THE 2ND BOER WAR 1899 – 1902
Notice of a dinner to celebrate Burnham Rifle Corps volunteers for South African campaign, February 1900.
Below left, a letter from the front by a member of the Patey printing family, printed in the local press, and right a list of local charitable subscriptions to the war effort.
Below a report of the peace celebrations in Burnham & Highbridge in 1902
WORLD WAR I
A ‘snapshot’ of Burnham during the first week of the first world war:
South Wales Borderers and Army Cycle Corps
Both of these companies were billeted in Burnham in 1915
From Burnham Gazette 6th February 1915:
THE CALL TO ARMS
There was a large muster of officers and men of the South Wales Borderers and the 19th Cyclists Corps on Sunday morning for the church parade Colonel C.W. Trower commanding the Battalion was present. Accompanied by the Fife and Bugle Band the troops marched to the Parish Church, where an appropriate service was given by Rev.G.L. Poarcher (curate). On the conclusion of the service the men assembled on the Promenade, the full length of which was traversed. After marching past Colonel Trower the troops dismissed. Companies also attended the Catholic Church, the Wesleyan Church, and the Baptist Church.
Of the second photo 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. “
It is not clear why anyone might have thought bad teeth would be a bar.
Below: Cycle Corps bicycle specification sheet.
Above: certificate of thanks awarded by Highbridge to private C. Jones of the Hants. Cycle Corps.
The certificate below shows a charitable gesture by one of the students of St Margaret’s school, at that time situated in Julia Terrace, in donating prize money to the War Fund.
Shortly after the war St Margaret’s moved to the house in Poplar Rd which had been used as a military hospital during wartime (below). Hart House School was also used for this purpose. Particular note is made on the Hart House page of Nurse Bowring’s work.
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. Another was Albert Dyer (below). The Holt (Brewery) family also lost two young men. For a full list and details see World War I casualties page.
From Burnham Gazette May 31st 1919 Page 8
Three sons of Burnham-on-Sea attended at Buckingham Palace on Saturday 17th May, namely Lieut-Col. Arthur Smeltzer, D.S.O., Major Jack Smeltzer M.C. and Lieut. Willie Smeltzer, M.C. and received their investiture of the King for conspicuous bravery in action in the European War. In addition to the honours appended to their names the gallant officers have each been awarded the bar. The town feels greatly honoured by the distinction that His Majesty has conferred upon three brothers who have displayed conspicuous bravery in the field for all three were born in Burnham-on-Sea, were educated at the Church of England school, under Mr. W.H. May the head master who is proud of the achievements of his former pupils. Lieut-Col. Smeltzer and Major Smeltzer were born in Highbridge Road and Lieut. Smeltzer in Oxford Street. Two other brothers are in the Army, viz. Sergt. Sidney Smeltzer, who served in the Dardanelles and Lieut. Bertie Smeltzer who was in hospital two years has lost his one leg and is wounded in the toes of the foot. The five brothers are the sons of Mr. and Mrs. Smeltzer, who for some years ago resided in High Street, at that time known as Alfred Street. Mr. Smeltzer was employed at works in Highbridge, and he conducted business as a grocer in the shop now occupied by Mr. Hill baker. Mrs. Smeltzer is a daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. James Hobbs and her sister Mrs. Elizabeth Macey, wife of Mr John Macey resides at No. 17 Highbridge Road, Burnham. Mr. and Mrs. Smeltzer who reside in London are deservedly proud of their sons achievements. The three brothers who have gained such honours for their gallantry and bravery are also proud of their birthplace. Lieut-Col. Smeltzer often talks about his boyhood days in Burnham and his wife is expected shortly. We believe the distinction of D.S.O. that has been conferred upon Lieut-Col Smeltzer is the first of that class awarded to a Burnham soldier during the war. We heartily congratulate our townsmen on their gallantry and the great honour conferred upon them.
WORLD WAR II
OBSERVER CORPS & LOCAL DEFENCE VOLUNTEERS
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 building at the rear of the Adult School in Adam St, seen below in a photo by Glyn Luxon, was at one time part of the Civil Defence network.
On 7th September 1939, the National Registration Act was passed, introducing identity cards for everyone, including children. The card was stamped by the local registration office. Thanks to Brian Marchent for providing the example below which was issued in 1944, presumably shortly after his birth.
EVACUATION OF CHILDREN & ACCOMMODATION OF REFUGEES
Below, local press report form 1941.
The certificate below (image supplied by A. Young) appears to be a certificate of thanks to a local resident for accommodating evacuees or refugees.
Neil Olsen has alerted us to graves of two WWII evacuees from London in the Burnham cemetery: Florence Rose (1926 – 1941) who died aged 15 whilst evacuated; and Louisa Hines c1900 – 1941. The latter was clearly not a child so her status as an evacuee is interesting.
More information about these two individuals can be found here.
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 by German fighters during a bombing raid on German held targets in France. The crew had to race the incoming tide to get out of the aircraft, which was sinking in the mud, and up the beach. They were then invited to join the nNew year’s Eve party in the Queens Hotel. A commemorative plaque was unveiled by local MP David Heathcote-Amory on 23rd January 2004 to mark the 60th anniversary of the crash-landing. It is situated on the North Esplanade sea wall. For further information see http://www.burnham-on-sea.com/news/2013/walter-skinner-dies-28-11-13.php
The postcard below shows the poles driven into the beach to prevent enemy aircraft using it as a landing strip.
U.S. ARMY PRESENCE
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!
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 Weeks 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. The newspaper clipping above may be from the March event (photo below).
The Western Daily Press carried the following report on 12th October 1942 which mentions the adoption of HMS Burnham by the town using Warship Week proceeds:
‘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 (see newspaper report above). Parades were often organised with military representation as part of the drive.
It appears from both pictures above that The Lifeboat Restaurant was a favourite place for mounting the publicity material for all of these events. Probably because of the open aspect and space for parades to gather at this junction.
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.
Burnham on Sea & District Gift Fund
The picture below shows the localArmy Cadet Corps in 1944
You will find scans of the Burnham Parish Magazine for September 1944 here. Of particular interest here is a warning about caution regarding the predicted end of the war and an appeal for male Sunday School teachers.
During and after the conflict there was of course a need to put a lot of effort into damage repairs. The notice below indicates that not everyone was pulling their weight.
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).
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.