Untold Stories of Resilience: How the Bomb that Nearly Wiped Out the Donaldson Family Shaped History

Clearing up. Newcomen Road, Stamshaw, after a flying bomb fell on July 15, 1944 - the last bomb to fall on Portsmouth. Picture: The News.
During the Second World War, the residents of Stamshaw, a neighborhood located near the Dockyard and other crucial infrastructure, experienced the constant threat of air raids. This article delves into the personal account of Vera, the mother of the author’s father William Donaldson, and explores the harrowing events that unfolded on the 15th of July 1944 when V-1 rockets wreaked havoc on the Stamshaw region, particularly Winstanley and Newcomen Road. It also highlights the significance of the V-1 rocket attacks in Portsmouth, including the initial strike in Milton, just 20 days prior to the events that directly impacted Vera’s life.
Life in Stamshaw during the war:

Stamshaw, a close-knit residential area located in Portsmouth, played a crucial role in supporting the war effort due to its strategic proximity to significant military installations. Situated near the Dockyard and HMS Excellent, Stamshaw’s residents found themselves at the heart of wartime activity. While their contributions to the war effort were invaluable, they also bore the burden of living under constant threat.


The daily lives of Stamshaw residents were marked by a persistent sense of unease as they navigated the challenges posed by the war. The wailing of air raid sirens became an all too familiar sound, piercing the air at irregular intervals, signaling the potential approach of enemy aircraft. This auditory warning was a chilling reminder that their community was a target, and every resident had to be prepared for the worst.


The presence of important military infrastructure, such as the Dockyard and HMS Excellent, heightened the anxiety felt by Stamshaw’s residents. These strategic locations made the area a prime target for enemy attacks, as disrupting the functioning of these installations would severely hamper the British war effort. Stamshaw’s inhabitants were acutely aware that their proximity to these critical facilities made them susceptible to enemy air raids.


To cope with the ever-present threat, residents took precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones. Air raid shelters were constructed in gardens and backyards, providing a place of relative safety during bombing raids. Families stocked up on essentials, such as food and water, to sustain them in case of prolonged periods of isolation. The community came together, sharing resources and supporting one another in times of distress.


The resilience of Stamshaw’s residents was tested time and again as they endured the hardships and challenges of wartime life. Rationing measures were implemented, impacting the availability of food, clothing, and other essential items. Yet, despite the constraints, the people of Stamshaw remained determined to support the war effort and maintain a semblance of normalcy in their daily lives.


Children grew up in an environment where the sounds of explosions and sirens were an unfortunate part of their formative years. Evacuation became a reality for many families, as parents made the difficult decision to send their children to safer locations away from the city. Schools in Stamshaw adapted to the wartime conditions, often doubling as air raid shelters and places of refuge during attacks.


Despite the hardships and the constant threat of air raids, the spirit of community and resilience prevailed in Stamshaw. Neighbors looked out for one another, sharing information, resources, and providing comfort during times of distress. The bonds forged during these trying times would leave a lasting impact on the community long after the war had ended.


Life in Stamshaw during the war was characterized by a delicate balance between supporting the war effort and surviving the daily challenges posed by enemy attacks. The residents of this close-knit neighborhood demonstrated remarkable strength and determination, embodying the spirit of the British people during one of the most difficult periods in modern history. Their stories serve as a testament to the indomitable human spirit and the power of community in the face of adversity.

The V-1 Rocket Menace:
German Nazi Flying Bomb - V1

The V-1, also known as the “buzz bomb” or “doodlebug,” was an unmanned, jet-powered flying bomb developed by Nazi Germany during World War II. It was designed to strike terror into the hearts of the British population and inflict damage on civilian targets. These rockets were launched from German-occupied territories across the English Channel and targeted major cities in the United Kingdom.

The First Strike in Portsmouth:

On the 25th of June 1944, a V-1 rocket struck Portsmouth for the first time. The projectile hit Locksway Road in the Milton area, causing significant damage and casualties. This event marked the beginning of a new level of terror for the people of Portsmouth, who now had to confront the relentless threat of these deadly rockets.

Locksway Road Milton Portsmouth after the V1 came down (Portsmouth News)
The Fateful Day in Stamshaw:

On the 15th of July 1944, the residents of Winstanley and Newcomen Road in Stamshaw experienced the devastating impact of V-1 rockets firsthand. Unaware that their area would become a target, families like Vera’s were caught off guard when the air raid sirens began to wail. In a desperate race against time, Vera sought refuge under her bomb sturdy table as the rocket hurtled toward her neighborhood.


The destructive force of the V-1 rockets was indiscriminate, causing widespread destruction and loss of life. Many homes in Stamshaw were uprooted, leaving families displaced and traumatized. The attack on Winstanley and Newcomen Road left an indelible mark on the residents, who would forever carry the memory of that fateful day.

From the Author, William Donaldson

After days spent delving into public archives, our efforts bore fruit when we stumbled upon a remarkable discovery—a photograph that seemed to mirror the tales shared by my mother and her brothers. In this faded snapshot from the past, we beheld a scene frozen in time, an echo of the recounted memories. It captured a figure, their face partially obscured, their determined stance unmistakable as they lent their strength to the task at hand. We could only surmise that this was Bernie or Denis, their youthful faces now weathered by the passage of time, valiantly assisting with the relocation of a cherished possession—perhaps a wooden radio, a treasured link to a bygone era.


Fast forward 75 years, and in 2019, we embarked on a pilgrimage of remembrance to The D-Day Story in Southsea, a poignant commemoration of the 75th anniversary of that pivotal moment in history. As we stepped foot into the hallowed halls of the museum, our hearts swelled with a mixture of gratitude and melancholy. Among the countless artifacts that adorned the exhibition, our eyes fell upon a remarkable relic—a solemn sentinel of the past. Towering before us was the very elevator salvaged from a V-1 flying rocket, a malevolent weapon that had tragically claimed the lives of 16 innocent souls, forever altering the tapestry of their families and communities.


Gazing at the suspended elevator, its once destructive purpose now rendered inert, we were reminded of the immense weight of history and the enduring legacy left by those who lived through those tumultuous times. The artifact served as a poignant reminder of the perils faced by our loved ones, and the sacrifices they made in the face of unspeakable adversity. It was a tangible connection to a chapter of our family’s history that must never be forgotten.


In our quest for understanding, we are indebted to the invaluable contributions of associated local archives, The News, and Portsmouth & Gosport History. Their tireless efforts to preserve and share the stories of the past allowed us to piece together fragments of our family’s journey, weaving a tapestry that spans generations. Through their dedicated work, the memories of those who came before us are kept alive, ensuring that the echoes of their experiences reverberate through time.


As we left The D-Day Story, our hearts heavy with the weight of history, we carried with us a renewed sense of duty—to honor the sacrifices of the past, to preserve the stories of our ancestors, and to ensure that future generations will always remember the profound resilience and courage displayed by those who endured the darkest chapters of our shared human history.

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