Monday, January 30, 2012

April 26-May 2, 1940

Swindon received firsthand experience of how it would cope in an air raid when an imaginary air blitzkrieg was staged across the town on Sunday April 28.

In more than 20 incidents, volunteers were engaged in rescuing those trapped beneath wreckage and in burning buildings, attending the injured and decontaminating roads and properties affected by gas.

With more than 400 casualties, as many as 70 ambulances were at one time running between incident points and the Victoria, GWR Medical Fund and Stratton Hospitals.

At the GWR ground off the Wootton Bassett road a railway coach was over turned and 20 passengers trapped. The coach itself had to be levered up and huge obstacles moved to rescue the ‘dummy’ casualties.

More than 1,000 part time and voluntary workers were called upon from not only Swindon but Bristol, Gloucester, Oxford, Salisbury and Bath in this ARP regional reinforcement exercise.

‘The whole thing has been most ingeniously devised,’ Sir Geoffrey Peto, Regional Commissioner for Civil Defence, told the Advertiser.

More than 6,000 Great Western railway men were serving with the Forces, it was announced in the company magazine, as a special Comforts Fund was launched with a generous contribution from GWR directors.

With wives busy knitting, appeals were issued to all departmental heads for periodical voluntary contributions. ‘Men on overseas service and those recovering from wounds and injuries will rank first for distribution,’ reported the Advertiser, ‘ and will be followed by men in this country, particularly where their stations are remote and their lives lonely.’

The scheme was intended to be much more than a formal organisation of goods and it was hoped each parcel would include a greetings card with a message and news from colleagues.

Engine Room Artificer William E.H. Evans, only son of Mr & Mrs W.H.H. Evans of 81 Birch Street was reported missing when the submarine Sterlet was lost. The Sterlet had been on patrol in the Skagerrak, south of Narvik, Norway when it was believed to have been struck by German anti submarine trawlers on April 18.

A former pupil at Westcott Place School, Artificer Evans had completed his engineering studies at the College Evening Classes before beginning an apprenticeship in the GWR Works. Twenty six year old Evans was engaged to Miss Violet Smith, daughter of Engineer Lieut. Commander S.G. and Mrs Smith of Portsmouth. The couple had planned to marry in June.

Barbara Stephens, aged six, (pictured below) was crowned May Queen at Gorse Hill Infants’ School, Swindon. Her train bearers were Marie Barrett and Margaret Price.

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