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The Plymouth Blitz

Damage at Millbay Station, Plymouth during the Blitz.

Plymouth was subject to a very heavy raid on the 20th March 1941 and again on the 21st. Noel Hall was a probationary nurse at the Freedom Fields Hospital in Plymouth, she later recalled the impact of the bombing raids on the patients:

In the hospitals we nurses had to get up and fix the blackout material of the windows every night. At Freedom Fields we had the children’s ward, maternity block, medicine, surgery, ear nose and throat, and we had four, if not six, geriatric blocks. And those poor dears used to scream. I know one night, I was going up to the top floor, and it was three stories high, up all these big stone steps like the infirmaries were years ago.

And Matron stood up there, I remember she was very tall and thin, and she was shaking in her shoes poor dear. And she was stood there, and I could hear them screaming out, and I said ‘I’d better go on’ and she said ‘Now, they’ve had their day, you stay here.’ I said ‘No matron, I couldn’t live with it’ and I went to the end of the ward, and just outside comes screaming down a bomb. The poor old dears were so frightened, but what could you do with two hundred odd people, all bedridden, some of them blind? You did your best – that is all you could do.

… the next morning I had to walk from Freedom Fields to our bungalow in Granby Barracks in Devonport, and it took me three and a half hours. I was walking over the top of houses and things, and the flames were meeting over the streets, and people were crying ‘Oh my sons gone, my daughters gone’. It was just terrible to hear it. You would just try and comfort them some way or another. When I got home, low and behold Mummy’s bungalow was flat. The family were in the air raid shelter, and two armour-piercing bombs went underneath the shelter, and hadn’t gone off. When Daddy climbed out, that was the first time a cigarette went near his mouth. He never smoked, but they made him. He lost his speech — he’d watched this happen, and nothing blew up. Just my sister was hurt, burnt on the back of her leg from the phosphorous.

My sister, who was burnt, she died in the end from a subarachnoid haemorrhage. I think it was all due to phosphorus that got into her blood. She never got rid of it. I think it affected her whole body; she was never the same character after it. She died young, leaving a young son. Her poor husband had been a prisoner of war of the Germans for four years, and he suffered terribly.

Read her full account at BBC People’s War. Derek Tait has many more pictures of the Plymouth Blitz on Flickr.

Plymouth blitz
Sailors help to clear up after Plymouth Blitz of 21 March 1941 – Bluejackets filling in a crater made by a large bomb.
The Norwegian sailors who helped in the clearing up of “blitzed” Plymouth, receiving well deserved refreshment.
Only the day before Plymouth had enjoyed a Royal visit. Visit of their Majesties The King and Queen to Western Approaches Command, Plymouth. 20 March 1941. HM The Queen talking to girls who work in the dockyard.

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