It was in this month in 1958 that the Rotary Club Aromatic Garden, in Church Square, was opened to the public.

With the Memorial Garden opposite, that part of the town is in memory of those who died on August 16, 1940, when three German bombs fell onto the buildings, killing and injuring the residents of the peaceful corner.

The area that was affected had eight homes in Church Lane, three large premises on the south side of Church Square, seven houses on the west side of the square, part of Elbow Corner, St Michael’s Church, and the Methodist Church, in Church Street.

Shops in Church Street, near Church Square, were also damaged, but it was Church Square itself where the destruction of property was the greatest.

The blast from the bombs affected shops, offices and homes across a wide area, cracking windows, smashing ornaments, and shop displays being thrown to the ground up to half a mile away.

It was about 5pm on a Friday that the formation of a dozen German bombers swooped out of the clouds, passing over Basingstoke, with the intention of bombing the railway.

But sighting a distant Spitfire, the pilots flew off, one pilot dropping his bombs. As he flew in from the south of the town, three of his bombs hit Church Square and a fourth fell on Burgess Road, on the other side of the railway line, bringing death and destruction in both places.

Basingstoke Gazette: Church Square, Basingstoke, prior to bombing in 1940...Photo submitted by Robert BrownChurch Square, Basingstoke, prior to bombing in 1940...Photo submitted by Robert Brown

Basingstoke Gazette: Part of Church Lane, off Church Square, with bomb damage...Photo submitted by Robert Brown - 11/09/2009..Part of Church Lane, off Church Square, with bomb damage...Photo submitted by Robert Brown - 11/09/2009..

Meanwhile, in Church Square, the emergency services had arrived to attend to the dead and injured.

As well as those in the buildings, a young lady who was leaving her father’s shop in Church Street and a local decorator on his motorcycle were killed when the third bomb fell, which created a crater and broke a water main.

Work went on through the evening to rescue people trapped in the rubble, some of whom were children in the sick bay of a doctor’s surgery, which was located in one of the Georgian houses.

Basingstoke Gazette: The scene of devastation in Church SquareThe scene of devastation in Church Square

The vicar of St Michael’s Church, Reverend Anthony Chute, was horrified to see the damage caused by “these Nazi invaders”, but his beloved church was equally hit, with windows smashed and internal fittings in a tumbled state.

Only a year before, completion of repairs to the roof had been carried out after a serious fire in September 1938.

Across the road, at the Methodist Church, the frontage was blown in and the blast swept through the building, shattering the organ.

Basingstoke Gazette: Church Square in 1940Church Square in 1940

The Ministry of Works would not allow any repair work to be carried out until after the war, which ended in 1945, so it was not until September 1950 that the church was fully restored and reopened to the public.

But all that restoration was wasted, for, in 1967, the building was demolished to make way for the new town centre.

Since 1940, people have often asked why Basingstoke was bombed, as it was not a military target.

It can only be assumed that information was leaked out that the firm of Thornycroft, in Worting Road (now the site of Morrisons), was making military vehicles and the other factories in the town were producing items for the war effort.

Another reason could have been the fact that goods trains, with essential equipment bound for Southampton, were kept at the Basingstoke goods yard (now the Victory Hill land). The pilots evidently had orders to bomb at various points to bring it to a halt.

Over the following months more bombs were dropped on Basingstoke and outlying villages, bringing more destruction and deaths.

But, by early 1941, the bombing raids eased off as Hitler changed his tactics against Europe.

In Basingstoke, the ruins of the properties in Church Square were cleared away for safety’s sake, as children had been seen climbing over the brickwork, and at one stage had set alight part of one building.

Basingstoke Gazette: Old pictures of Basingstoke...Church Square in 1983Old pictures of Basingstoke...Church Square in 1983

When the war ended in 1945, the local council met to decide what they should do with the land in Church Square, which included the plot where number four had been.

Over a period of time, it was decided to make the land on the south of the square a war memorial garden, with a row of bungalows for elderly people which would extend round into Church Lane.

This was after a suggestion by Horace Carey, who was a gentleman’s outfitter in Church Street.

The plot of land on the corner of Church Square and Mortimer Lane was turned into an aromatic garden by the members of the local branch of the Rotary Club with blind people in mind.

Plants such as lavender, lemon balm, roses, buddleia, and other plants with aromas were planted.

So thus, on Thursday, May 15, 1958, it was officially opened, and in subsequent years it has become a place to rest and enjoy the smells of nature’s creation.

This column was originally published in The Gazette in May 2008. It was written by Robert Brown, a former photographer, columnist and historian at The Gazette. He died on March 25, 2019.