Ellen Victoria Whittall was killed during World War 2. This is her story.

1.  Newspaper reports

The first is from a clipping from THE BIRMINGHAM POST, SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 19, 1942 which was found at Eardiston (the family home), and gives the first account we had of the bombing raid in which Nella was killed.  The second is from the local daily newspaper, on film at Plymouth Library, WesterN Morning News, September 19, 1942

 

 DAYLIGHT RAID IN THE SOUTH WEST

 

TWELVE KILLED: PLANE SHOT DOWN

 

Twelve persons were killed in a South-West coast town yesterday when, in daylight, six German planes carried out a " sneak " raid.  The dead included men who were in a building which had a direct hit.  Considerable damage was done.  One of the raiders was shot down by anti-aircraft fire near the coast.

Suddenly swooping out of low clouds, the raiders made a simul-taneous dive over the town and released their bombs in the single attack.  One of them used its machine-guns against a bus.

12 KILLED IN

RAID

 


Nazis Attack

S.W. Town

 


ENEMY 'PLANE

SHOT DOWN

T

WELVE people were killed in a South-West Coast town raided yesterday by six Ger-man "sneak" raiders.  The dead included a number of men who were in a building which received a direct hit. Considerable damage was done.

Suddenly swooping out of low clouds, the raiders - there were six, and one was shot down by A.A. near the coast - made a simultaneous dive over the town, releasing their bombs in a single attack.

It was reported that one of the raiders blazed away with its machine guns at a 'bus which was being driven along the street. Bullets ripped into the roof.   As the raider opened fire the 'bus driver pressed down his accelerator and drove for a place of shelter.  Here the passengers got out of the 'bus and took cover.

Investigation by a "Western Morning News" representative re-vealed that no such incident had been reported to the 'bus company.

A local resident said: "The attack was sudden and carried out in broad daylight.  As far as I could judge, the 'planes were bombers.  As soon as they had released their bombs and fired their guns in the one swoop they made off.

The ambulance and rescue squads turned out promptly, and carried the wounded to the first-aid station and to the hospital.  It is believed that many of those injured are in a serious condition and that a Wren was among the killed.

 


 

 

2.      The Naval Officer's Account

This account relies heavily on the much more graphic account by E.A. Hughes that follows it.

 

"Britannia at Dartmouth" - Captain S.W.C. Pack C.B.E

'The story of HMS Britannia and the Britannia Royal Naval College'

Published by Alvin Redman Ltd., - 1966

Chapter 16 - The Hitler War (page 253)

The new Headmaster, Mr J.W. Stork, had hardly settled before disaster struck the College.  In the week before the beginning of the Christmas term 1942, in a daylight German bombing raid, two bombs landed, one on B block and one on the quarter-deck.  The raid might have been catastrophic but for the fact that this year the beginning of term had been deferred by a week, as is necessary one year in six in order to phase correctly the Christmas holidays.

The bombing took place on 18th September 1942, and there were seated round a table in the Commander's cabin at Dartmouth the Commander himself, the Headmaster, Lt. Commander Agnew, the Second Master and the Rev. A.L.E. Hoskyns-Abrahall, working out the details of the evacuation of the College in case it was bombed.  They were still sitting round the table when the first bomb fell; and by the time the second bomb fell, near the north-west corner of the quarter-deck, the were all under tables.  It was dark when they again got up to grope their way into the open.  'At any rate,' said the Commander, 'we were discussing a most appropriate subject.'  The quarter-deck and most of the studies and labs were rendered unfit for use, and all the windows on the south side of 'D' block were blown out.  If the summer leave had not been a week longer than usual, the bombing would have happened during the stand-easy on the first day of term.  As it was one Wren was killed.

Before the bombing the day had been calm and sunny; later it deteriorated, and by nightfall there was a high wind with heavy rain.  It was depressing in the extreme to walk along the still standing east gallery and hear the flapping of black-out blinds through the broken windows, and the swish of water running down the quarter-deck, now open to the sky.

There was at that time no building available to which the whole College could be evacuated, so it was decided that only the four senior terms should return to Dartmouth.  The rest of the College should rejoin at Muller's Orphanage at Bristol.  Eventually the decision was made that the whole College and Frobishers should move to Eaton Hall, the Duke of Westminster's seat near Chester.

 

Alvin Redman Ltd                                                                                                                                                       

17 Fleet St, London                                                                                                                                                     


3.  The Master's Account

Edward Arthur Hughes MA was the Second Master (equivalent, I think, to Deputy Headmaster) and Head of the History and English Departments and he was actually present at the meeting that was taking place in the Commander's cabin.

"The Royal Naval College Dartmouth" - E.A. Hughes

Published by Winchester Publications Ltd - 1950

 

Chapter VII - The Second World War (page 145)

The new Headmaster, Mr J.W. Stork joined a fortnight before the end of the leave in order to become familiar with his new surroundings.  A week before term, on the morning of Friday, September 18, he was in the Commander's day cabin with the Commander, Lieutenant-Commander Agnew, and myself to arrange the routine for the beginning of term.

That done, he asked if we might discuss the arrangement which had been made in case the College had to be evacuated: as Headmaster of Portsmouth Grammar School he had experience of the problems involved.  When the Commander returned from his desk with the file he smiled at me as he pointed to one of the names which he had written on the cover and had later crossed out.  It was that of a summer holiday camp which had at one time been under consideration as a possible war-time home for the College.  He and I had inspected it together, and on our arrival it had been assumed that we already knew that the College would not be evacuated until it had been bombed; in actual fact this was news to us, but we tried not to show it!

Then we all studied the skeleton plan which had been made by order of the Admiralty for the dispersal of the College among various public schools.  It could not be detailed, as neither the Captain in command at the time when the plan was prepared nor Mr Kempson could know in advance how many officers and masters would be available for teaching, or how many cadets would be left to teach.  Since the assistant chaplain, the Rev. A.L.E. Hoskyns-Abrahall, knew intimately one of the schools among which we might be divided, the Commander rang him up and asked him to join us.

Five minutes later at 11.22 a.m. the five of us were still sitting round the table discussing evacuation when the shock of a bomb falling on B Block brought us to our feet just in time to see a Nazi plane flying across the parade-ground towards the town.  Then, at the sound of machine-gun fire we took refuge under the table or behind the settee before the second bomb fell, very near the north-west corner of the Quarter-deck.  The blast drove the Commander's solid oak door against the chair in which Lieutenant-Commander Agnew had been sitting, smashing it to pieces.  It was not until the Alert sounded that we got up to grope our way through pitch darkness.  'At any rate,' said the Commander, who by this time was wearing his tin hat, 'in dealing with evacuation we chose a most appropriate subject!'

The raid had been carefully planned and brilliantly executed by well-trained pilots.  Examination of the contours of the ordnance map will show that German pilots flying at 'nought' feet across the Channel had the choice of several routes which would enable them to attack without exposing themselves to A.A. fire for more than a second or two.  The six planes which took part in the operation came down Noss Combe.  Two attacked the College and two the shipping, sinking one ship.  The other two bombed the Noss works of Messrs Philip & Son, who built 230 vessels during the war for the Admiralty and Royal Air Force.  The works were badly damaged, twenty employees were killed, and forty were wounded.  The planes were not fired at by the few guns in the neighbourhood.

Inspection of the College showed that all the studies had lost their windows, and most of the gunrooms and dormitories the majority of theirs.  One trod on bricks, rubble, shredded books and broken glass.  The forenoon had been calm and sunny; by nightfall there was a high wind and heavy rain.  It was depressing in the extreme to walk along the still standing east gallery and hear the flapping of torn black-out blinds through broken windows and the swish of water running down the Quarter-deck, now open to the sky.

Luckily there were very few people in the College at the time, and the only casualties were a Wren killed and an officer wounded in the arm by a machine-gun bullet.  It is mere conjecture that the operation had been planned for the first day after cadets had rejoined for the Christmas Term.  An enemy agent at Paddington could not have failed to notice the special train which took cadets on leave and brought them back, and to have learnt that the summer leave was seven weeks and two days in length.  But he might not have drawn the deduction that, since in the ordinary year there were fifty-two weeks and an odd day over, one year in six, allowing for one leap year, they must be given an extra week; otherwise in the course of time the Easter term would start before Christmas.  In any case the officers and masters then in the College did thank Heaven that it was the sixth year: from the damage to the building they could imagine what the sight would have been like if cadets had been there.

 

Winchester Publications Ltd                                                                                                                                     

Maddox St., London.                                                                                                                                                  

 

 

 


4.  The Wren's Story

This account is by the then Leading Wren Joyce Tucker, now Mrs Joyce Corder, who believes she was the last person to have seen Nella alive.  She says she did not know her, or anything about her, except for this one incident in the Ladies Room.  As they passed they said "Good morning" to each other, and remarked on the sun being rather bright for the time of day.

 

"A Wrens-Eye View of Wartime Dartmouth"

 Compiled by Ray Freeman

Published by Dartmouth History Research Group, in association with Dartmouth Museum - 1994

 

(page 13)

 

September 18th, 1942: Bombs on BRNC, Noss Works and Ships in the River.

 

This day was the blackest of the war in Dartmouth.  At 11.30 a.m. before any air raid warning was sounded, six German Fokke-Wulf 190s flew up the Dart and attacked Noss shipyards, the Naval College and two coaling ships in the river.  In all, 25 people were killed.

 

Leading Wren Joyce Tucker was an eye-witness of events at the College were she worked.  She writes:

 

"It was a cool but sunny morning, but it was the sun which was our enemy that fateful morning.

 

"This particular September morning I left our mess room to make my way to the Captain's House where I was going to meet eight Wrens who had just come from a training course in Scotland.  I was going to show them around before they commenced their duties.  Having left the mess room I called into the 'Ladies Room' in the main corridor opposite the main entrance to the College.  On my way out I passed the time of day to a Petty Officer Wren, remarking on the lovely morning.  I met the Wrens from Scotland and was on the top floor of the Captain's House showing them around and all at once we heard the low hum of planes.  Thinking it was 'our lads' as we called them then, 'mighty kings of the air,' we did not take much notice as they flew very low over the river.  Suddenly there was machine gun fire, fast and furious, aiming at the College Clock.  This is where, as I said in the beginning, the sun was not our friend that morning.  The German planes came in from the Castle in the very bright glare of the morning sun, flying very low indeed over the river.  No air raid warnings had been given.  They caught us completely by surprise.

 

"The first bomb dropped and by that time the girls were going down all those stairs more than two at a time.  They moved like lightning - myself I slid down the bannisters and we all got to the basement and the kitchen of the Captain's house safely.  The bomb dropped on B block and the Quarter Deck.  Not long before I had left the toilet right next to the devastation of the Quarter Deck and the main entrance, and the Petty Officer Wren that I had spoken to had been killed.  This greatly upset and distressed me, but in wartime all we kept saying and singing was 'There will always be an England' and for that we all had to keep going whatever our emotions and feelings.  The other large bomb landed in the College - the square just outside the College Church.  Those days where the memorial of names of the Naval fallen is now, were the two Naval Padres' cabins.  The bomb dropped between the two cabins.  Well, I would not be here now, or many others had that second bomb exploded.  It was a time bomb.  It was dealt with by very brave naval bomb disposal squads from Plymouth."

 

The Petty Officer who was killed was Mrs Helen Victoria Whittal.  Mercifully the cadets were on holiday that day or casualties would have been much greater.

 

 


5.      More Eye Witness Reports

 

"Memories of War by Local People at Home and Abroad 1939 - 1946

 Compiled by Ray Freeman

Published by Dartmouth History Research Group, in association with Dartmouth Museum - 1995

 

(page 5)

 

The Attacks On Britannia Royal Naval College, Noss Works, And Ships In The River, September 18th, 1942

 

It was a bright sunny morning, and young Eric Pillar was on his bicycle delivering telegrams for the Post Office.  There was no air raid warning.  He had one for Britannia Royal Naval College, and at about 11.30 a.m. was riding down the hill from Townstal towards it when:

 

"I saw these planes coming in from the Castle with red lights glinting on the wings.  I then realised they weren't lights but machine guns firing tracer bullets.  They were flying straight towards the college, at about the same level.  When they dropped the bomb it went straight through the front wall of the College.  Then there was this great cloud of dust came up.  I got off my bicycle quick.  But afterwards I delivered my telegrams to the office to the right hand side of the main entrance door, near to where the bomb had dropped."


 

"Dartmouth Conspiracy" James Stevenson

Published by Friars Goose Press - 1999

 

 

Author's Note

 

Dartmouth conspiracy is mostly fiction.  What inspired me to write it was a true event that I witnessed shortly before my eighth birthday.

 

Early in 1942 my father, a naval officer, joined the staff of Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth.  Our family lived at number five Pathfields Road; the road is now tarmaced and called Townstal Pathfields ….

 

On the 18th of September 1942, shortly after 11.30 a.m., I was standing at the top of Pathfields Road with summer holidays almost at an end when I heard - and felt - two huge explosions below and behind St Clement's Church.  Immediately after that I saw an aeroplane above the church, speeding towards me.

 

Because I was standing on high ground, the aircraft - which was flying level - was coming straight towards me.  In the few seconds it took to travel the length of Pathfields Road I saw black crosses on the side of the fuselage, a swastika on the tail, and the white face of a German pilot.  Two Spitfires (we all knew what they looked like) were close behind.  Above the roar of the engines I heard - and saw - a lot of gunfire.  The three aircraft narrowly missed the top of Tower House and disappeared from view.

 

My mother, for some reason convinced that all this gunnery was aimed at me, ran into the road: why hadn't I thrown myself flat on the ground like I'd been taught?

 

My father and elder brother were on board the 11.35 pulling out of Kingswear station.  The train stopped (Father told me) as soon as the bombing started; he saw bombs drop on the college and ships under attack in the river.  My brother, however, was disappointed - he saw nothing because he was told to lie on the floor; Father got down too, and lay on top of him.

 

Britannia's Christmas Term had been due to start on that day but, shortly before, a circular letter was sent out to all personnel informing them that the beginning of term had been postponed by one week to phase correctly the Christmas leave.

 

More than fifty years later I visited the Public Records Office in London and was able to confirm that six single-seat Focke-Wulf 190s had approached Dartmouth at sea level and had dropped six bombs on various targets.  I also discovered, that shortly before the attack, twelve fully armed Spitfires from 310 (Czech) Squadron, based at nearby Exeter, were on formation flying practice above cloud over Teignmouth (following earlier escort duties with an Air Sea Rescue Walrus amphibian).  The Spitfires broke off their exercise and dived towards Dartmouth from 8,000 feet; they closed with the Focke-Wulfs but … failed to shoot down any of the fleeing raiders even though two of the Czech pilots were Battle of Britain veterans.

 

Britannia suffered a direct hit on the quarterdeck and another on B block.  D block also suffered blast damage to walls, roof and windows.  The Noss shipyard belonging to Philip and Son, now a yacht marina, was fiercely attacked, leaving twenty employees dead.  A floating crane and the collier SS Fernwood were hit while coaling a minesweeper in mid-river with a loss of four more lives.  The only casualty in Britannia was Petty Officer Helen Victoria Whittal, my father's assistant, who lived next door to us in Pathfields Road.  She was sadly missed …….

 

Friars Goose Press
Cross Park
Ringmore
Kingsbridge
Devon TQ7 4HW

 

 

A further graphic eyewitness account may be found at:

 

http://www.devon.gov.uk/etched?_IXP_=1&_IXR=100103


6.      The Spitfire Pilot's Report

James Stevenson sent me this extract.  He added the note that he saw two spitfires chasing a FW190 above their house - the gap was more like 50 yards (not 600)!

 

OPERATIONS RECORD BOOK

of No. 310 (Czech) Squadron, EXETER.

Summary of Events

18.9.42                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Page No. 12

This morning Green and Black sections acted in turn as escort to a Walrus seaplane sent out to look for the crew of a missing Boston bomber, the patrol lasting from 06.30 to 08.05 but nothing was seen.  Later at 07.15 hours Yellow section took off to escort a convoy leaving DARTMOUTH proceeding east, and was relieved by Red section.  No e/a were seen.

The latter part of the morning was much more exciting though disappointing in result, for at 11.15 hours 12 aircraft of the Squadron led by S/Ldr. DOLEZAL. D.F.C took off for a Squadron formation practice - at 11.35 hours however information was given by operations that 6 bandits were some where over TEIGNMOUTH and orders were given to get after them pronto.  Squadron was above cloud at about 8,000 feet flying on a course of 170o. Squadron Leader ordered Squadron to reform in pairs abreast and to dive down through the cloud which was 10/10ths.  Emerging from cloud, the Squadron found itself some 15 miles east of DARTMOUTH and swinging round to the right following the coast at about 1,000 feet soon sighted 2 e/a FW.190's at sea level flying southwards and shortly after 4 more flying south south eastwards were observed.  The Squadron gave chase, Black section following the first 2 e/a observed and opening fire and the rest of the Squadron chasing the others.  The opportunity for destroying Huns and their aircraft, and the interception were perfect, but our aircraft were not good enough in point of speed to close with the enemy, and even though our pilots gave all possible boost and had every tactical advantage the e/a put on speed and left them standing.  Eight of our pilots fired but it is doubtful if any of them managed to get closer than 600 yards and no strikes were observed.  Operations are to be congratulated on the instructions and information given by them and our boys did their best to make good use of them, but the disappointing fact remains that our aircraft were not anything like fast enough. - Having followed the Huns for some 30 miles out to sea in the direction of France, the e/a being then 1½ to 2 miles ahead, orders were given to break off the chase and the Squadron returned to base.  It was learnt afterwards that these FK.190's had dropped bombs and machine gunned DARTMOUTH.

This completed the operational flying for the day.
Non-operationally "A" Flight got in 22 sorties on Air to Sea firing practice and "B" Flight 5 sorties on aircraft tests and local flying. The squadron was released at 13.00 hours.

7.      Letter

8.      Background Information (including 'Frobishers')

More from E.A. Hughes' and Captain S.W.C. Pack's books, and then from Evan Davies' and Eric Grove's booklet I have taken pieces from The Introduction (page 16) and from Chapter 3 The War Years and Eaton Hall (page 69).

 

"The Royal Naval College Dartmouth" - E.A. Hughes - 1950

(Page 137)

The following extracts from an article in the Britannia magazine of the Easter term 1947, written by Captain Cunliffe, show how the fall of France and subsequent events affected the College.

'Dartmouth of course was now very much an air target, and this was the source of much anxiety.  The air raid shelters were the hot-pipe passages running the length of the College, and it would be hard to imagine a worse situation in which to put 600 cadets.  A start was made in clearing all the upper dormitories, and making sleeping quarters in the boot rooms on the ground floor.  This, again, was unsatisfactory but safer.

'N.O.I.C.'s staff was expanding all the time, and accommodation had to be found for them.  The two lower central dormitories in A and B blocks were taken and turned into offices, and an Operations Room was made.  A large staff of W.R.N.S. arrived

 

 

"Britannia at Dartmouth" - Captain S.W.C. Pack C.B.E - 1966

 

Chapter 15 - Halcyon Days (page 237)

The May 1939 special entry cadets were appointed to the College for training, instead of to the training cruiser, which at that time was H.M.S. Frobisher.  She could no longer be spared for those duties.  Among the seventy cadets was Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, now Admiral of the Fleet the Duke of Edinburgh, K.G., K.T., G.B.E., consort of Her Majesty the Queen, and father of Prince Charles, the heir to the throne.  Thus once again was Dartmouth honoured…………

The 'Frobishers' as they were called, were accommodated in the ship's company block below the College, separately from the Darts who now exceeded five hundred again.  Their work and training were also separate, but there was association with the Darts in some of the games.


 

"The Royal Naval College Dartmouth" - E.L. Davies & E.J. Grove

'Seventy-five years in Pictures'

Published by Gieves & Hawkes - 1980

The process which had seen the emphasis at Dartmouth swing from academic study to professional training began in 1939.  The deteriorating international situation had led to the Special Entries' training ship Frobisher being refitted for active service.  In May, therefore, the eighteen-year-olds who should have gone to sea in her were sent instead to Dartmouth's ships company barracks block.

Far from the exodus of 1914 the outbreak of war in 1939 saw the College dramatically increase in size.  Some changes had to be made, because of the restrictions imposed by the blackout, and by the build-up of numbers in the College.  Another group of Special Entry cadets arrived and were housed in 'C' block owing to the seamen's barracks now called Beatty still being occupied by the 'Frobishers' and the RNC passing out term who would also normally have been at sea.  The arrival of all the special entry cadets with the withdrawal of both training cruisers meant an increase in numbers of around 220.  Extra huts had to be constructed to provide sufficient accommodation.  The Drakes were temporarily reduced to one term only and to sleeping in the old 'D' block mess-room that had latterly been used as a cinema.  As neither the chapel nor the messroom would hold the numbers, a staggered routine became necessary.

In April 1940 Captain Cunliffe was appointed Naval Officer in Charge of Dartmouth and an area which appears to have extended from Salcombe to Beer, the ship's company began to grow and the barracks had to be given up by the Frobishers while increasing amounts of 'A' and 'B' blocks were given over to administrative offices.  The College became still more crowded as dormitories had to be converted into offices and a full operations room constructed.  Also, cadets from foreign and Commonwealth navies began to be trained in the College, cadets coming from Poland, Norway, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and France.  WRNS officers and ratings also began to appear for the first time

All this suddenly came to an end in September 18, 1942 when two bombs fell on the College, the first near Mr Garth's barbers shop, roughly at the junction of 'O' and 'B' blocks and the second near the north-west corner of the Quarter-deck.  The Quarter-deck and most of the classrooms were rendered unusable and all the glass was blow out of the windows of 'D' block.  The College had not yet returned from summer leave and the only casualties were one Wren killed and one officer very slightly wounded.  At the time of the bombing a committee was sitting in the Commander's cabin, within a very few feet of the point where the first bomb landed, discussing arrangements should the College be bombed

The damage was quite severe and it was necessary to send the junior cadets to Muller's Orphanage in Bristol, commissioned as HMS Bristol.  Only the four senior terms of RNC cadets returned to Dartmouth but the admiralty decided to use the buildings as a Combined Operations training centre.  After a year as such, first as HMS Dartmouth II and then as HMS Effingham, the establishment was passed to the U.S. Navy as an advanced base.

 

Gieves & Hawkes Ltd                                                                                                                                                 

22 The Hard, Portsmouth, Hampshire                                                                                                                      

ISBN 0-85997-462-6


9.  More Versions 

Another couple of extracts,

 

"Dartmouth and Kingswear during the Second World War 1939-1945"

 Arthur L. Clamp

Published - 1994

 

(Page 11)

 

On 18th September, 1942, Dartmouth was attacked in a daylight raid causing serious damage to Noss Works, some boats on the river and two bombs falling on the College, one on B block and the other on the quarter deck.  Fortunately the cadets were still on vacation but one W.R.N.S. personnel was killed.

 

The new headmaster, J.W. Stork, had just arrived at the start of the new term when this disaster occurred.  At the time of the impact of the two bombs a meeting was in progress in the Commando's (sic) cabin planning the evacuation of the college should it be attacked.  No one was hurt, the lights went out and all the windows on the south side of D block were blown out with wall and roof damage occurring as partly seen in this photograph.

 

 

Arthur L. Clamp                                                                                                                                                           

203, Elburton Rd., Plymouth, Devon PL9 8HX                                                                                                        

Printer: PDS Printers, Plympton, Plymouth

 

 

 

"Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth"

Revd. B.K. Hammett MA, R.N.

Published by Pitkin Pictorials - 1992

 

The Quarterdeck was one of the few casualties of the Second World War, suffering major structural damage on 18 September 1942, when a passing German bomber off-loaded its bombs on the college, killing one Wren, blowing out a section of the front of the college and bringing down much of the Quarterdeck roof.

 

 

Pitkin Pictorials
Healey House
Dene Road
Andover
Hampshire, SP10 2AA