On November 29th 1940 the Head Master of Lapford school with teachers Miss Harris and Mr Burchell and with about 100 senior children captured a barrage balloon at morning break. Edgar Bragg, was there and fifty years’ later wrote about what happened:
“One great and exciting event was the sighting of a Barrage Balloon; this was drifting like a cloud across the sky. It seemed to be floating towards the school from the Forches direction. The headmaster allowed all of the children into the school field to watch. As the balloon came closer we could see there was a rope hanging underneath it. It soon became obvious that it wasn’t coming straight to the school but would in fact drift across the field next to the school field, so we all ran over the hedge into the next field. We could see the rope trailing along on the ground as it approached.
Some one, probably the headmaster, then had the bright idea that if we all caught the rope and held onto it we could tie it to a tree on the hedge. We did this. Then we all formed a chain and gradually moved along the rope holding it to the ground. The balloon began to drop. We were all very excited and pleased. We thought we were really going to bring the balloon down. Then suddenly the captain of the local Home Guard came rushing into the field shouting his orders. He shouted “Let go! Let go! The wire may be electrified and you’ll all be electrocuted” So all of the children except one let go – a girl called ????? Gibson, who was already slightly crippled. The balloon immediately started to rise and up went the rope with the girl still clinging on.
Fortunately the rope was still tied to the tree and the girl was suspended about 15 or 20 feet above the ground. The headmaster, & I think Mr Birchill the evacuee teacher, quickly ran underneath her and told her to let go & they would catch her. She let go but they couldn’t hold her properly and I think they all ended up in a heap on the ground, all not very much worse for the ordeal. The next move in the event was that some one, probably the Captain of Dad’s Army, contacted the RAF and a fighter plane soon arrived and began shooting at the balloon.
All the children rushed for cover. Some of us sat under the protection of the hedge. The shooting went on for some time until there was enough holes in the balloon for the air and gases to escape. Then the balloon gradually dropped to the ground, ending up across the valley in Mr Hutching’s Field (now Mr Mather’s).
After the ordeal we asked permission to go into the field to find souvenirs. I remember I collected a number of spent bullet cases and the clips that held them together; also a small section of the balloon. A few days after this event there was a report in the local paper. The headline was “School children & barrage balloon”. The report added “The Home Guard were soon on the scene and took charge of the situation”.
Hear an audio of Edgar Bragg telling the story (recorded in 1999)
Edgar Bragg’s account of the arrival of London evacuees in Lapford:
“One great upheaval in the school was when, because of the commencement of the terrible bombing so many children from the large cities and towns were sent out into the country in rural areas to live. This meant that at Lapford suddenly a large crowd of evacuees arrived from the Raynes Park area of London. The numbers at the school nearly doubled. The old school was used again, and the Victory Hall for a while. At least two teachers came with the children, Mr Birchill and Miss Hearn. Naturally we local boys being rather timid and shy wondered what effect this would have on the school and on us, but when we saw that some very good looking girls had arrived and that they even smiled at us and that the boys were very friendly and amiable we soon began to enjoy life together. In fact I think there was a mutual sadness when after a time the children from London returned to their homes.”