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Phyllis's Story

My name is Mrs Phyllis Hennessy.  In 2022 I am 93 years old.  I thought I would like to write down my story and memories of the Bath blitz of April 1942 when I was 13.  There can't be many of us left to tell our tales.  So here goes.

I lived in a 5 bedroom council house at No 19 Roundhill Park, Twerton, Bath.  My name then was Harding.  I was part of a family of 7 who were fairly poor, and my father was in the Special Police Force.  In the First World War he won the Military Medal for bravery in the field.

On the first night of the blitz we did our usual things like playing housey-housey as it was then called (now it is called Bingo) and Dad had his friend in.  His name was Mr Gunstone and he lived across the road from us.  He played the piano.  I remember the last song he played, it was "I'll see you again".

We all said goodnight to him as Dad had to go on duty.  We all got ready for bed.  We hadn't been in bed for long when the air raid siren went.  Mum called us all downstairs which happened nearly every night.  We would go under the stairs for safety.  We could hear a lot of explosions in the distance and it was a very bright moon that night.  Then Dad came in and said to Mum to get us out from under the stairs and to go under the kitchen table.  It was a very long table, almost 8 feet, and we took our cushions and blankets and there we went.  Dad said he had to go out again but wouldn't be long.  He hadn't gone long before he was back looking very worried.  He said that flares were dropping all around and that Bath was being bombed.  We lived just on the outskirts of Bath so he stayed in with us.  My eldest sister and her boyfriend who was on leave from the Navy had my other brother and sister who were twins in their arms.  They had to stand in two recesses in the room as there was no room for them under the table.

All at once there was a bomb dropped nearby and the German plane came over really low and machine-gunned our house.  The blast from the bomb blew all the blackouts in.  It seemed to barricade us in around the table but it left the light blazing.  Mum said "quick put the light out".  I was nearest.

Mum always wanted to be found clean so she said to me to quickly get her knickers from the line, but they were riddled with bullet holes.

The fire was still burning in the grate and that also flew out.  Mum and Dad were putting the embers out with whatever they could find, mainly their hands.  Then there was a lull.  We were all crying and terrified.

Then all of a sudden we heard the plane diving.  Dad said "This one is for us".  We all put our arms around each other and said we loved each other.  My sister got down on her knees with the baby because her legs ached.  The next thing we knew was as if we were blown in the air.  Our heads seemed as though they were going to explode.  There were big flashes of light.

When we came to Dad said "Are you alright?".  Another sister was screaming, and she had a hole in her face.  We were all covered in blood.  My eldest sister, had she not knelt down, would have been killed.  There was a large shrapnel hole where her head had been while she was standing.

The all clear went.  Not long after that the Home Guard came to get us out.  They didn't expect to see us alive.  We were all finding it hard to get from under the table but the Home Guard helped us out over the rubble.

The whole front of the house had gone and the next door was as bad.  Mr and Mrs Kent lived there and they were badly injured but survived.  There was a huge crater outside the gate in the road.  There was a large green outside the house where they laid the dead.  Dad's friend, the one that had been with us that night, was lying there with his son, both dead.  They had been blown right out of their house still in their Anderson shelter. I shall always remember that last song that he played, "I'll see you again".

It had been a very big bomb, but it seemed we didn't have to die.  I had loads of glass splinters in my head and neck, as did we all.  It was weeks before you could get rid of it.  My sister, the one with the hole in her face, had a huge shard of glass taken out.

Neighbours rallied round and took us in and looked after us, but we heard that another raid would be coming the second night.  So that we would all be together Mum and Dad had the babies' big pram and piled it high with pillows and blankets given to us by friends, and set off for the fields.  We walked way past Pennyquick.  There were a lot more people with the same idea.  We walked such a long way, that's how it seemed to us kids.  We got to this field where Mum and Dad got us settled down for the night.  It was bitterly cold.

Lo and behold the raids started again.  We didn't hear the bombs, we were too far away, but there was a dog fight overhead with tracer bullets flying around.  Us kids thought it was very exciting.  After a very uncomfortable night we headed back to our destination which was St Barnabas Church Hall, Southdown, not far away.  Lots of people were there.  They looked after us very well with food and drink.  They said that a coach was coming to take us into the country which was Paulton.  When we arrived there we were all taken to the big church hall.  I can't remember the name of the church.  There were a lot of people already there.  We had to sleep head to toe on the floor, which was not very comfy.

When morning came we were told people were coming to pick the ones they wanted to stay with them.  So I thought I would hide away, I didn't want to leave my Mum.  But they found me.  We were all in different billets.  The lady I stayed with was Mrs Doughty.  She had two of her own children, she was very kind to me, but I used to cry every night for my Mum.  I am not sure how long we stayed in our billets, it seemed like for ever.  I went to the church school in Paulton, where at the beginning of our schooling they gave all the bombed-out kids a lovely book and a shilling which was worth a lot then.

In the meantime Dad was in touch with the Bath council to see if we could get a house so we could be a family again.  There was no luck for the time being.  After a few months Dad was offered a requisitioned house.  It was a lovely house, it was called Cynthia Villas.  It was at West Avenue Oldfield Park, Bath.  You could guess how excited we all were.  We moved in.  It was quite a posh house to us kids, there were apple and pear trees in the garden, and a big greenhouse where Dad grew lovely tomatoes.  It was lovely to be together again.  At the bottom of the garden was a railway track.  Sometimes the train would stop, it was always filled with soldiers.  Mum sometimes made jugs of tea for them.  We eventually moved back to our old house after they rebuilt it.  It was as if we had never been away.

Thank you for reading my story.



Roundhill Park was a new development of council houses.  It isn't mentioned in the 1937 street directory but it is included in the 1940 one.  It was also very unlucky because there was a bomb in the first raid close enough to blow in the blackout curtains so it was probably a 50Kg bomb in The Hollow, then followed by four bombs in the second raid, all of them 250Kg, so there was a considerable amount of damage.  The one that landed outside No 19 made Numbers 17 to 20 so badly damaged that they were beyond repair and needed to be rebuilt.  The one that landed by the road out towards The Hollow demolished two houses and seriously damaged two others.  The one that landed in the street near No 64 badly damaged three houses and left one beyond repair, while the one that landed on the houses near No 69 completely destroyed four houses and left two others beyond repair.  Mr Gunstone (Phyllis spelled it Gunston but the coroner's records show Gunstone) and his son lived in one of the destroyed houses.  They were two of the eight fatalities in Roundhill Park that night.

Anderson shelterMorrison shelterIt would have been a Morrison Shelter rather than an Anderson Shelter that Mr Gunstone and his son would have been in when they were blown out of the house.  An Anderson shelter (pictured on the left) was a shelter to be assembled partly sunk into the ground and partly covered by soil and perhaps plants so that it wouldn't have been obvious to planes flying over it.

The shelter type that would have been indoors was the Morrison shelter (pictured right).  It was of sturdy steel construction about the height of a kitchen table and usable as such.  It was designed to protect the occupants from falling masonry.  Phyllis isn't specific about her kitchen table they sheltered under, but it is unlikely to have been a Morrison shelter which was only 6ft 6in long.  Neither type could protect the occupants from a direct hit but many lives were saved from nearby bomb strikes.

Cynthia VillasCynthia Villas is located on the bend where Cynthia Road meets West Avenue.  The sign over the doorways shows "CYNTHIA VILLAS" but it would have been two separate dwellings then as it is now (the 1940 street directory shows Numbers 1 and 2), and with wartime housing shortages Phyllis and her family would almost certainly have been allocated just one of them.  The picture here is a modern one but the name is still on the front, centred over the two doors.

The railway track at the bottom of the garden carried the Somerset and Dorset line which ran between Bath and the south coast, and the soldiers would have been a mix of soldiers on respite leave and the wounded.  That line ceased operating in 1967 and where the track used to be is now called Linear Park.

The St Barnabas Church was just off Mount Road, and not far from Whiteway Cemetery.  The church in Paulton was called Holy Trinity, in Church Street, just off the High Street.  Both still exist.

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