HE may be nearly 90 and now living in Southsea, but Canon Bruce Carpenter remembers the night the bombs fell on East Cowes very well.

At the time, he was nine and was living in Yarborough Road, which was one of the most heavily hit areas in East Cowes.

Scroll through photos above and down for what's happening to mark the anniversary...

On the night of May 4-5, 1942, Bruce was in the public air raid shelter which suffered a direct hit that resulted in 20 people being killed.

  • Read Bruce's story below...
  • His memories are included in East Cowes Heritage Centre's special exhibition
  • See the exhibiton at East Cowes Town Hall tomorrow (Saturday), from 10am to 6pm

Isle of Wight County Press: Bruce Carpenter, far right, with some of his siblings in December 1942.Bruce Carpenter, far right, with some of his siblings in December 1942.

Bruce said: “It was towards the end of my first year at Whippingham School that the German planes started bombing Portsmouth and Southampton — and, along with it, East Cowes, which was targeted partly because of the shipyard and the aircraft factory, but also because there was a Polish warship (Blyskawica) moored at the mouth of the River Medina.

“For a young boy it was even quite exciting because the exploding bombs and anti-aircraft shells left bits of twisted metal around the streets which Dad told us was known as ‘shrapnel’. So now, as well as stopping soldiers in the street to ask for spare army badges or buttons, we boys started collecting shrapnel too.”

He remembered having great times plane-spotting, but as the war went on, the seriousness of what was happening became more obvious.

On May 4, Bruce and his siblings went to a 50th anniversary party at the Methodist Church Hall at the top of the road.

Bruce recalled: “The party started at 5pm, with a special tea and we had a good time, with plenty to eat and the conjuror had us fascinated.

“We had just started on the first of the party games when the air raid siren sounded. A few minutes later there was a sound of massive explosions, very close. The church hall windows were blown in and the blackout panels came crashing down.”

Isle of Wight County Press: Sarah Burdett/East Cowes Heritage CentreSarah Burdett/East Cowes Heritage Centre

As Bruce and his siblings only lived a few doors down the road, they were told they could run home. But Bruce got left behind when he stopped to pick up his dog, Paddy.

An air raid warden stopped him and said:“Here, lad , get in here quickly or you’ll get yourself killed.”

Bruce continued: “Before I could protest, he grabbed me by the shoulder and pushed me into one of the shelters. I tried to explain that I lived just down the road, but he took no notice — said that I shouldn’t be out in the street on my own anyway.”

More people piled into the shelter. “There was no room for sitting down. It was pitch black and hot and stuffy.

“Suddenly there was an ear-splitting bang! The entire shelter, with all of us in it, flew up into the air, and landed down with an immense thump, followed by the sound of bricks and mud raining down on to the roof. People were shouting, women were screaming — those injured were groaning and crying. It was all truly terrifying!

“I tried to cling on to Paddy but he slipped from my arms and ran off between people’s legs. I hated the screaming — so much so that I shouted “Please stop screaming!!” but it still went on. “It’s all right, son,” said a man right next to me. “They can’t help it. Don’t you worry. We’ll be rescued soon.”

Moments later the Home Guard started digging them out, but Paddy was gone.

“The shelter had been flung right across the road, with all of us in it. It was now a heap of bricks, mud and dust. (I found out later that a huge bomb had dropped within a few feet of that shelter, so we were thrown into the air by the blast and landed 30 feet away. )”

Isle of Wight County Press: Kings Road, next to the Yarborough Road crater after the bomb that killed 20 in one shelter. Photo: Sarah Burdett/East Cowes Heritage Centre.Kings Road, next to the Yarborough Road crater after the bomb that killed 20 in one shelter. Photo: Sarah Burdett/East Cowes Heritage Centre.

No sooner had he got out of one shelter than an air raid warden grabbed hold of him and pushed him across the road into a different shelter.

“I still felt like crying, but I thought I must try to be brave. I was desperate to know if Mum and Dad and the rest of the family were all right. I was worried, too, about Paddy.”

His family was okay, but they weren’t allowed back into their house because it was badly damaged, so they were taken to Ryde, to an Emergency Refuge Centre at St James’s Church Hall.

There was considerable bomb damage in both East Cowes and Cowes that night - in Cowes the George Hotel in Market Hill was completely destroyed and the town's war memorial by the hotel was reduced to a pile of rubble - it was later re-erected in Northwood Park.

The German Luftwaffe launched a ferocious overnight aerial attack on the Isle of Wight, with more than 160 bombers targeting its ship-building facilities.

Polish warship ORP Błyskawica had been in Cowes for repairs but, aware of a potential attack, its captain Wojciech Francki, had ordered ammunition from Portsmouth enabling its guns to be used to bolster the Isle of Wight's defences.

The ship also created a smokescreen and it was widely acknowledged that if it has not been for the Polish warship, the death toll in Cowes and East Cowes would have been far worse.

Isle of Wight County Press: The bombs fell heavily on Cowes too, destroying the George Hotel in Market Hill. Photo: IWCP Archive.The bombs fell heavily on Cowes too, destroying the George Hotel in Market Hill. Photo: IWCP Archive.

The ORP Wodnik off East Cowes on Thursday

For his part, in more recent years, Bruce has been working on his memoirs and has also written a children's book called Billy's War, copies of which are in the Imperial War Museum and in Portsmouth City Museum.

What events are taking place in Isle of Wight's East Cowes to mark the anniversary of the Blyscawica?

The exhibition is part of a programme of events organised by the Friends of the ORP Blyskawica Society to mark the 80th anniversary. Events still to come are as follows:

Tonight (Friday, May 6):

7.30pm: East Cowes Town Hall, concert: Never Forgotten Polish and English Music by Katy Carr and Medina Marching Band in support of the Ukraine refugees in Poland.

Award-winning singer and song-writer Katy Carr will perform Polish and English music. A musician, aviator and multi-instrumentalist (piano, ukulele, banjolele and vintage keyboardist), she has performed her music internationally with live concerts and tours, workshops through the UK and the continent.

Medina Marching Band needs no introduction in East Cowes, where it was originally formed. The band will be performing to cover many genres of music from military marches, wind band music to stage show and pop tunes. On-line booking for the concert at: www.ticketsource.co.uk/islandconcerts

Saturday, May 7:

10am – 6pm: East Cowes Town Hall, Exhibition on the Blitz, school art and stalls. Refreshments available.

10am – 6pm: Northwood Cemetery, Cowes, Exhibition on the Blitz

1pm – 4pm: Kings Square (adjacent to Waitrose), East Cowes, performances by local groups: Little Karpaty and Karolinka Dancers. Polish food market

2.30pm: Cowes Blitz Walk, from the war memorial in Northwood Park to Northwood Cemetery, approximately one hour.

4 pm: Northwood Cemetery, Cowes, rededication ceremony of the refurbished communal war grave.

7pm - 11pm: 1940s dance at East Cowes Town Hall. Period dress encouraged. Tickets £5 available from The Heritage Centre; Flix Hairdressers, East Cowes, or on the door.

Sunday, May 8:

12 noon: Short remembrance ceremony at Francki Place, Cowes.

1.30pm: Cowes Parade Commemoration, 80th Anniversary Ceremony of the defence of Cowes and East Cowes. Inauguration of the new Consulate of the Republic of Poland in the presence of Poland’s UK ambassador. The Royal British Legion Band will play too.

The Friends of the ORP Blyskawica Society, in organising this commemoration, much appreciate the support of East Cowes and Cowes town councils, the Daisy Rich Trust, Red Funnel, G.J and H.K Banks, Island Concerts and Rotary.