Categories 1941

Plymouth hit again

The burnt out bus garage in Plymouth during the 1941 blitz.

Freda Thompson was 10 years old when she lived through the Plymouth blitz:

Living next door to the Plymouth Corporation bus depot at Milehouse, we often seemed to be at the centre of the Luffwaffe’s attention, with ceilings down and windows blown in; often no gas or electricity. After the ‘all clear’, mother would make a stew on the little primus stove, over the open fire, or pack us off to the W.V.S. canteen set up in the nearby car park to provide hot meals.

The night of the blitz was the worst I can remember with the sky lit up by the fires burning the city centre.

It was a stick of bombs – we heard the first one land a little distance away, then the second one dropped nearer, then we heard the third one coming like the roar of an express train and we knew that one was for us. It landed about ten yards away, just behind the large brick wall which divided our garden from the bus depot, burying our shelter in debris. My elder brother and one of the men detailed to assist the casualties in the depot shelter dug us out; someone commandeered a bus and we jumped on with the survivors of the depot bomb, and ended up in a shelter some half a mile away, until it was safe to walk home.

In our shocked state we were so thankful to find our house still there, damaged but intact, and so glad to tumble into bed.

We had a big surprise in the morning, to look out of the bedroom window and see a bus opposite us – it had been blown up onto the depot roof.

Read her whole story on BBC People’s War. See also Ken Roberts on the same incident:

Both bus depots in Plymouth – Milehouse Corporation Depot and the Western National depot at Laira Bridge – became victims of the blitz. Although my father (bus driver) and my sister (bus conductress) were both on the staff of the Corporation buses and were off duty and at home that night, the bombing of the Laira depot caused a lot of grief locally.

Two of the men who died at Laira that night were friends of the family; they were on firewatching duties when the building was blasted to pieces. At the Milehouse Depot a whole double-decker bus was blown bodily on to the roof of a bus garage and remained there for several days; most of the fleet of buses suffered damage to their windows and were driven around on their routes with patched up, non-transparent windows for some time.

Prior to any air raids at all, each house had been visited by a Corporation lorry and a gang of workmen who deliberately smashed the cast-iron railings which adorned the outer walls and tossed the broken material into the back of the lorry. This was then taken away and deposited at Cattedown Quarry “for the war effort”.

The buckets full of shrapnel subsequently collected after each air raid were taken away and dumped elsewhere — possibly at sea — where no one was likely to discover it. Most of it originated from anti-aircraft shells although often we found bomb nose cones and, of course, dozens of incendiaries. Incendiaries which landed in the streets were harmless enough and simply burned weird shapes into the tarmac of the road surface; only the tail fins survived as recognisable souvenirs because the body of the bomb itself was highly combustible, composed of a magnesium alloy. They, too, soon ceased to be souvenirs as we piled them up; only our school friends who lived outside the city tended to show any interest in them.

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