FOR centuries Dibden’s picturesque All Saints’ Church was a familiar landmark overlooking Southampton Water.

But these familiar features were left disfigured during the Second World War when Hitler’s bombs reduced the church to a charred shell.

Not only did the early morning air raid of June 20, 1940, leave the 13th century structure brutally scarred, it also bestowed on it the unfortunate distinction of being the first church in the country to be bombed during the 1939-1945 conflict.

Reports of the bombing from the time were typically scant, which was perhaps as much to do with the varying accounts of the incident as it was to do with strict wartime censorship.

Eyewitness accounts of the time were also sparse that day as the air raid, which was one of the first really big raids on Southampton, had undoubtedly sent most people scrambling into their Anderson shelters.

The incendiary attack which burned out the church was considered somewhat secondary when compared against the damage and loss of life in nearby Marchwood and Redbridge.

Daily Echo:

All Saints' Church, Dibden, in 1983

The prime target for Nazi bombers that day was Marchwood military port, but like many bombing raids during the early years of the war, many of the bombs missed their intended targets.

One stray device – a 250kg oxygen incendiary bomb – did just that when it landed on property owned by the Carey family (of Carey and Lambert garage fame), which was situated just a stone’s throw away from the church.

The fire quickly spread to the church and as the blaze burnt into the ancient beams of the structure it caused the church’s eight bells to crashing down into the tower base where they shattered the magnificent 13th century font below.

Despite their best efforts, the firemen’s inexperience, coupled with the church’s isolated location, conspired against them and the once proud landmark was left a windowless, roofless, blackened and rubble-strewn ruin.

For over a decade the church remained in a sorry state of affairs until early 1954 when the Winchester Diocesan Authorities and the War Damage Commission approved plans to rebuild the church.

By April 1955 the restoration of the church was complete, and in the presence of a large and eager clutch of Dibden’s parishioners, the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Rev Dr Alwyn Williams consecrated the restored church.

A plaque on the wall inside the church remains as a modest reminder to the church’s place in history, while the lychgate in the churchyard serves as another memorial to the fallen of two world wars, whose names are carved on the inside of the arch.