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February 2013: Fire from the Sky

Bomb damage at Wellstead's, Reading, 1943

On Wednesday, 10 February 1943 Newbury and Reading both experienced their most significant bombing raid of World War 2.

Two Dornier 217 bombers followed the Great Western Railway line running west from London. At 4.34pm one bomber flew in over south Reading and eight minutes later the other arrived at Newbury. Both strafed the towns with machine gun fire as they dropped four 1000 lb bombs. The Newbury raider also dropped four smaller bombs.

The planes were probably aiming for the towns’ railway stations but missed their targets.

In Newbury, St John’s church, St Bartholomew’s almshouses and the council senior school were all destroyed. Fifteen people were killed: eleven women, three men and one boy. There had been no warning siren. The local civil defence commanders had to use the Police and Home Guard to keep back the crowds while there was an organised search for survivors.

The Newbury raid hit largely a residential area, with some 74 homes also destroyed or damaged beyond repair. In contrast, the Reading raid fell across the town centre, straddling what is now the site of the Oracle shopping centre and moving north to the Town Hall. There was greater loss of life: forty-one people died in Reading, despite an air raid warning. Thirty-five of them were dining in the People’s Pantry, a Government-sponsored restaurant behind the Market Place. The other casualties, including two children, were taking shelter as best they could.

Both bomber crews also became victims of war; their planes were brought down as they flew back towards the continent.

Bomb damage at Wellstead's, Reading, 1943Wellstead's site, 2012

The photograph shown here is of the damage around Wellstead’s department store in Reading’s Minster Street. A screen shot from google maps shows the site today. The photograph comes from Reading’s civil defence archive, and this and the similar Berkshire County Council archive contain various accounts of the raids.

The anniversary of the raids will be marked in both towns, which intend to unveil memorials to the civilian victims of the day.


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14 response(s) so far…

Jane Dickson
Posted on the : 6 Mar 2013

Thx for this interesting piece of local history. I grew up in London where bomb damage was still evident in the 1950s and 60s. I had no idea that Reading where I now live, shared some of the same fate during WW2

Posted on the : 10 Aug 2013

It would certainly help if the clip from Google Street View was facing the correct way !!

Posted on the : 16 Aug 2013

Hi Arthur - it took me ages to try and work it out and I still got it wrong. Can you enlighten me please - do I just need to rotate 180 degrees? Thank you!

Posted on the : 8 Mar 2014

This is amazing! Thank you, so useful. Looking for info on the Woodley bombings, possibly around the same time. Apparently there is an unexploded bomb in South Lake?

Posted on the : 29 Apr 2014

Hi my grandfather (who sadly past last year) lost his sister in the bombing. She was one of the two girls killed when sheltering at the peoples pantry. Her and her friend both aged10 at the time are buried next to each other at henley road cemetery. When my grandfather told me I was only young and was shocked and sad to think how she died. I missed the 70th anniversary held last year but its nice to know all those who died and helped to fight and helped in every way possible are still remembered. X

Posted on the : 9 Aug 2014

My aunt was one of the ones who died in this attack, age 16. My mum told me that they were on their way back home from school and her older sister, Winifred, got off of the bus to go to the People's Pantry to meet someone. She carried on home and never saw her sister again. I never knew the date until I did a search on google just now so that I can fill in a 'life history' record for my mum who's now in a home, but seeing the information brings home to me how awful that must have been for my Mum.

Mrs Olga skipper
Posted on the : 6 Jan 2016

I was eleven years old at the time and was on the bus home from school in London Street which was machine gunned sitting on the top deck we were all told to get down on the floor very frightening

Posted on the : 26 Feb 2016

My great nan saw a fighter jet fly over her head and it flew right past her and it shot at her but missed!

Posted on the : 15 Jul 2016

Standing in the front bedroom window of our house, I called out to my mother that the plane we could hear was German as it had crosses on its wings. "Get down!" she shouted. It strafed Headman primary school, where my Dad was, bullets went through their skylights but not into the building.

Helen Bowers
Posted on the : 8 Nov 2016

My mum was one of the children taking shelter and her younger sister and her sisters best friend were two of the children killed

Dorothy (Fiveash) Lee.
Posted on the : 17 Dec 2016

I was 6 years old, & had it not rained, my mum & I would have been in the People's Pantry! But we went instead to the Gaumont cinema to see Bambi. While there we heard the air raid siren, & when we came out of the cinema we found out what happened! So rain saved my life!!!

Dhenis Herring
Posted on the : 25 Dec 2016

Now in New Zealand, just spotted this entry. I was10 and enroute from Alfred Sutton junior school to our house in Linden Rd whih required changing buses from the Three Tuns to one going to the Merry Maidens I was crossing Broad St froo ioutside wellsteeds to a stop near Marks and Spencer In dthe middle of the road I ducked behind a static water tank (providing fire service emergency suuplies. The bombs dropped either side of the main street, glass debris and bullet holes appeared. I ran to a shelter in Cross St under the Gas Showrooms. Emerging an hour later to go home Mum said You're late! such was the ambivalence of the people of Reading when air raid sirens were regarded as an irritant, rather like fire drills (nowadays. Much more if wanted.

Roger King
Posted on the : 7 Dec 2017

My great-grand parents, the Benhams, were killed in the Newbury raid. The survivors were not allowed to see the bodies.

Hilary Beckingham
Posted on the : 21 Dec 2017

My late mother, Betty Shunn as she then was, worked in Collins, Dry land & Thoroughgood, solicitors in the Market Place when the bomb fell on The Peoples Pantry. She was on the first floor and a more senior lady went to run down the stairs but turned back with her hair stood on end. Mum sheltered under the desk with Ken Barrington (cricketer). My Grandfather cycled from the Cemetery Junction to try to find Mum but was turned back at the Butter Market as 'many were dead'. He returned home without a puncture and Mum, aged 18' made her own way home in one bit.


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