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15 October 2014
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ref: 2260/10 Letter from Sub Lieutenant J V Evans to A E Cockerton (owner of the Westminster Hotel)

Contributed by 
Plymouth & West Devon Record Office
People in story: 
Sub Lieutenant J V Evans, A E Cockerton, Grace Guscott, Poppy Emma Curwood
Location of story: 
The Westminster Hotel, The Crescent, Plymouth
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4233043
Contributed on: 
21 June 2005

A guest at the hotel on the night of 21 March was Sub Lieutenant J V Evans. He wrote (9 April) to A E Cockerton, the owner of the Westminster to describe his experiences. The letter was found with the records of the Town Clerk:“Thank you very much for your letter and your kind wishes. I am glad to say that I am now quite fit again after the marvellous hospital treatment I received. As you may have heard my face was rather badly burnt by the blast of the first bomb, and a large amount of grit was blown into the surface, but a new treatment for burns has been recently produced and as a result my face is now normal again without a scar.“I am certainly very glad to hear that practically everybody escaped, it seems a miracle judging from my own limited experience, that there was not a more terrible casualty list. I was very much afraid when I got out that those two maids who were in the corridor near me must have been killed, they probably never knew anything about it. This may be understandable if I tell you exactly what happened to me.“I was, as you know wearing my steel helmet and greatcoat and hearing a lot of bombs coming down I drew away from the fire escape into the main corridor. The two girls unfortunately apparently, drew away inwards to the lift whereas I moved slightly in the other direction. I can remember the sound of bombs coming close then there was a sensation of violent pressure and blinding flame and everything seemed to be collapsing around me. I was probably stunned for a second or so because I next found myself completely buried in brick and plaster and unable to breathe. However, with a bit of desperate pushing I was able to get my head and shoulders clear and breathe freely. Everything was dark and I was at first afraid I was blind, but luckily had a small torch in the pocket of my greatcoat and managed to get it out. This showed me that I was enclosed by a lath and plaster dividing wall, apparently supporting debris above me. I was afraid that if I moved I should be buried again so I began shouting for help. A man’s voice was apparently answering me but after one or two close explosions had sent down fresh showers of dirt he moved away so I had to try and do something myself. I got my legs free and found that though one leg of my trousers had been torn away and my greatcoat was in rags, I was not badly injured. Then I saw a gleam of light through the laths of this supporting wall and managed to tear them away, making a big hole big enough to crawl through. You can imagine my shock when I saw the debris on fire a few feet away. I scrambled down the debris and found myself on what had been the first floor corridor leading to a fire escape. There was a loose door blocking my way but I lifted this aside and found myself about 10 ft above a pile of debris on the ground. I dropped this short distance and managed to join a party of people making their way out at the back and I believe we got out through the garage.“There was a girl in the party who I heard was cut badly and when we saw a first aid party they directed us to take shelter in the basement of a house, No 13 Athenaeum Street, I afterwards learnt. There I received some first aid and when the raid was over someone took me to hospital in a car. I don’t really know what the ruins looked like when I left them because I could barely open my eyes to see anything and they soon closed up completely. However, my sight was not affected. Judging by the way my hair was singed I think my helmet saved me from some of the blast and debris although it was lost in the mess and this makes me think that the two girls must have been knocked unconscious before being buried. They probably never know what hit them.“I feel I must sympathise with you for though I lost all my belongings I have not lost my house as you presumably have, and I feel you must have taken great pride in the Westminster Hotel, it was such a pleasant place, and no doubt you will have lost many irreplaceable things as I have.“Thank you again for your kind interest in me and accept my best wishes and hopes that you may have such another hotel but in happier circumstances than this war has produced.”

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