November 27, 2018

Brandon school attacked

Few people are aware that at 12.59pm on the 27th February 1941, lunchtime, a German bomber flew low over Brandon and fired a machine gun at school children playing outside their school.

HERE IS WHAT I KNOW …

There were four air raid alerts in Brandon that day, mostly false alarms, but one did almost end in tragedy.  A German bomber, a Dornier 17, with a crew of four, was noted flying very from the direction of Thetford.  It was so low that people recall seeing the pilot’s face in the cockpit.  No one knows why it came across the town, where it was coming from or where it was going.

The aircraft was following Thetford Road and was spotted by Les Bond who worked at Mounts lime pit.  Les emigrated to Australia after the war, but was working for F.J. Mount & Son in the chalk tip at the time of this attack.  It was just before his lunch when he heard the gunfire and quickly found safety by diving under a truck.

Charlie Wharf, was working at Woodrow’s ironmonger on the Market Hill.  Knowing it was getting close to his lunch time, he turned to look out of Woodrow’s yard and at the town clock.  He distinctly remembers the time as being one minute to one.  Then he heard the sound of machine gun fire.

Ena Espie, a Brandon school girl at the time, recalls what she saw,

“We had been in the cookery room that day, and had gone home for dinner and saw the plane go over from our window. It was going down the London Road, we didn’t see any firing, but he was fairly low and when we got back they told us the cookery room ceiling had been hit.”

Colin Blanchflower, who emigrated to the U.S., remembered the day clearly.  He was a school boy at the time and offers an indication to what the target may have been … a line of factory workers.

“We were having lunch (at home) … when it was time to go to school. The ‘Alll Clear’ had not sounded but our evacuee and me set off. It was the day for my music lesson and I was about to drop off the satchel at the music teacher’s house when I noticed a line of factory girls returning to work at Roughts. Suddenly out of the clouds came a Dornier 17 and started machine gunning the road. I grabbed the evacuee and dived to the ground at the teacher’s door. The plane flew by still firing and seconds later it seemed my Dad appeared on his bicycle and escorted us back home. One of the factory workers was reported as being injured by flying stones.”

Harry Rumsey, another schoolboy, was going back to school after spending lunch at home.  He was near Coronation Place, just off the London Road, and saw the aircraft exit the town, heading toward Lakenheath and still firing its guns.  He crouched down against a fence and when he returned to school he saw a bullet hole in the ceiling of the school.  The attack put holes in the ceiling of the school cookery room and a class room, which were still evident some decades later.  Miraculously no one was killed.  It seems it was a close call though.  Bullets flew among the residents so closely that people were hit by stones thrown up by the bullets.

Was the school the target of the aircraft? Or was it the line of factory workers?  Perhaps the school was merely caught up in gunfire as the enemy attacked a nearby opportunist target?  What is known is that there was low cloud that day over the UK, which prevented the majority of enemy operations against this country. However it is documented that on that day that

“a few inland penetrations by single aircraft taking advantage of cloud cover (took place) … and 15 people were killed by a raid on Grantham”.

With Dornier 17s being based in Belgium at that time of the war would the Brandon aircraft have been the one to attack Grantham?  Its purely speculation of course and the link between the events is suggested without any evidence, but a straight line from Grantham to Belgium would put Brandon under the flight line.  Perhaps we will never know.


Dornier 17 – info

Power plant: Two 1,000 hp Bramo 323P nine-cylinder air-cooled engines.
Span: 59ft ¾in (18.00m)
Length: 52ft 0in (15.85m)
Max Speed: 265 mph (427km/h) at 16,400 ft (4,998m)
Armament: Between four and eight 7.9mm machine guns in front, rear and beam cockpit mountings and ventral position.
Bomb load: Normal load of 2,200lb (1,000kg).
Accommodation: Pilot and four gunners/navigators/bomb-aimers.
Recognition: Thin, ‘pencil’ fuselage with bulged forward fuselage featuring heavily-framed cockpit and ventral gun position. Small twin fins at the rear. Main wheels retract into engine fairings.