|Mary and Alan at the Holburne Museum|
This is Mary's Bath Blitz true to life story:
THE BOMBARDMENT OF BATH April 1942
70 years ago I became used to hearing the familiar drone of the Luftwaffe night after night, heavy with the bombs destined for Bristol Docks. But on two nights in April 1942 it was our turn, the city of Bath the target.
The silvery river Avon guided the pilots of the eighty Dorniers, Junkers and Heinkels on their four raids. After dropping their first bomb loads, they returned to France to reload and fly back again. The want of barrage balloons and anti aircraft guns left our beautiful city fully exposed under the full moon on both nights.
We quickly learned to listen for the varying sounds, a whistle meaning that the bomb wasn't destined for us and the different thuds signifying the sort of bomb, incendiary bombs, after the flares to light the targets, followed by high explosives bombs. The second raid on the first night being mainly high explosive bombs, as fires were already burning. A local hill was used as a marker, where the pilots turned their planes to fly in low again and again, dropping bombs and machine gunning fire fighters and escaping people.
The men were out in the street, my uncle wearing his A.R.P (Air Raid Precaution) uniform and my father his Civil Defence uniform and tin hat. Dad organised the use of the stirrup pumps, sending cyclists with messages and evacuating people as necessary. The blast from a bomb in Julian Road, behind our house, blew in the huge windows and wooden shutters and my brother and I, careered across the floor on the sofa. Dad had just looked in and a heavy clock fell on his head, denting his helmet which probably saved his life. We sheltered under a table in the basement, children in the middle and the grown ups with bottoms protruding outside the table, causing amusement. Even then, people could joke. We were joined by an elderly couple just arrived homeless to escape the bombing in Southampton, the old man continually leaving the room to find the toilet. “Like a pea in a colander” his wife remarked, breaking the tension temporarily. My mother gave sanctuary when she could. Living with us in the late 1930s was a young Austrian Jewess who burned a candle constantly for her family left behind. She had been made to scrub out men's toilets by the Nazis. We also accommodated Admiralty personnel when they were evacuated from London.
On the second night of the Blitz, my father came to tell us to run fast to a Girls' Remand Home half a mile away, in Walcot. St. Andrew's Church, at the end of our street was alight, (an inferno when I looked back) and the first six houses were blazing, with fire spreading rapidly. Our house was number 18. We ran past the Georgian Assembly Rooms where huge flames, smoke and sparks rose high in the sky. The heat was intense and we could smell the stored food cooking and burning inside the building. As we lay in the gutters to escape the machine gunning, my main thoughts and fears were for my new bicycle, an advance birthday present! Nearby is a Park and unknown to me then, the Air Raid Shelter there had received a direct hit with my best friend inside.
On the third day, Monday 27th, people left the city for the safety of the open countryside. There were still amazingly, some jokes and laughter, an aunt causing much merriment as she climbed over a stile where the lorry left us.
On returning to Bath, I saw people carefully digging out bodies under hanging masonry and listening for survivors trapped below the rubble. There was heavy dust and soot everywhere and a smell of decay. I'll never forget that sweet, awful smell. Rescuers tapped and called whilst we held our breath, listening for any faint answers far below.
There was no gas and we queued for water from a nearby standpipe, but fresh eggs arrived from somewhere, eggs in shells, which we boiled on the fire alongside the kettle. Such a change from dried egg powder.
There are so many stories. Some of my friends had been 'bombed out'. Wandering around with one of them, I said I was going home and she answered that she had no home to go to. Another concrete air raid shelter was destroyed just at the height of the Blitz when even the Fire Brigade and A.R.P Wardens had fled there temporarily to escape the heavy bombardment. Everyone inside was killed. There is now a Garden of Remembrance there. A friend sheltering under stairs, told me that her father refused to be intimidated by the Germans and stayed in the sitting room. Bombs then fell nearby, on The Assembly Rooms and the Regina Hotel opposite and he was covered in soot from the chimney, so he shouted for his wife to come out of the cupboard to clean him up.
Another friend of mine lived on Bear Flat with his widowed mother and two older brothers, one of whom, serving in the Air Force, had just been killed, - his plane shot down. Their house was very badly damaged and the loss of husband and son and now this, caused the poor mother to walk the short distance to the river, where she drowned. He never mentioned the tragedy. I read about it in the local paper.
A young girl sought shelter in a cupboard on the second night, when a high explosive bomb caused the house to collapse. She groped around in the dark until she found a spoon and began to tap. She kept up a rhythmic knocking for three days until faintly she heard the sound of pick and shovel. Tapping fast and furiously, she was eventually brought to the surface. Some trapped people drowned as the water mains burst.
The house in which I now live was demolished in the Blitz and rebuilt in 1947. When the inhabitants were dug out days later, only the girl's feet were hurt, cut on glass, as she had left her bed to run to the cellar without shoes. Next door, one of the ladies died a few days after sheltering under the stairs. When schools eventually re-opened, a friend insisted on clambering about the debris of her home, in order to find her school uniform which was mandatory !
I have a picture of an old lady in a long black coat and the obligatory hat of course, being helped over the large stones and rubble outside her home. She was 101 years old and told the Mayor, “Hitler thought he'd frighten me. But he didn't”. It's extraordinary to think that she had been born in 1841 !
Mary - March 2012