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1943 bomber photo taken on day of devastation for Torquay

By Herald Express  |  Posted: September 07, 2012

  • TRAGEDY: The photo of Torquay from a German bomber. Right, the aftermath of the bombing raid on St Mary Church

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THIS photograph shows for the first time a view from a German bomber plane on Torquay's darkest day.

War veteran Tony Rider was astounded when he opened a German magazine to see the photograph taken by the pilot of a German Focke Wulf 190 on the day of the 1943 bombing raid which claimed the lives of 54 people — including 21 St Marychurch Sunday school children.

The photo comes from the German Goss/Rauchbach Archives and the caption reads: "Another attack, this time on Torquay 30 May 1943."

Tony, honorary secretary of the South Devon Torbay Normandy Veterans Association, said: "Someone handed me this German magazine and I couldn't believe it when I saw the date. It was taken by the pilot of a Focke Wolk 190 over Fleet Street.

"Sadly it was that day of the Rogation Sunday raid.

"It clearly shows the white buildings of the old Rockheys department store, with the Town Hall and Upton Church in the background."

At 3.15pm on May 30, 1943, the bomb hit St Mary's Church, where children were assembling for the afternoon on Rogation Sunday, which is the fifth Sunday after Easter.

In all, 54 men, women and children were killed on that one day.

The whole of the church, apart from the tower, was destroyed. As well as the 21 youngsters, three teachers also lost their lives and many other children were injured.

The youngest children met in the church hall while the older ones were in the church itself waiting for their Sunday school to begin.

Some were from local families, while many had come from children's homes in the area.

It is thought German intelligence knew about the Initial Training Wing of the RAF which was lodged in several hotels along the sea front.

That afternoon upwards of a dozen Luftwaffe planes approached Torquay from different directions.

Some came across Torre Abbey Sands and bombed Union Street.

People told tales of running away from the planes flying low over the Bay.

Other planes flew over Babbacombe Downs to attack hotels such as the Northcliffe where many young RAF recruits were stationed.

The ack-ack guns sprang into life, strafing the skies and two of the enemy planes were hit.

One, flying out of control over St Marychurch, and with its pilot probably already dead, clipped the spire of the Catholic church.

It is thought this collision broke open the bomb doors of the plane, resulting in the release of its deadly cargo and a direct hit on the nearby parish church below where the little children were preparing for worship.

All around the area houses had been hit and many other people died, but the main focus was on the loss of young lives in the ruined church.

The RAF came to help the community as it painstakingly removed stones in the hunt for survivors.

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  • Sandie  |  September 10 2012, 10:26PM

    My father was one of the RAF recruits doing basic training in the bay at that time. He was stationed in the Palace Hotel in Paignton, most of his classes were at Oldway except Aldis Lamp drill which was between the Inn on the Green and the Redcliffe. On the day of that raid they had been off duty and out enjoying the sunshine on the Green. After the raid they were just told to get on lorries, didn't know where they were being taken, but arrived at the collapsed church and were ordered to start shifting fallen masonry. It was obvious to them that they were looking for survivors/ bodies, but they were never told who or what had been on in the church that day. Not until we were on holiday in Paignton in 1976 and enjoying an evening cruise on the 'Boy David' did he hear the real story of that day from the skipper and realised that was the rescue he had been involved in. We later visited the restored church to see the memorial stone.

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