Gravelroots The Bombing of Petworth Boys School
29 September 1942
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The Rother Valley
West Sussex, England

Petworth
Boys School Bombing

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The resting place of the boys and teachers
The school grave is regularly tended but the remainder of the cemetery is neglected and overgrown.

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The chapel barely visible in the undergrowth.

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all above photos July 2007

Horsham Road Cemetery
PETWORTH
West Sussex
 
This cemetery contains the mass grave and memorial to the children and other victims of a World War 2 bombing.

Initial article - July 2007
On Tuesday the 29th September 1942 at 10.25am. a lone german bomber, approaching from the south over Hoes Farm, aimed its bombs at troops in the grounds of Petworth House. All missed their intended target, falling into the boys' school near the junction of North Street & Horsham Road.
There was no air raid warning and of the 80 children at school that day 28 were killed and a large number injured. Along with the children the explosions also took the lives of the headmaster, Charles Stevenson and Charlotte Marshall an assistant teacher. A nearby laundry was also badly damaged killing Eva Streeter who was working there.
 
Some of the various accounts are shown lower down page.
 
The Cemetery, which is no longer used for burials, today [July 2007] is the centre of a 'row' about who actually owns it and is responsible for its upkeep. With all contenders denying responsibility. But someone is at least attempting to keep some of the grass to a reasonable level.
 
Whilst the area around the school grave seems to be regularly tended the remainder of the cemetery is neglected and very overgrown with fallen and falling headstones. Access to the graveyard for those wishing to visit the memorial, or other graves is difficult and nigh impossible for anyone with limited mobility. Any visitors to Petworth would have great difficulty in finding the spot if they wanted to visit, what is after all, a memorial to a dramatic event in local recent history which wiped out a significant number of Petworth's younger generation. Very few residents of Petworth at the time of the bombing would have failed to have been touched by this harrowing incident.
 
The chapel, as shown left, is in a very sorry state of repair and contrary to expectations there appears little vandalism which would demonstrate that even the local youngsters have respect for the graveyard.
 
Bishop Bell, Bishop of Chichester, had conducted the mass funeral for the victims in 1942, and 60 years later in 2002 the Rt Rev John Hind [Bishop of Chichester] officiated in a memorial service in St Mary's Church. There was an open invitation to parishioners, relatives, friends and survivors of the bombing to attend.
Prior to the visit, Parish councillor Tony Whitcomb had told the council at its meeting, that the condition of the cemetery was such that he hoped the bishop would not visit it when he was in the town. Whilst the schools grave was neatly maintained, urgent work was needed to repair headstones on other graves and clear undergrowth, Mr Whitcomb said.
 
 
Pictured left: The entrance gates to this 'unwanted' graveyard give an indication of the condition of the interior.
 

There have been mixed publications not only of the intentions of the aircraft crew but also on the identity of the German aircraft responsible. Some stating that it was a Junkers 88 and another that it was a Heinkel 111. Much of this published information has been shown to be incorrect.


photos of memorial, cemetery and chapel
List & photos of Boys and staff nameplaques
Chapel can be saved but future potential is limited - 25 Oct 2006

 


Sunday, October 21, 2007
A 'clear up' of Petworth Horsham Road cemetery has begun after a group of volunteers made the most of the warm autumn weather to start work on the site. Part of an action plan by the Petworth Enterprise Partnership the group spent a half day clearing scrub and debris including clearing the area around the gate for access. The Chairman of the Enterprise Partnership, Tony Sneller, said all involved had made a great effort. Volunteers came from Petworth, and the surrounding area, including 2 Canadians who came to clear a family grave.


September 2008
An enthusiastic band of volunteers has ensured that precious war graves at Petworth are not forgotten, more than 60 years on. September 29 is the 66th anniversary of the bombing of Petworth Boys School which stood at the junction of the A283 and A272. On that day in 1942, 32 children, school staff and town residents died, many of whom were buried in a special grave at the Horsham Road Cemetery, a few hundred yards from the school site.
The workforce cleared space down the main walkway through the centre of the cemetery ground, and with the aid of fine shingle donated by local builders' merchant Chandlers, smartened up the boys' grave area and memorial cross. A further autumn tidy is planned in November.


29 September 2009
Petworth Primary School pupils and staff paid their annual tribute to those who died when the boys school was bombed in 1942. It was 67 years to the day when the children, led by headteacher Gillian Standing and staff, paid their annual visit to the Horsham Road cemetery, visited the graves and laid a wreath in memory of the 28 children, two members of staff and two civilians who lost their lives. Also at the ceremony was Petworth Chichester District councillor Eileen Lintill who lost two uncles in the bombing. Petworth Primary School has marked the anniversary of the bombing since the early 1960s. Mr Hough, who had been evacuated from London to Petworth, returned to the primary school after the wreath-laying to share his experiences with the children in Year 6, who are studying the second world war.


 

October 2009
A team of Midhurst Rother College students planned to pay their long term respect to those lost in the World War 2 bombing of Petworth Boys' School. Following discussions between MRC's Curriculum and Intervention Manager, Mrs Lita Brittain, and the Chairman of Petworth Enterprise Partnership, Mr Tony Sneller, the students are helping with maintenance at the cemetery where the boys and their teachers are laid to rest.
photo left - MRC
Mr Tony Sneller, Dominic Groves, Jordan Tilley, Ryan Fagg, Sean Holden, Nathan Przepiorka, Ben Greenfield, David Hill & Mrs Lita Brittain.
The Year 10 students are helping with maintenance at the cemetery.



Bishop, clergy and parents pray over the coffins from one school, before they are covered with six feet of earth and autumn leaves.

October 1942
National press reported the incident -
 
"...Among the wreaths were many inscribed...to my best friend...a mother dropped a single red rose onto her sons coffin...among the survivors at the right were nine older boys who had gone for a woodworking class in another part of the village..
 
 
 
Fathers and Mothers of the boys follow the coffins to the grave in the lovely country graveyard. In a village so small, almost everyone was related to at least one of the dead. None of the boys were evacuees.
 
 
 
 
This empty space was were the school once stood, backed against a hill meadow. Of some small boys only scraps were found...

October 1942
Local press of the day reported the incident -
 
3rd October 1942
"...Thirty two residents of the small town of Petworth in Sussex were buried today in a mass grave, within a hundred yards of the scene of their death. Almost the whole town turned out to show their respect and grief ...... due to the large amount of children killed in such a small town, very few families have not been personally affected by this outrage ...."
 
 
Photo 1
Showing the remains of the school the day after the bombing.
 
 
Photo 2
A pupil of the Petworth Boys school with his Mother in hospital. He has been receiving treatment for head injuries when buried under the rubble of his classroom.
 
 
Photo 3
Showing Canadian Army Lorries carrying the coffins to the graveside on 3rd October 1942
 
Photo 4
The funeral at the mass grave.
 
 
Canadian troops of the Toronto Scottish Regiment were encamped in the grounds of Petworth Park. They rushed to the scene and along with rescue services and local people worked to free survivors from the ruins of the school and the laundry.
These same troops provided transport in the form of lorries to carry the many coffins in the cortège to the mass grave close to the school. They also provided an escort for each vehicle...


 
Petworth school 1942 bombing

 
Petworth school 1942 bombing

Petworth school 1942 bombing

 
 


 
Photographs of the aftermath of the school bombing
showing the wrecked school, service and funeral.
 
Images from various sources including
Denisse Savage, WSCC Library Services, Sarah Logan &
scans from prints contributed by Rev.J. Palmer, Ontario.
His father being one of the many Canadian soldiers
who took part in the rescue & funeral.
 
enlarge full gallery
 
 

 

Petworth school 1942 bombing

Petworth school 1942 bombing


 
Joseph Logan
He was evacuated to Petworth in December 1941 from London along with his mother and younger brother. Joseph witnessed the bombing from North Street whilst delivering a letter and was injured by flying debris...."people were running, I was so frightened, I stood up and just ran with them...."
Read his story
 
Email:- 11 June, 2008
from Tony Ross, Canada
I was born in Aug 1942 in South Harting, and my mother and I went to stay in Petworth a short time after. She often told me the story of the bombing of the boys school in World War 2. She said that we lived across the road from the school and that she had me in the lavatory at the time of the bombing. when she emerged all the windows of the house had been blown in, frames and all. I remember a visit that we had to Petworth after the war and can still remember what was left of the school. I also remember going into the laundry next door with my uncle, [he was only about 11 then] the roof was gone and inside things were in disarray.
Tony Ross
more Emails and photos from Tony Ross.
 
John Exall's Story
A pupil at Petworth Boys School 1942 when it was bombed.....At break time I was playing around in the cloakroom when the first bomb dropped. I remember seeing the dust fall from the ceiling.
Read his story
 
 
Patricia Popes eye witness account from 1942
........Janice and I went to school ... she was in the infants and I was at the girls' school. The boys' school was down the hill, opposite Petworth House. One day, being the milk monitor, I was near the open window. I heard a low whine and looked up to see a German plane [I recognised the swastika on it] diving and then the dreadful crump of bombs.
The boys' school had been hit......The Canadian soldiers billeted nearby rushed to the scene and helped in the rescue.
Read her story
 
 
Jane Bond
........I was at a private girls' school [I think that it was called North End House] close to where the bomb fell that day on Michaelmas 1942. We heard the crash as the bomb came down and saw the smoke and dust coming into our small class-room
Read her story
 
 
Michael Staceys eye witness account from 1942 This also includes bombing of Midhurst.
........We had not been at Petworth too long, before a bomb went down the chimney at Petworth Boy's School... boys and staff were killed. Although I was attending school at the local Parish Hall, I saw and heard the bomb falling from the Heinkel 111.
Read his story

 
George Overton - a family outing
 
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photos of memorial, cemetery and chapel
List & photos of Boys and staff nameplaques
Chapel can be saved but future potential is limited - 25 Oct 2006
 
Petworth Boys school bombing
Don Simpson with the existing memorial stone - April 2017
Developers accused of not honouring obligation.


2017 Memorial service
is at 10am at St.Marys church
Friday 29 September 2017.
Following the service people then move for
a service at the graveside.
 
Graham Marshall, 2017
 

 
 
 
save the Petworth chapel PUBLIC MEETING
7pm Wednesday 13 November 2013
ST MARYS CHURCH, PETWORTH
A Public meeting has been arranged to discuss
the future of the Horsham Road Cemetery Chapel.
This is your opportunity to come and join in with
the discussion on how to save this beautiful little chapel.
Everybody is welcome, please come and join us.


 
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