Ron Newman was one of the Royal Engineers that disposed of the 'Satan' unexploded bomb that fell in the grounds of Rushymead during the war. The following article, written by his son Nick, recounts his memories of that time.
Coleshill, Buckinghamshire - Satan UXB
Memories of Ronald (Ron) Newman – 1927-2017
Ron Newman was born in the quiet Suffolk village of Hargrave in 1927. Were it not for the outbreak of the Second World War, he would probably have spent his entire life there, expecting to follow his father and grandfather into agricultural work. At that time, horses and men were still the main sources of power on farms, but they would soon be replaced as part of the move towards mechanisation, with the introduction of early tractors and combine harvesters.
The war effort had led to a shortage of mechanics, and so when Ron left school at 15, he gained employment as a trainee mechanic at Rolfe’s Garage in Chevington, the next nearest village. There was plenty of work, especially from the personal vehicles of bomber crews stationed at the newly commissioned Chedburgh RAF airfield. More than once, a car would be left for repairs and not collected, as the owner had not returned from a bombing mission.
During this time, Ron was a member of the Air Training Corps. Several times per week, in the evening after work, he would cycle seven miles to and from the local town, Bury St Edmunds, for training sessions.
At 18 years old, he was formally called up for National Service. Utilising his mechanical skills, he became a staff car driver for an Army General. This took him on a tour of many locations in London and around the South East.
Upon cessation of hostilities, he was transferred to the 22nd Bomb Disposal Company - Royal Engineers. Officially, his role was as a driver of Bedford and Austin three ton trucks, but he soon took on similar duties to the other sapper engineers. It was during a posting at Bower Wood Camp, Beaconsfield, in Buckinghamshire, from April to August 1946, that he was part of the team involved in the disposal of the large Coleshill unexploded bomb (UXB).
Memories vary on the precise date that the bomb was dropped, but ARP records from the time list five enemy bombs dropped in the Coleshill vicinity:
- 17th October 1940 – Kiln Wood - UXB
- 30th October 1940 - Brentford Wood – no damage
- 15-18th November 1940 – Rushy Mead – slight fires
- 16th November 1940 – Magpie Lane – slight damage to houses
- 19th April 1941 – Beard’s Wood - UXB
Although there are just two entries indicating a UXB, the ‘Rushy Mead’ entry also turned out to be a third suspected UXB.
(See also Pathe News clip reference later, where, to the present day, Rushymead House, now a Residential Care Home, can be seen in the background shots.)
The bomb was thought to have originally been bound for a raid on Coventry, but was probably dropped by the air crew after a failed mission, and in order to reduce weight and increase speed for the long flight home to an airfield across the English Channel.
The type of bomb was reported as being one of the largest dropped on UK soil during the Second World War. Nicknamed ‘The Satan’ by the Germans, measurements taken at the time indicate a weight of 3,250lbs (1,474kg). Half of a bomb’s weight would be the explosive charge; the other half was the bomb body’s metal casing, which would fragment upon explosion.
Work to expose, defuse, and dispose of the bomb took place over several weeks in the spring/summer of 1946. Teams worked in eight hour shifts, with the first starting at 6am in the morning. Each team would then return to camp for the main meal of the day.
The bomb was eventually uncovered some 36ft below the surface. Wooden shuttering was installed to provide safe access, and a working space to enable the officers of the unit to defuse the bomb. This was a delicate and skilled job, as unexploded bombs could be damaged as part of their impact, and on occasion carried booby-traps, designed to kill those attempting to defuse them. Once made safe, the high explosive would then be steamed and pumped out, before the casing could be extracted.
The bomb disposal story was covered by the press.
Ron purchased copies of several press photographs that were available, and which show various stages of the operation covering the bomb casing removal. Ron can be seen as the tallest Sapper, wearing his army field cap, in the first photo below.
The story was also covered by Pathe News, and a clip was shown soon after in cinemas before the main feature.
Outside their shifts, life at the barracks was simple. Time was spent playing football and cards, and writing to loved ones. Food was generally on ration, and meals at the camp were particularly basic at the weekend, when civilian cooks were not working. Soldiers were, at least, allowed to visit local towns for refreshment at the weekend.
Following Coleshill, Ron’s main postings were on the Norfolk coastal beaches, removing defence mines laid to hamper any potential invasion. With tides and shifting sands, official maps were no longer accurate, and he recalled losing several friends in those operations.
After being demobbed, he returned to Hargrave, and married his wife Doris, whom he had met on a tram in Sheffield during an earlier posting in Nottingham. Until retirement, he worked as a storeman in local engineering companies and garages.
Doris was very active in the local WI and parish council, but sadly passed away in 2004 after over 50 years of marriage. Shortly afterwards, Ron moved to Alsager in Cheshire to be near his youngest son. He died in 2017 at the age of 90, and leaves two sons and three grandchildren.
Author Nicholas Newman (his son) 2020, compiled with the help of conversations recorded with Ron in 2016.