Thursday, 17 October 2019

Stonor Park air raid shelter open to public for first time

Stonor Park air raid shelter open to public for first time

AN air raid shelter at Stonor Park has been opened to the public for the first time since the Second World War.

Visitors to the country house, which has belonged to the same family for more than 850 years, can go inside the underground shelter, which was used at least twice during the Second World War.

It was orginally an ice house built in the 18th century to store ice for the family.

However, when Stonor Park was requisitioned for use by petroleum company National Benzole, an extension was built to protect staff in the event of an air raid.

The building has a 50ft passage and a 25ft passage and two entrances.

The extension was built because of fears the Luftwaffe could drop bombs on the house by accident if it targeted a nearby RAF base.

Sue Gill, personal assistant to Lord and Lady Camoys, whose son William Stonor runs the house, said a bomb had fallen nearby in 1940.

She has seen diary entries by National Benzole staff who worked at the house at the time.

One from Saturday, August 24, 1940, reveals searchlights lit up the sky as German planes flew overhead and this was followed by the sound of an air raid siren.

The staff had to use the shelter until it was deemed safe to leave.

Then on Tuesday, October 8, 1940, a low plane dropped a bomb nearby.

Mrs Gill said the shelter was proving popular with visitors.

She said: “People have always walked past that area and said, ‘what is that?’ and we explain. It became something a bit special during the war.”

She said it was good to connect visitors with Stonor Park’s past.

“I think there are a lot of people who have heard about the war, possibly from their own family, but plenty of that generation didn’t like to speak too much about it,” said Mrs Gill. “Perhaps some of the younger generation have become more interested in what happened in those years, especially as a lot more commemorations have taken place in the last couple of years. I do think the children enjoy it.”

The family plans to install memorabilia from the war behind a glass display inside the shelter.

Visitors are welcome throughout the season, which runs until November.

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