Wells' lone WWII casualty in a tragic twist of fate

By Laura Linham

12th Feb 2024 | Local News

The Ju 88 was still the mainstay of the German bomber force in 1944
The Ju 88 was still the mainstay of the German bomber force in 1944

Did you know about Wells' unique wartime story? Amidst the narratives of World War II, there exists a tale from Wells that highlights the war's unexpected reach, even to those who thought they were safe from its grasp.

Mr. Harry Patis, aged 63, lived a quiet life in an old caravan tucked away beneath the Mendip Hills, on the outskirts of the city, within the confines of an old quarry—a place believed to be shielded from the war's ravages.

However, fate took a tragic turn on the night of 27th March 1944, during the 'Baby Blitz' period targeting Weston-super-Mare and Bristol.

Bristol's significance stemmed from its large seaport at Avonmouth, a crucial point for US-supplied materials and a hub for equipment storage in preparation for Operation Overlord. The city also housed a significant number of US Army forces. The goal of the operation, part of the Steinbock campaign, was to disrupt Allied activities by targeting Bristol.

The Luftwaffe dispatched bomber groups to northwestern France, with Guernsey as the rendezvous point.

The bombers, guided by two Knickebein beams aimed south of Bristol and between Shepton Mallet and Bath, were instructed to bomb the city from altitudes between 11,000 and 14,500 feet. However, target-marking efforts failed, leading to most bombs missing Bristol entirely.

One enemy aircraft jettisoned its load of high-explosive bombs over the Mendip Hills. Several of these bombs fell near Tynning Lane, Upper Milton, near Wookey Hole, with one devastating explosion near Mr. Patis's makeshift home.

A shard from the bomb's casing was hurled across a field, piercing the wooden walls of his caravan, and striking Mr. Patis in the leg, causing severe fractures and lacerations.

Mr. Patis, who was a member of the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) first aid unit, was attended to by his own colleagues as he was rushed to Wells District Hospital by a St. John Ambulance, which had been on standby.

Despite the immediate care, Mr Patis succumbed to blood poisoning (now known as sepsis) a few days later, marking a sombre record as the city's only wartime fatality within its bounds.

The cause of his death was not widely reported at the time, for fear of information falling into enemy hands.

This tragic incident underscores the unpredictable nature of war and its ability to reach into the lives of those who sought refuge in what were thought to be safe havens.

Mr. Patis's story is not just a footnote in Wells' history but a powerful reminder of the individual lives altered and lost amid the global upheaval of World War II.

     

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