Whilst visiting the small West Country town of Somerton last month I was struck by the rather impressive war memorial in the Market Square. A First World War soldier in service dress, stands with his head bowed and his hands resting on a reversed rifle. In addition to a roll-of-honour showing men who fell in the Great War, a closer examination revealed a list of nine civilians lost in the Second World War, under an inscription that reads 'KILLED IN LOCAL AIR ATTACK 29-9-1942'. I needed to know more.
|Somerton War Memorial
A quick online search revealed that nine local workers were killed when the nearby Cow & Gate milk processing factory was bombed by a lone Luftwaffe aircraft. Since becoming interested in this story, I have been in contact with Denise Lazenby who, with the help of local Somerton historian, Nancy Schooling, has researched the incident and interviewed a number of witnesses to the sad events of that fateful day.
The milk factory was built in the late 1920's to process milk derived from dairy herds reared on the prime agricultural pastures around the town. The factory produced pasteurised milk and powder for infants. It was completely self sufficient, generating on-site electricity by means of steam engines driven by water drawn from a nearby well.
|The Somerton Milk Factory - Historic England
The weather on the morning of the 29th September 1941 was overcast with light rain falling. A number of witnesses recall seeing a lone German aircraft shortly after 8am, and one recalled seeing the bomb-bay open and four bombs falling. One can see from the picture above, that the factory offered an attractive target - the high chimney was an ideal aiming point. According to Denise, the bombs had a thirty second delay and this provided a brief moment when some of the workers could take cover (the factory employed 40 individuals at the time). The processing plant received the worst damage, exacerbated by the fact that there was a glass block floor upstairs.
|The Civilians Killed at Somerton - 29-9.1942
|Etsome Terrace Memorial Garden
|Henry Gardner and his Father