WATCHET IN YESTER YEARS
PENNY'S ARCHADECorporal Fred Bromley Penny Royal Engineers, MM. Dispatch Rider. Born 1898 in Watchet and had a life long connection with the Town. In the Sports clubs and the Town Council itself.
He survived WW1 after being captured and being sent to a prisoner of war camp and after being wounded in the arm. He was transferred to neutral Switzerland less than five months than being incarcerated.
He was given the military medal for conveying a crucial message as a despatch rider from one sector to another under extreme fighting conditions and shell fire. Seven brave fellows in turn fell at their attempts, Corp. Penny was selected who stepped forward to do the task and not only did he deliver the message but also returned with a reply.
On his return home he learned that his brother Clayton Penny had died in the final few days of conflict of the war, 6th November 1918, in Flanders France. Age just 22 yrs. One of our Brave War Dead.
Fred died in 1988. These are some of the postcards he sent home.
Watchet's coastal proximity has made it and ideal location for all military purposes over the years. This area of the Bristol Channel had anti-submarine and reconnaissance units all around the coastline prior to 1939.
In WWII, Aviation played its role with RAF Watchet's air base being very close to the town, now barely visible, other than the gun emplacements on Doniford beach and hard standing where the "Queen Bee" aircraft were launched from. This is not far from the Doniford Halt station on the West Somerset Railway. The pilotless Queen Bees (really radio controlled Tiger Moth aeroplanes) were launched from a elevated ramp towing targets for anti-aircraft gun training.
The Airfield itself was a small grass airstrip, in existence before WWII and was used by the Army for anti-aircraft training and communications flight. Nowadays the housing developments on the north side of Doniford Road occupy half the airstrip, whilst the field between the road and the railway is all that is' left - but still used occasionally for small aircraft. It was mainly used by Lysanders from No. 16 Squadron based at Weston Zoyland. (A further strip was at the current location of Dunster Lawns)
Lysanders (above) were produced in our sister town of Yeovil by the Westland Aircraft factory. This aeroplane was the "maid of all work" and its duties were everything from air sea rescue through to transporting British Agents to foreign fields.
There are still some modern links with the military flying factions in the bay off of Watchet, where there is a firing range in the sea and the RAF fly training sorties over the headland where RAF Watchet once was. Chinooks, Puma's and Merlin's are also frequent visitors on low level training exercises, along with Tornado and Hercules aircraft.