1. Between the years 1939 – 1945 this country once again found itself caught up in a global conflict a mere 21 years after the last one had ended in 1918. Some of the lessons of the last war had been learnt. Conscription was introduced from the outset so that this time the burden of the casualty lists did not fall disproportionately on particular communities. The whole nation, its industry and agriculture, was mobilized for war almost immediately and rationing was introduced from the very beginning to ensure that everyone had enough to eat and sufficient clothes to wear. From June 1940 onwards Britain stood alone against the might of Axis powers and the very survival of the nation was in doubt. Faced with this crisis the people rallied round their leaders and after considerable sacrifice came through to victory in 1945. Our contribution to the cost of that sacrifice is now recorded on the church war memorial.
2. As memorials go ours are quite modest– a simple book of remembrance listing the names and initials of those who died in the service of their country and a small freestanding cross commemorating the 3 men from this church who died while serving with the Auxiliary Fire Brigade. This study also includes details of the seven servicemen commemorated on the war memorial provided by our daughter Church of the Good Shepherd on Bishop Road. Later when Alice Victoria Pearce died in 1969, she left money for a stained glass window to be given to St Michael’s & All Angel’s church in memory of her son John Pearce, who was killed in an air-raid over London, and to her husband, also called John, who died shortly after the war ended. The window was dedicated on Sunday the 4th of March 1979 and hung in the church (originally situated on the site of what is now “The Oaks” flats) until the building was closed due to subsidence in 1991. It is now housed in the new church established in the church halls which were refurbished in 2002. The theme of the window is “renewal and re-birth”.
4. Many years have now passed since this conflict ended and for only a few of us do these names have any meaning or relevance. Looking at the memorials now reminds me that these were people who once lived and breathed and went about their day to day business much as we do now. There are so many questions that I would have liked to ask them. Who were your parents and did you have any brothers or sisters? Did you marry and have children? Did you live nearby and participate in the local clubs and organizations and come to church regularly on a Sunday? What hopes and dreams did you aspire to and what became of your families. My purpose in writing these brief biographies is to restore to the church some of the memories that have been lost in the passage of time. Although their stories have faded into the distant past, it is my sincere hope that when you have read through these few pages you will know a little more about these men and the sacrifices that they made that we might be free.
How Britain Prepared for War
5. The nation as a whole was singularly unprepared for war. The initial assumption made in 1926 by Winston Churchill (when Chancellor of the Exchequer) that there would not be a major European war for 10 years meant that it was not until 1938 that the country began to re-arm. By then it was almost too late and when war came the armed forces were confronted by an enemy that was far better equipped and trained than they were. On the home front the anti aircraft guns and night fighter aircraft were wholly ineffective against night bombing, while the public air raid shelters were often poorly built, overcrowded and insanitary. It was against this background that the people of Bishopston went to war in 1939.
6. All of a sudden the nation had to train and equip the armed forces to fight a war on land, sea and air in locations scattered all over the world. The whole nation was mobilized for total war and people and industries were conscripted to support the war effort. Not everyone went into the armed forces; many were directed into industry and agriculture to provide the sinews for war. In Bishopston this meant that many were directed to serve in the aircraft and other engineering industries vital to the war effort. Even when they were not at work, many spent their spare time serving as air raid wardens, fire watchers and the Local Defence Volunteers (later known as the Home Guard or Dad’s Army).
Bishopston in the War
7. When war was declared on the 3rd of September 1939, the Rev. Dennis B Hall was the Vicar in charge at St Michael & All Angels church and in Easter 1940 was joined by the Rev. V S T Rees who took on the vacant curacy. The Rev. Rees later moved to take over at St Chad’s in Patchway at the end of 1941 and was temporarily replaced by the Rev. Colonel R R Raymer, a former British chaplain in Greece until he was evacuated in April 1941. The Rev. Raymer later moved in September 1942 to become Rector of West Wickham in Kent and his place was taken by the Rev. T Bland who, together with his wife and small daughter, shared the vicarage with the Rev. Hall for the duration of the war. The Rev. J A Murray was in charge at the daughter Church of the Good Shepherd and was later replaced by the Rev. R H Down.
8. At this time the church was thriving, with all services well attended and the various church organizations strongly supported. The Rev. Hall played a prominent role in promoting and developing these, particularly the youth organizations. He regularly attended the annual church camps and ran the Boys Brigade throughout most of the war until the Rev Bland took over in 1944. During the same period he ran the Junior Cadet Force until pressure of work forced him to hand over to his assistant “Ted” Wookey in the spring of 1944. He also served as Vice Chairman for Air Raid Hostels, Group Shelter Marshall, AFS Chaplain and Fire Watcher. Many of those who served overseas were former members of the choir, Scouts, Boys Brigade or Bible Class and they fondly recalled the antics of “Spider” Hall whenever they met up abroad.
The Rev Dennis B Hall
9. Some 630 church members served in the war and many of these corresponded with the Rev Hall, who in turn sent them a regular newsletter updating them on what was happening to the people they knew both at home and abroad. They were sent to every part of the globe and thousands of letters were received in return. These newsletters were later published at the end of the war in a booklet known as the “Hall Mark”, a copy of which has been placed on the Bishopston Soldiers website. In addition to receiving these letters, their names were remembered in the Intercession Services and cards or greeting letters were sent out to all members serving abroad accompanied by either a food parcel or 5 shilling postal order. Many members also received parcels of books or magazines sent out by the churchwarden Leslie Partridge, the indefatigable Secretary and Treasurer of the related support fund. It was a labour of love, gladly shared by members of the congregation who provided the money and whose efforts were much appreciated by those who received these home comforts.
The Church Halls
10. In the 1920s and 1930s the church and its extensive halls were regularly used by the large church congregation and its many local groups. When war was declared the Main Hall was taken over by the Home Guard (B Company – 9th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment commanded by Major V P Barrand), while the Battalion HQ was at 99 Sommerville Road near St Andrew’s Park. Small arms ammunition and explosives were stored in the Halls and small arms kept at Sommerville Road. The Sunday Schools moved to Bishop Road School, where they could have access to the school’s air raid shelters. The Lesser Hall was used as a servicemen’s canteen and the other clubs and organizations were moved to the church, the vestries, the Vicarage or the Good Shepherd Hall for the duration. The County Cricket Ground was also taken over by the military and became a training establishment (HMS Cabot) for British (and later US) naval personnel. According to local resident Sylvia Warburton, Monday nights at the canteen were popular with the local girls, as were the dances organised over the weekend at the County Cricket Ground.
Servicemen’s Canteen in the Church Halls during the War.
11. Apart from the Men’s Institute, all the church organizations continued to thrive throughout the war. The evening services were well attended despite the blackout, while 16 new teachers (mostly young) volunteered to carry on the work of the Sunday Schools supported by old stalwarts such as Miss Westcott, Mrs Wicks, Mr Partridge and Mr Wookey. The Bible Class still numbered over 30 members, despite the fact that 51 of them had been called up by March 1940. The Scouts continued to thrive under the leadership of Ken Fisher and Ken Garrett as did the other youth organisations. The choir continued to function under the direction of Paddy Westcott, their organist for over 50 years, although he was now obliged to admit lady choristers. However, for a fuller account of the activities of the parish over this period I would refer you to the Hall Mark.
Bishopston in the Blitz
12. Quite remarkably, Bristol was not regarded as a prime target for bombing when the plans were first drawn up to prepare for the possibility of war. Thus in 1939 a number of people and vital services were evacuated here from London and other towns that were considered to be under greater threat of attack from the air. To the German Luftwaffe, however, the vital harbour installations and aircraft factories made Bristol a prime target and it became the 5th most heavily bombed city in the country. In all some 919 tons of high explosive and thousands of incendiaries were dropped on the city. Over the period 24th June 1940 – 15th May 1944 the city was subjected to a total of 152 bombing raids, although the great majority of these occurred during the Blitz which took place between October 1940 and June 1941. Some 1,299 people were killed and 1,303 people were injured in these raids, while a further 697 had to be dug out of their damaged homes. In all 89,080 buildings were damaged by the bombing of which 81,830 were totally destroyed and a further 3,000 demolished later. In addition some 105 German aircraft were lost in these raids, resulting in the deaths of 238 German aircrew and a further 124 were injured or taken prisoner.
13. After the initial daytime bombing raids proved too costly, the German Air Force switched to the nighttime blitz that was to last until May 1941. For the people of Bishopston the first of these occurred on Sunday the 24th of November, when 134 German aircraft dropped high explosive bombs and incendiaries on Bristol from about 19.00 until midnight. Fire raged across the city, lighting up the sky and betraying the position of Bristol to enemy air crews up to 50 miles away. Seventy-seven fire brigades were sent into the city to assist the Bristol force in fighting the fires. Many people were killed including 3 members of our congregation serving with the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS). The next morning, “shattered and dazed Bristolians walked through the ruins of once-familiar streets filled with the acrid smell of burning, masses of broken glass and the melancholy drip of water”. *
*Quoted in Belsey & Reid “West at War” 1990 Redcliffe Press
The Dutch House – a 17th Century building on the corner of Wine Street was so badly damaged it had to be pulled down in the interest of public safety.
14. Only a skeletal structure of charred wood remained of the Dutch House. St Peter’s Hospital, the jewel in the crown of Bristol’s old timber framed buildings, was gone and the Upper Arcade between The Horsefair and St James Barton was destroyed. Several medieval churches were badly damaged, including the churches of St Peter, St Nicholas and St Mary-le-Port. Most of the shops in Wine Street and Castle Street were wiped out and Mary-le-Port Street was totally destroyed; there was also extensive damage in Victoria Street, Redcliff Street and Thomas Street. In Clifton, Queens Road, Park Street and Park Row saw extensive damage; the Prince’s Theatre was destroyed; as was the Museum and part of the Art Gallery. There was also damage to the University, including the Great Hall, and Lennards premises on Queens Road was reduced to a pile of rubble. Houses in Bedminster, Knowle and St George were also bombed. The official casualty list included 200 killed, 163 seriously injured and 526 slightly hurt.
15. The Luftwaffe continued to exploit the inadequacy of Bristol’s air defences over the following months, with bad winter weather the city’s only effective defence. The next major raid occurred just over a week later, on the night of the 2nd of December, when 167 fires broke out across the city: the Bishop’s Palace was destroyed, 156 people were killed and another 149 were seriously injured. The third large air raid took place on the evening of the 6th of December, and again caused damage to buildings in the centre as well as several industrial sites, including Parnall’s aircraft works at Barton Hill. This raid killed 100 people and seriously injured eighty. The raids continued on this scale until the end of May 1941 when the Luftwaffe’s attention was diverted to the much bigger task of supporting Hitler’s attack on Russia.
16. Somewhat surprisingly, given Bristol’s prominent role in the aircraft industry and the presence of major dockyards, the City was ill equipped to deal with the consequences of such heavy raids. There were very few public shelters and those that did exist were poorly built, insanitary and provided little protection against bomb blast. Indeed the surface shelters tended to collapse when exposed to bomb blasts and were regarded as death traps. The anti aircraft defences were inadequate and the ARP and heavy rescue services were ill prepared to cope with the scale of destruction. The heavy death toll of the November and December air raids greatly undermined public confidence and every night there was a mass exodus of people from the city centre seeking safe shelter in the suburbs and surrounding countryside.
Impact of the Bombing on Bishopston & St Andrews
17. Although the Rev Hall’s newsletter made light of the bombing raids, and it is true that other parts of Bristol were more badly affected, Bishopston and St Andrews were still hit hard and 8 members of the congregation were killed. A table listing the 74 people in the Bishopston and St Andrews area who were killed and the 31 buildings damaged during these bombing raids is provided at Annex 1. A brief account of the raid that led to the death of a Bishopton man in the raid on Filton Airport on the 25th of September 1940 is also provided at Annex 2. The ages of those killed in these air raids were as follows:
0-4 3 45-49 6
5-9 3 50-54 1
10-14 2 55-59 9
15-19 2 60-64 3
20-24 4 65-69 3
25-29 5 70-74 5
30-34 9 75-79 0
35-39 7 80-84 1
40-44 7 85-89 2
45-49 6 unknown 2
18. In Bishopston few people made use of the public shelters. Patricia Smith remembers that they had a small Anderson shelter in their garden, which was very cold and uncomfortable, while Derek Warwick’s family shared their neighbour’s shelter (Mr S Foale) at 57 Bishop Road. “He was a builder and made a ‘pukka’ shelter with heavy beams that could be used by both our families”. By contrast, David Nicholls family sheltered under the stairs during the bombing raids, while he knew of other families who simply knelt under the kitchen table.
19. For many people the damage and destruction in the middle of a bitter winter meant that times were hard indeed. One resident, Tess Broughton*, had many bad memories of those cold January days:
“….we were without heat and water for about 2 weeks at our home in Bishopston. You just shivered or wrapped yourself well up in what you could find – blankets and things like that. Coal was hardly available and we were starving. We just did not get enough to eat and you never saw a fat woman during the war. Then we had an open fire and we used to cook on that and on a little sixpenny meths stove. But there was no water for bathing or anything like that. However, we did cope until everything was put back.
*Quoted in Belsey & Reid “West at War”1990, Redcliffe Press.
Sylvia Warburton also remembered when
“….a string of 12 bombs just missed her flat in Gloucester Road, causing damage to houses in Belmont and Windsor Road (indicated by the newer houses now present in these locations), while on another occasion she vividly remembered a bomb bursting a gas mains at the bottom of Sommerville Road which “continued to burn for hours and blocked the Gloucester Road for days afterward.”
20. Patricia Smith also remembers being cold and hungry but most of all she remembers as a small child being frightened by the noise and the danger. Her most vivid memory was of one of the early daylight bombing raids. “At first we thought they were British planes but then we saw they were Germans bombing the town and we all dived head first on top of one another into the Anderson shelter. Later the house next to ours was bombed and the whole family killed and I was very glad to be sent to live with my grandparents on the outskirts of Cardiff where it was a lot safer and much quieter.” Her husband John was also sent to live with relatives in Timsbury to escape the bombing but prior to this he remembers that his school examinations were interrupted by a bombing raid and had to be finished off in the air raid shelter.
21. For the grown ups, however, there was no escape as they had jobs to do in the city. The worse thing Derek Warwick recalls was the loss of sleep – “night after night we went down into the shelter where you got little sleep. Eventually I gave up and stayed in bed so that I could get a good night’s sleep and go to work next morning. But always there was the worry that you or someone close to you would get killed”. He particularly remembers the first night time raid on the 24th of November 1940 because his sister had gone out and his mother worried constantly until she got back home the next day. One of his most vivid memories, however, was the night the barrage balloons were struck by lightning – “to see those huge lumbering shapes blazing in flames and lighting up the sky was a sight to behold”.
22. Gradually things improved, however. Services were restored, the Civil Defence units were beefed up, and women and children evacuated to safer locations (although this was admittedly after the worse of the bombing was over). Morale, although poor at first, gradually improved as the months went by and people settled down to the day to day business of wartime Britain. By June 1941 the worst of the bombing was over and people began to knuckle down to what to prove a long hard war.
The Call to Arms
23. Britain did not want this war and, unlike the previous conflict, there was no mad rush to the recruiting stations. Generally the young men and women of Bishopston and St Andrews waited for their call up papers, before going off to do their bit for their country. In all some 630 members of this church served with the armed forces during the war, of which 64 died. Three other members were also killed during the Bristol blitz while serving with the AFS. Unlike the last war the casualties were not primarily confined to soldiers who fought on the Western Front but were diffused more widely across the many different theatres of war and between the services themselves. From the Atlantic Convoys to the jungles of Burma and from the skies above Germany to the shores of Guadalcanal, our boys were there.
24. In this war everyone was in the front line and the church war memorial also remembers 4 members of the congregation who died in the bombing during the Blitz. This included 1 member who was serving with the armed forces and 3 members of the AFS. More than half of those listed on the church war memorial served as air crew. Of these only 5 were regular members of the RAF, the other 32 having enlisted with the RAFVR – see Annex 3 below. Of the rest, 15 served in the Army (including one as a member of the ATS), 9 in the Royal Navy (including one in the RNAS, one in the RNVR and one marine serving on a battleship) and 3 in the Merchant Navy. The distribution of these casualties as they occurred throughout the War years is as follows:
1939 – 3 1940 – 9 1941 – 11 1942 – 13
1943 – 8 1944 – 15 1945 – 8
25. Of those who died while serving with the RAF, 6 were pilot officers, 27 served as air crew and 3 served as ground crew (this includes one person in a ground/air liaison unit and one in a barrage balloon unit) and one was a staff officer. Of these 23 were killed in action, 10 were killed in flying accidents, 2 died of disease, 2 died in road accidents, one died in an accident in a munitions store and one during a German bombing raid over London. The locations where these deaths took place were as follows:
In action over Germany – 13
On Home Service – 7
Canada – 3
Malta – 2
France – 2
India – 1
Kenya – 1
Comoro Islands – 1
Australia – 1
Singapore – 1
Italy – 1
Gibraltar – 1
What is most noticeable about these figures is that 30% of the casualties were due to flying accidents – almost twice the national wartime average (14%). By the end of the war 8,090 Bomber Command personnel had died in flying accidents and 4,203 had been wounded (about one seventh of all casualties). The suspicion that many of these deaths were avoidable caused considerable resentment but the rapid expansion of the peacetime air force meant that many short cuts were taken and the trainee air crew paid the price.
26. Of those who died while serving with the Army, 3 served in the Tank Corps, 4 in the Artillery, 3 in the Infantry, and one each in the Royal Engineers, RASC, ATS, RAMC and RCMP. Of these 9 were killed in action, 4 died of disease, 1 died in an accidental shooting and one was killed in a German bombing raid over Bristol. The locations where these deaths took place were as follows:
France – 4
Home Service – 3
Burma – 2
Italy – 2
Holland – 1
Java – 1
Greece – 1
Egypt – 1
27. Of those who died while serving with the Royal or Merchant Navy, 3 served as able seamen, 2 were engineers, 2 were stokers, and one each served as a telecommunications instructor, marine gunner, quartermaster, writer, and signalman. Of these 10 were killed in action, one died in a railway accident and one died of malaria. The locations where these deaths took place were as follows:
Atlantic Convoy – 3
Gibraltar Convoy – 1
Ceylon – 2
Mediterranean Convoy – 1
Russian Convoy – 1
Home Service – 2
Caribbean – 1
Guadalcanal – 1
Who Were These Men
28. The men listed on our war memorial came from all walks of life and while most were young men there were a few grey hairs among them and one woman. Not all had glorious careers many died in accidents like Les Lucas killed in a road accident, or in a rail crash like Edward Stinson. Most unusual was the case of Leslie Grice, who died of mustard gas poisoning following an explosion in a munitions depot. Others like Beryl Squire and James Berry became victim to diseases such as TB and pneumonia in an era that lacked the antibiotics and other life saving drugs that we have today. John Byerley and John Davis both suffered terrible privations at the hands of the Japanese, while several died in the Bristol Blitz, not least the 3 fireman who died fighting the fires in Stokes Croft during the bombing raid on the 24th November 1940. Some like William Chamberlain saw very little of the war, dying in the aircraft carrier HMS Courageous within 2 weeks of the outbreak of war. Ronald Crouch on the other hand participated from almost the beginning to the end. At times his story reads like a boy’s own adventure story – rescued at Dunkirk, he was later evacuated from Greece and subsequently escaped from Crete in a fishing boat. Back with the 8th Army in North Africa he was captured in the desert and imprisoned in Benghazi, from where he escaped with 7 others and made his way across 300 miles of enemy territory and crosses the British lines with two captured German lorry drivers in tow. He saw considerable action in all the major theatres of war apart from the Far East (being highly decorated in the process) only to be accidentally shot by a Dutch sentry after the war had ended.
29. Many took part in some of the most significant actions of the war. Donald Clephane took part in an air attack on the German Battleship Tirpitz, while Paul Davis fought at Kohima and in the advance to Rangoon. Colin Eyers died fighting with the West Surreys in the desperate rearguard action against the German tanks at Abbeville that took place during the retreat to Dunkirk. Eric Nethercott died in a daring low level attack against the fiercely defended port of Bremen, while Kenneth Riddell died in the gallant effort by the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Jervis Bay to defend her convoy from an attack by the German Battleship Admiral Scheer. James Spiller survived the sinking of the Prince of Wales, only to die of malaria a year later, while Peter Webb died in the heroic, if unequal, battle between the minesweeper HMS Bramble and the German Battleship Hipper. The fact is that all of these men and one woman had a tale to tell and it is my considerable pleasure to reproduce it here for your benefit.
30. All those commemorated had parents, brothers, sisters and in many cases wives and children too. The loss of life was grievous, not only to the victims themselves but to their family and friends too. The Hall Mark touches on this loss somewhat lightly but we can be sure that they left a gap in many lives. In this context our thoughts turn in particular to Reg and Kate Bools who lost 4 of their 5 sons while on service with the RAF bomber squadrons.
30. In putting this information together I have used the following sources:
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission records (CWGC)
- MOD Record Offices & the Army Personnel Centre
- National Archives Information Services Department
- Census Records for 1871-1901*
- Birth, Marriage and Death Records*
- Probate Records*
- Passenger Lists*
- Christening Records*
- Divisional and Battalion Histories*
- Minutes of Vestry and Parish Meetings+
- Wright’s and Kelly’s Street Directories 1906-1946++
- The Electoral Rolls for 1914 & 1940+
- London Gazette++
- Bristol Times & Mirror++
- Rev Denis B (“Spider”) Hall – letters sent to members of St Michael & all Angels’ church serving with the forces during the Second World War. [Please note that the page numbers quoted here relate to those in the annotated version published on my Bishopston Soldiers Website and differ from those in the published booklet.]
31. Most of this information can be found on the Internet, or via the local Archive Office or Library. However, I have also made use of the Army List for the officers listed below as well as medal citations and Battalion Diaries available at the National Archive at Kew Gardens in London.
*National Archive records available on the Internet via www.ancestry.uk and at Kew Gardens
+Bristol Archive Office
++Bristol Central Library
32. I should also acknowledge the sterling work done by Derek L Warwick on whose earlier researches (completed in July 2005) this work is based. He was a former pupil of Bishop Road Infants and Elementary School from 1926 to 1932 and lived at 9 Cambridge Road and later at 61 Bishop Road. He was a chorister at St Michael & All Angels Church from 1929 -1935 and a member of the Bible Class from 1935 – 1940. He was called up in August 1941 and served in the RAOC in England before being posted to the 1st Army in Algiers (North Africa) in 1942. He later served in Europe with the British Liberation Army (BLA) from September 1944 before finally leaving the British Army of Occupation of the Rhine (BAOR) in September 1946 – pages 24, 41, 44 and 59 of the Hall Mark refer.
33. My aim in these few pages is to restore to this generation a brief recollection of those lives lost, so that this memorial will not just be a list of names but a tribute to the lives they led and the sacrifice they made. Needless to say my researches have found out more about some individuals than others and there are still gaps in the narrative and areas of uncertainty. So if you do find any inaccuracies or feel you can fill in some of the gaps I should be glad to hear from you.