WORLD WAR I
A ‘snapshot’ of Burnham during the first week of the first world war:
The Burnham Gazette and Highbridge Express Centenary Edition of 1964 tells us that a company was formed in Burnham to make aircraft wings during the war, in co-operation with other firms in the district. It gives no more information so if anyone can supply more please send us a comment below.
Charles Sealey of Abingdon St is just one of those Burnham residents who gave their lives. For a full list sand details see World War I casualties page.
WORLD WAR II
An account in The Burnham Gazette and Highbridge Express Centenary Edition of 1964 tells us:
“The second world war found Burnham on the route of the German bombers from Germany to South Wales and many raids were observe from the Burnham Esplanade. One raid with fatal consequences [not specified]. Propaganda leaflets were dropped on the sandhills by the Germans, many of which are still preserved. The raiders presumably thought that they were over some large city such as Bristol or Cardiff. Considerable defence measures were taken including the construction of pill-box forts and wire entanglements but fortunately they were not used.”
Burnham was home to one of the 19 Observer Corps teams which formed part of the No 22 group (H.Q. at Yeovil)
Below are a number of stills from the film by Norman Gobey showing the Local Defence Volunteers.
The first civilian casualties of air strikes in Somerset were at Burnham on 18th June 1940 when 2 people were killed, 3 injured and damage caused to 70 houses. On 14th August 2 Heinkels were shot down over Sedgemoor, one coming down in the mouth of the River Parrett from where the body of a gunner was recovered on 12th September. (Info from Somerset at War 1939-45 by Mac Hawkins)
The above article was supplied by Des Parsons. Des recalled having it when purchasing a card for the 100th birthday (in 2020) of Patrick Stokes, the son of the gentleman in the article. Patrick Stokes had been Des’s first boss at Wallbutton’s Garage.
U.S. B17 Flying Fortress of the 351st Bomb Group at Polebrook crash landed on Burnham beach on 31st December 1943 after being damaged during a bombing raid on german held targets in France. There were no fatalities. For further information see http://www.burnham-on-sea.com/news/2013/walter-skinner-dies-28-11-13.php
Between 1943 & 1945 members of the U.S. Army Transportation Corps 202, 780th Railway Company, were billeted at Naish House and worked at Highbridge Wharf.
USA Army Fuel Depot at Highbridge
We have received information about railway facilities for the storage of Petrol, Oil and Lubricants which the US Army created on and adjacent to the Somerset & Dorset Railway at Highbridge. Alan Hammond’s Spirit of Somerset & Dorset Railway publication describes US Army troops occupation of the fields on which Walrow Industrial Estate now stands for the storage of 1,045,000 5- gallon cans of gasoline. This was over 8% of the USA cased fuel storage in the UK . They all disappeared a fortnight before D Day!
Very few drawings or images of this Depot survive. So we are grateful to John Palmer who produced the image below. Using information from the South West Heritage Trust of the R.A.F’s photographic mosaics of about 1946 and overlaying this onto the S&D Station has recreated this lost facility.
We are grateful for the Somerset & Dorset Railway Trust’s permission to use their image showing the grassed area beyond the coaches which should still have track there on the date taken 5 August 1962.
Commercial activity was affected by war, not only by rationing of materials but also by labour shortage:
Warship Week 1942:
Warship Weeks were British National Savings campaigns with the aim of a Royal Navy warship being adopted by a civil community. A press announcement quoted the adoption of eight battleships, four carriers, forty-nine cruisers, three hundred and one destroyers, twenty-five submarines, one hundred and sixty-four corvettes and frigates and two hundred and eighty-eight minesweepers nationwide.
‘Wings for Victory’ Campaign:
Other national war campaigns included the ‘Wings For Victory’ week to purchase bomber planes, a ‘Spitfire Week’ to purchase fighter planes, a ‘War Weapons Week’ and a ‘Tanks For Attack’ week. Parades were often organised with military representation as part of the drive.
Below is a short film by local amateur cinematographer Norman Gobey on 9.5mm, showing a Messerschmitt aeroplane put on display to raise money for the Spitfire fund during world war II.
The following pictures of local parades lack detailed information. (Photos courtesy of Bob & June Thomas).
The South West fell into the Army 8th Corps district with H.Q at Taunton. In 1943 a reorganisation created sub-districts with the H.Q. for that of Somerset being at Burnham. Can anyone tell us exactly where this was? (Info from Somerset at War 1939-45 by Mac Hawkins).
John Strickland says “I’m fairly certain this was taken in Lynton Road with the roof tops of Rosemary Cottage on the left; the Station behind the cyclists and Abingdon Hotel behind the tree. I remember that there was still a barred gate into the coal yard during my childhood. ”
In 1940 the local Home Guard was part of the 8th Somerset (Weston) Battalion. In 1943 however the 13th Somerset (Axbridge) Battalion was created to take over part of the 8th’s area, one of its 4 companies being based in Burnham (Info from Somerset at War 1939-45 by Mac Hawkins).
You may also be interested in information about the wartime role of Brean Down Fort which you will find here.