Sat, 10 Feb 2018
ALMOST 75 years ago to the day, eight-year-old Margaret Vincent (now Armstrong) watched from a classroom at the old Senior Council School in Newbury as the German Dornier bomber approached.
She, along with a handful of other children, were attending an after-school club in the old science block adjacent to the main school building while waiting for their parents to finish work.
The German markings were not apparent to begin with, but then, unexpectedly for the schoolgirl, three “little sticks” fell from the approaching aircraft.
“Look Miss,” she said, still not fully aware of what was about to unfold,“it’s dropping sticks.”
Hastily the teacher grabbed the child and told the others to get under their wooden desks just as the explosions started.
Eight high-explosive bombs were dropped by a single German bomber at 4.35pm on Wednesday, February 10, 1943.
Fifteen people died, dozens more were injured and hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed.
The school, St John’s Church, St Bartholomew’s Almshouses, and Southampton Terrace bore the brunt of the raid, with the church, in particular, reduced almost entirely to rubble.
Tomorrow (Sunday), a commemorative service will be held at St John’s Church, which was rebuilt after the war, to mark the 75th anniversary of the Newbury bombing.
Margaret Armstrong, now 83, remembers the day vividly.
She told the Newbury Weekly News this week how she had been evacuated to the relative safety of Newbury from her home in Stepney, London, two years earlier – along with her mother and younger sister.
On the day of the bombing, she had finished her lessons at the evacuee school behind the Baptist Church in Cheap Street and had gone to her after-school club at the secondary modern until her mother finished work.
“I was sitting on the long wooden bench seats looking out the window and I saw this plane drop three sticks.
“I said ‘look Miss, they’re dropping sticks’ and she then told us to get under the desks quickly.
“There was so much noise, I didn’t dare look up to see what was going on.
“When all the noise had finished and we had come out, there was dust everywhere and all the windows were out.”
The building, lying just 50ft from the main school, had escaped a direct hit.
However, it soon became clear that others had not been so lucky.
“We could see the school building was bombed, we saw a woman trying to get out, which turned out to be the headmistress,” she said.
“As soon as I found my mother, she said we have to get my younger sister from the nursery in Victoria Park, so we rushed down there to make sure she was all right.”
Fortunately, owing to the timing of the bombing raid, most pupils at the school had left for the day and Mrs Armstrong, who remained in the area following the war and now lives in Kingsclere, said the bombing could easily have ended with many more lives lost, including her own.
“Luckily most of the kids at the school had gone home,” she said. “We were very lucky really. It could’ve been a lot worse.
“If they’d come over a few minutes earlier, the school would’ve been almost full, or if he’d just dropped his bombs seconds later he would’ve been right over us in that building.
“I can still see the plane coming and those three little sticks he dropped.”