There had been great efforts made to celebrate VE day at Penpole Point in 1945; volunteers had erected a huge bonfire on the spot near Penpole Lodge where celebratory beacons were traditionally lit, but all came to nothing as the weather put pay to the party and heavy rain dampened many similar bonfires across the city. Rather than to dwell on this we’d like to give you an idea how Penpole Wood contributed to the war effort in a small way.
Things started even before the war had begun. In April 1939 there was a major training exercise conducted across the city to ensure its defences were operational, and, no doubt, to give the public some reassurance the authorities were prepared. This involved planes being flown across Bristol for anti-aircraft guns to target (firing blanks), and at night a similar mock raid with the addition of seach-lights. One of the mobile searchlights was stationed at Penpole Point and the exercise was reported to have been “spectacular”. It’s not known whether Penpole Point was regularly used for search-lights when aerial attacks came for real, but its elevated position away from targets in Avonmouth would have been helpful.
We’ve mentioned before the requisitioning of Penpole Lodge by the Home Guard, but the story doesn’t end there. In 1937 Bristol’s Scout groups bought the woods and adjacent fields for a district scout camp. Their time there is well documented in a log book written by the commissioner and warden in charge of the camp Mr W Webber. Webber records how camping was heavily restricted during the war years, though it still attracted boys from around the city at weekends subject to ensuring they included their gas mask in their kit.
In November 1940 the woods were “lit up like fairyland” as between 60 and 80 incendiary bombs rained down. The following month two high explosive bombs exploded at the bottom of the woods. It was at about the same time that the Home Guard took over Penpole Lodge as a look-out.
The Scouts threw open the woods to the Home Guard as a training ground for scouting and their tactics likely to be helpful in case of invasion. The Home Guard were taught such essentials as camouflage and stealth movements by the Warden of the camp assisted by one of the older Ranger Scouts. Webber wrote “Penpole will have something to be proud of in the fact that she did her bit by training local defenders to do their jobs”.
One final tragic detail worth relaying from the logbook, and, at this time, it’s important to remember those who gave their lives during the war. John Halpin of the St Christopher’s scout group and a district commissioner for the East Bristol Rover Scouts, lost his life proceeding to his post in Avonmouth during an air raid; He was just 21. Rather than being buried he was cremated and his ashes were scattered in Penpole Woods at the Scout’s Chapel, within the circle of lime trees that had been turned into an open air church when the scouts first took over the land. Today it’s sometimes called the seven sisters.