Wartime Banbury - Bombing raids

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While nearby towns such as Coventry were bombed heavily during World War 2, Banbury escaped heavy damage and was in fact a temporary home to many evacuees from London. The town was badly hit on just two occasions, only one of which led to casualties.

In September 1940 at around 2am, two bombs fell on Banbury, and the canal lock (now at the back of the Castle Quay Shopping Centre) was hit, along with the office of the lock-keeper, George Bloomfield. A chunk of masonry from the damaged lock also hit one of the dormer windows of the former Town Gaol in the Market Place. Although the lock was badly damaged, the gates were not destroyed, otherwise the town could have been flooded. George’s career as a lock keeper was ended and he joined the army, only to be medically discharged within 2 months. He moved eventually to Woodgreen Avenue with his wife Dorothy and son Maurice. The lock gates today still bear the date 1940.

At 2.35 in the afternoon of Thursday, 3rd October that same year, a lone Dornier bomber flew low over the Market Place, so low that shoppers could clearly see the pilot. It dropped six bombs on the Banbury Gas Works and Great Western Railway Goods Yard. Two of the three gas holders and part of the works’ purification plant were destroyed, causing £20,000 worth of damage, and a fire which burned fiercely for about 2 hours. The office of the manager, Mr W R Day, was hit but he was unharmed. The gas supply to the town was cut off and not restored for six days.

During the attack, which lasted just 1 minute, significant damage was done to the railway yard. The worst of this was a direct hit on the Mess Room, a brick building with a slate roof, adjacent to the new Goods Warehouse. Six men inside the building were killed as the bomb exploded, another four injured. The mess room contained several thin sheet metal lockers, which suffered severe fragmentation.

Bombs also hit the railway siding and the down main line, 30 feet from the Signal Cabin. One rail was cut, the tracks lifted and the signals were damaged. A store hut containing barrels of oil was hit, causing a fierce fire. Goods services were severely disrupted, and full service was not resumed until 8pm that evening.

Had the raid happened slightly earlier in the afternoon the death toll could have been much higher, as there had been a team of platelayers at work on the main railway line. Three of the men killed in this attack are listed on the Banbury War Memorial (Martin Humphrey, George Noakes, and Richard Parker); it is assumed that the other three are listed elsewhere. To follow is a complete list of the six men killed:

Further raids occurred later on in 1940 when five bombs fell in an empty field at the back of the Bowling Green Inn, Overthorpe Rd, possibly as a result of a Shell Filling Station which had been located there during World War 1.

Towards the end of the war it was reported that during the early hours of the morning a German plane flew along West St, machine gunning the houses there, before doing the same to some old cottages on the corner of Bath Rd.

Sources: Letter from G C Hartland of Beargarden Rd / Civilian Roll of Honour 1939-1945 / Ted Hanson, Banbury Citizen, September 4th 1989 / Air Raid Damage Report Serial No. 31 by L Kirk Greene RTIO (National Archives ref HO199/129).