried by one of the soldiers across The Square. You could not see the sun for the dust. I was carried over to the first aid building which is now the museum and heritage centre.

Nigel Humphries stands outside The Ship and recalls the bombing raid in 1942

“The horror of that event haunts me to this day”

Nigel later added:

“Apart from cuts and bruises, physically I was fine, but the horror of that event haunts me to this day. When I see what is happening in Ukraine now, I know exactly how they feel.”

Nigel now lives in Corfe Castle with his wife Gillian, while Robin lives in Wareham with his wife Maxine. As children they lived in a large Victorian villa in Durlston Road in Swanage.

Their father was a solicitor and was the original Humphries in Humphries Kirk, the local law firm now based in Swanage and Wareham.

Bomb explosion in Station Road

Also at the ceremony was Dawn Banks, whose parents Jack and Annice Churchill ran the Railway Hotel in Station Road. Earlier in 1942 on 20th April she remembers a bomb dropping on Station Road:

“I was in a bedroom with my mother when the explosion happened. She told me to cover my eyes and then a wardrobe fell across the room. We could have so easily been crushed.”

There were 20 civilian deaths in Swanage during World War Two

In all, the German Luftwaffe attacked Swanage on several occasions during World War Two with most of the attacks in 1942.

The bombing was carried out mainly by light bombers such as the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka and Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter.

In total, Swanage had more air raid alerts than London and there were 20 civilian deaths.

Bomb damage in Institute Road 17 August 1942
Swanage Museum

The destruction of the Westminster Bank in Institute Road on Monday 17th August 1942

Institute Road 23 Aug 2022

The new building that stands on the spot in 2022, now houses The Cornish Bakery

Marking 80th anniversay of bombing in Institute Road in Swanage 23 Aug 2022

Nigel pays tribute to those who died in the Institute Road bombing

Major bombing raids on Swanage

Monday 20th April 1942

An attack on the centre of Swanage damaged houses in Cornwall Road and commercial buildings in Station Road.

Those who died were Cyril James Manwell, Lilly Ada Smith and Arthur Williams.

Monday 13th July 1942

An attack on Park Road injured three people and damaged houses.

Thursday 14th May 1942

Wesley’s Cottage in the High Street was damaged by a bomb. The cottage was named after John Wesley who founded Methodism. He visited the town in 1774, 1776 and 1787.

Bomb damage in Institute Road 17 August 1942
Swanage Museum

Institute Road and the bombed Westminster Bank in 1942

Institute Road 23 Aug 2022

Institute Road and the replacement buiding in 2022

Monday 17th August 1942

Just before 11 am, German Focke-Wulf 190s flew in over the Old Harry Rocks and headed across towards the centre of town, firing their machine guns at people on the beach. The attack on the town resulted in a direct hit on the Westminster Bank in Institute Road, killing the manager and his wife.

Muspratt’s photographic studio and Haymans café were also badly damaged. Eight people were killed and thirty-nine were wounded in the attack.

Bombs were also dropped on Chapel Lane, Church Hill and the Narrows in the High Street, a short distance from the Town Hall. The houses in the High Street were demolished and Swanage Day Centre was built in their place.

Those who died were air raid warden Alec Stephen Bruton, air raid warden Nora Violet Bruton, air raid warden Kathleen Winsome Hawkins, Fred Arthur Barwick, Horace Mills, Alwyn Priestly Tate, John Richard Glanville Harris and May Williams.

Bomb damage in Institute Road 17 August 1942
Swanage Museum

The buildings across the road from the Westminster Bank in Institute Road were severely impacted by the blast: Humphries Kirk and Miller – Nigels and Robin’s father’s office (left), Muspratt’s photographic studio (centre) and Hayman’s Cafe (right)

Institute Road 23 Aug 2022

The restored buildings in Institute Road in 2022

Sunday 23rd August 1942

Five people were killed and nine wounded in an attack on the centre of town. Commercial buildings around The Square including the Ship Hotel and Bick’s the Tobacconist were damaged and Swanage Dairy was completely destroyed.

Those who died were Joseph George Hibbs, Jessie Leila Haines, William Hearden, Catherine Julia Jackman and Janet Susan Witt aged 15 months.

Tuesday 3rd February 1943

Four people killed in a bombing raid in Swanage. They were Elizabeth Susan Bennett, Reuben Churchill, Winifred Daisy Swaine and Florence Turner.

Watch Nigel and Robin recount their stories

Unveiling of the Trevor Chadwick statue

Trevor Chadwick statue

Footnote: The Trevor Chadwick memorial statue will be unveiled on Bank Holiday Monday

“I am so pleased that we have been able to achieve our goal”

Another ceremony to remember events in connection with World War Two will happen on the Rec in Swanage on Monday 29th August 2022, with the unveiling of the statue of Swanage hero, Trevor Chadwick.

The event will start at 3 pm and will include the dedication of the bronze sculpture that was created by Moira Purver.

Chair of the Trevor Chadwick Memorial Trust, John Corben said:

“We set out over two and a half years ago to honour and pay tribute to our local unsung hero Trevor Chadwick, whose outstanding bravery and determination was instrumental in saving the lives of 669 refugee children at the outbreak of the Second World War.

“I am so pleased that we have been able to achieve our goal in raising in excess of £80,000 to bring this project to fruition.

“The trust is extremely grateful to the Association of Jewish Refugees who recently made a substantial donation which enabled us to reach our target.”

“All are welcome on the day of the unveiling, although seating is limited.”

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