by Tom Bowden
– During the blitz on Plymouth in 1941 I found a bomb and then I lost it. That was 70 years ago and I thought it was about time that I put out another appeal for its return.
I was born in Navy Terrace, Torpoint, across the River Tamar from Plymouth, in 1929. That was down by the Ballast Pond and overlooking that stretch of the River Tamar known as “The Hamoaze”. The little terrace is all part of Marine Drive now. One memory I have of those early years is of my father building a rowing boat in the kitchen – and then launching it through the window! Dad had a great sense of humour.
Like all kids I got up to mischief. One year I picked all Granddads’ tomatoes and piled them neatly in one corner of the greenhouse – when they were still dark green! He wasn’t very pleased. Living by the water was lovely though. We would go out on the mud and search for crabs and eels, or cockles and winkles. I suppose the mud was relatively unpolluted in those days. I can still remember the excitement of finding a large crab as it retreated with massive claws sort of saying: “keep your distance!”
We also played on The Lawn in Torpoint when it had a swimming pool and a tea-hut, and I remember that it was a favourite place for visitors from Devonport. Climbing and falling out of trees was my speciality – and I’ve got the scars to prove it.
Then there were days in Dad’s boat on the river: to Cargreen for strawberries and cream, or to St Johns for lemonade and a packet of crisps. Sometimes we would go out “whiffing” for mackerel or just tie up to a buoy. We also had a 14 foot International Class dinghy, the “Restless”, and competed in all the local Regattas.
When the War came I was just 10 and I attended Albion Road Junior School, Torpoint. We had moved by this time to a bungalow in Trevol View which overlooks St Johns Lake. The War really got going with the Blitz on Plymouth in early 1941 and this must be vivid in many people’s memories. Night after night in a waterlogged Anderson Shelter really made you feel like a sitting duck!
A favourite pastime for boys was to clamber on the muddy foreshore in the early morning to look for shrapnel or bullets or incendiary bombs imbedded in the mud! I was amongst them as usual but I was having no luck that day. Out on the mud there is this big wall in the form of a square which was called the Ballast Pond. This was built for the Navy in 1783 to house lighters (barges) which were used for ballasting ships.
That is, when a Man-O-War returned to harbour for major repairs, the stone ballast in the ship’s hold was removed to a lighter which then returned to the Ballast Pond. When a ship required ballast the Lighter was brought out again to deposit the stone into that vessel.
I decided to clamber up the Ballast Pond ladder to get a better view of the beach. I turned left and wandered along about 30 yards. Then I saw it – this silver thing lying on the wall! As an expert bomb chaser, I knew right away that it was an incendiary bomb! The tail-fin was missing because, I suppose, it had broken off at impact. And how the bomb had ended up on top of the Ballast Pond, which is about seven feet wide, is very hard to understand? All I know is that it was there when I arrived on the scene!
This “bright toy” was just too much for an eleven year old – so I picked it up and listened to see if it was still ticking. It sounded alright so I had a go at unscrewing the nose cap to look inside! You know, you would think that these bombs would be made childproof! But no, I had no trouble screwing it off, except for the horrible squeaking noise. I threw down the detonator cap and peered into the bomb. There was some “powder stuff” inside, so I gave it a whack against the wall and the powder streamed out on the breeze! Looking back, I’m not sure I did the right thing!?
Mum was not very impressed with my bomb and she went white when I told her of my antics on the Ballast Pond. Anyway, I got a good telling off, and Dad took my bomb off the sideboard and put it in the shed with my other “treasures” which included: a bayonet, a 0.22 rifle, an American carbine rifle, and a hand grenade.
Time went by, and I started to take interest in other things. By the time the War ended my Dad had cleared the shed and given my things away – without permission! I did some more schooling, then National Service, and worked for the Navy for over 40 years. Now I’ve retired and live in Bath in Somerset, but I remember that bomb as if it was yesterday. I was lucky it didn’t go off with a bang and burst into flames!
Today, the Ballast Pond is a peaceful Yachting Marina, but I remember the war and my bomb sometimes: It will be an old bomb now I suppose and, if it hasn’t gone off in 70 years, perhaps it’s really “dead” and never will!?
I realize I’m a bit late, but I wonder if whoever has my bomb would be so kind as to let me have it back please – for sentimental reasons you understand.