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Exeter curate and family must move after bomb wrecks home

05 March 2021

Ashley Leighton Plom

The Second World War bomb in the allotment

The Second World War bomb in the allotment

A PRIEST and his family in Exeter are among residents who face months in temporary accommodation after their homes were damaged when a Second World War bomb was detonated near by.

The assistant curate of St David’s and St Michael and All Angels, Exeter, the Revd Ashley Leighton Plom, and his wife, Deborah, and son, Alfred, aged ten, were among more than 2600 households ordered to evacuate after the device was unearthed on neighbouring allotments last Friday.

AlamyThe bomb is detonated by the Royal Navy bomb disposal unit

The Archdeacon of Exeter, the Ven. Andrew Beane, said that the Leighton Ploms’ home had suffered thousands of pounds’ worth of damage, which will take months to repair. “We are working with the curate to care not only for his and his family’s pastoral needs, but also the practical and financial support in this emergency. We are exploring a number of options with regards to finding a temporary home as a matter of urgency.”

The diocese was concerned, he said, for the well-being of residents whose homes were severely damaged. “It was particularly moving to hear of a Syrian refugee living in the city offering support, saying they also have personal experience of being bombed out of their home. A reminder to us all that there are those facing the cruel effects of war everyday across the world.”

Army experts used a controlled explosion on Saturday evening to destroy the bomb, which contained 800 kg of explosives, but the blast and debris blew out windows and doors and damaged roofs and walls in up to 12 houses.

In a statement, the Ministry of Defence said that its disposal team had been forced to detonate the bomb because its fuse was too corroded to remove. There were also fears that it might have been booby-trapped by its makers: a tactic intended to kill anyone attempting to deactivate it. The detonation was heard up to ten miles away, and was so powerful that it left a crater that experts described as big enough to accommodate three double-decker buses.

Deborah Leighton PlomThe view of the bomb site from the Leighton Ploms’ shattered first-floor window

Mr Leighton Plom had been live-streaming morning prayer on Saturday, when emergency workers ordered his family to leave. Their house was the closest property to the bomb site. The Vicar, Prebendary Nigel Guthrie, and his wife, Tina, immediately suggested that the family stay with them. “However, it was poor Nigel’s birthday,” Mr Leighton Plom said, “and, of course, there’s Covid risk to think about; so we turned their kind offer down and relocated to the Premier Inn near St David’s Station.”

Since then, Mr Leighton Plom, who was ordained deacon at Michaelmas last year, has been busy helping in the community, where he is deputy chairman of Christians Together Across Exeter, and is preparing to move into temporary accommodation provided by Exeter diocese.

“It has been stressful not being able to do what I had planned to do: for example, preparing for and leading services,” he said, “but the bishops, the archdeacon, church, and literally everyone have been very kind, and encouraged me to let it go.” He said that he felt tired, “but very upheld by the love and support of kind Christians around us.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the residents who don’t have the benefit of a loving church network around them. I’ve been trying to see if there’s anything practical I can do for other residents, and helping the multi-agency effort finding accommodation and supplies for people, and then do a bit of pastoring of other evacuees.”

Other evacuees included 1400 students in a University of Exeter hall of residence only 120 metres from the bomb, which had been dropped by the Germans during a raid in 1942. Most were allowed home on Sunday, but homes within 100 metres of the explosion were sealed off until Tuesday after inspections by engineers from Exeter City Council, who reported that, while structurally safe, they would be uninhabitable “at this stage”.

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