- Contributed by
- Canterbury Libraries
- People in story:
- Cherry Johnston
- Location of story:
- Canterbury precincts
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 29 December 2004
The Baedecker Bombing of Canterbury city. June 2nd 1942.
A newspaper office, two churches, St George’s and St Mary Bredin, several drapery stores, two banks and three Insurance offices were destroyed and although the east end of the city was the main target, many bombs were dropped indiscriminately all over the city. Also destroyed were four schools, a large garage, a nursery and many scores of houses in residential areas, from large houses in their own gardens to small cottages, (two up two down) and all were either gutted by fire from chandelier incendiaries or completely wrecked by heavy bombing. When dawn broke it was a pathetic site to see many of these residents made homeless trying to salvage precious belongings from the wreckage of their homes. There were some astonishing escapes particularly among firewatchers on duty in the main street of the city who tried manfully to cope with the many incendiaries but were beaten back both by the quantity of bombs and the tremendous heat he incendiaries made and only escaped by actually running through the flames and falling masonry to safety, with only one man injured at the garage that was hit, with several cars burned out. Heavy anti aircraft fire met the bombers, fighters also intercepted them and aerial fighting could be heard by the those on the ground coming from the sky and altogether, four bombers were destroyed by anti aircraft fire and considering the severity of the raid casualties were not heavy and were treated at First Aid posts in the city. The Civil Defence did some magnificent work throughout the night helped by troops they released trapped people and in one particular case, four people were brought out alive out of a cellar where they had been trapped for twelve hours under many tons of rubble.
Ten people belonging to three families were killed when a bomb made a direct hit on a house on a road junction with shops on it and another road junction with shops along it were also bombed three times during the war in the same place. Emergency rest and food centres were immediately set up to accommodate the hundreds of homeless and some were taken to other towns while the British restaurant gave non stop service to all. It was remarked by many how quickly the fire service from all over Kent and London got to Canterbury that night (and we now know that Head Office in London had picked up a bomber direction beam and thus forewarned those in authority who warned the emergency services of impending attack, but Churchill ordered this to be kept secret until well after the war was over) One AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) member told his wife he would be up in a minute to bed when she went to bed, she saw him two days later, very tired, he had never got to bed, his name was Phillip Millen, still remembered at Canterbury Fire Station. Bill Keats watched in horror as incendiaries along the street came down and shop after shop caught light from the chandelier flares, eventually he and all the firewatchers had to get out and they did so only in the nick of time by running along the centre of the road through a wall of heavily falling masonry and debris which fell all around them, with a gas main also burning furiously. WVS and Kings messengers (boy scouts) rushed from London to help and gave invaluable service as did the British Legion who under took supply of second hand clothing for men and boys to those who needed it and the British war relief Society of America also gave a valuable large consignment of comforts, a trader whose premises escaped damage gave fifty guineas (£52.50p) to the Mayors Air Raid distress Fund in thankfulness, Brian Wells of the Friars Theatre extinguished several incendiaries at the theatre and he also collected several unexploded bombs and remained at his post throughout the whole raid and did a great deal to prevent destruction by fire, while at the same time, his own home was completely destroyed by fire and all his belongings lost. The Theatre management for his great courage and devotion to duty rewarded Mr Wells. Archbishop and Mrs Temple were kept busy, she with a stirrup pump, while the Archbishops Chaplain, the Reverend White-Thompson and Walter Brindal the chauffeur, fought a fire at a house where incendiaries had fallen, both saw the blaze and found the occupant Mr Ted Spinks, who was no youngster had already gone into a blazing room and chucked several chairs out of the window but the heat of the blaze had beaten him when a Chesterfield in another room and bed next to it both caught fire and noticing the glare, Walter and the Chaplain went in and followed by Mrs Temple, both hurled the burning chesterfield and bed out of the window. Mrs Temple was followed by the Archbishop carrying a large fire extinguisher because of his bad eyesight fearing he would have broken glasses Rev White-Thompson who had plenty of experience at Lambeth Palace and Mr Brindal and his training at the AFS in York, were the ones who did most of the work of throwing heavy furniture out of the window and extinguishing internal fires, but they were helped also by Joyce Laslett the parlour maid. Mrs Temple later said that it was very interesting to actually do what she had been taught to do at York and although she made light oh her share Mrs Binks thought her very brave indeed. Mrs Temple said it was wonderful the people of Canterbury had been and their cheerfulness in such an ordeal had been truly magnificent, later the Chaplain said how hard Mrs Temple worked and it was with great difficulty the Archbishop was dissuaded from taking an active part in it all and promptly went in tin hat and pyjamas through the precincts to see for himself the damage that had been made there and to speak to the people.
Fire Force Commander George Robinson from Maidstone, in charge of number 30 East Kent Fire Force from its head quarters in the Westgate directed and co-ordinated all pumps and personnel and his great experience in the London blitz helped all and unstinting praise was given in the manner in which he did his vital job. Canterbury rector Geoffrey Keable and his wife were n both fire watching and hearing the scream of a falling bomb, both dashed into the basement, the house took a direct hit, both exits were blocked, both manage to wriggle and scramble through a small opening and through the debris into the street and turning to look at it they found the house completely demolished and the church next to it burning furiously. Mr Tom Goddard a crippled bookie looked after his neighbours, saw them to safety, led the attack on incendiaries, while many bombs fell and by his utter disregard for danger inspired everybody with confidence in spite of his own house, utterly lost in the blaze. He lost everything but later steps were taken to replace some of his possessions. Inspector Miles of RSPCA took in many animals many of them were injured and he dressed the wounds and held them until claimed by owners, or the owners traced and he found many of the cats and dogs around the debris of former homes. Hetty the hen had been trapped for six days in a cavity, she was unhurt and helped the war effort by laying an egg a day unbothered by Hitler’s bombing. A pussy cat (Tiger) buried by many tons of masonry for eight days, came out alive with a hurt paw, was very hungry and thirsty but had a meal and a drink of milk and proceeded have a great big wash and brush up of himself (a very thorough wash).
The wall of one house was undamaged and when engineers inspected it, he had to call in the archaeologist and it was found to be a Roman wall and on further investigation a Roman town house was found under the long market with tessellated pavement and some very interesting artefacts. Roman baths were also rediscovered outside what is now Woolworth’s but were recovered because they were in the middle of the pavement.
The Bombing of the precincts of that same night.
The Dean of Canterbury, Hewlett Johnson was in the Deanery pantry having a cup of tea when the phone went and he was warned of imminent attack from Germany, he had the onset of war organised fire watchers on the Cathedral roof in a rota system and had fixed ladders to gain access to the roof as well as dry risers (long cast iron drain pipes) to carry water from the fire hydrants to the roof. As soon as he had put the phone down he went and organised fire watchers and also various volunteers and made ready, he then went back to the Deanery to wait enjoying the beautiful sunset and sitting in the garden with another cup of tea. On Monday June the first the dawn came on scenes of utter destruction in the early hours, chandelier flares were dropped by enemy planes that flew high up in the sky and these lit the whole city with a very bright light and showers of incendiaries followed these many falling in on and around the Cathedral burning furiously. These started fires on buildings, which were used by bombers as markers and they dived to discharge their high explosives in the precincts and town winds fanned the flames, making the job very difficult for the fire brigade and services. Tom Hoare, George Easton, Bill Gardener, Bert Burden and Joe Wants were on the Cathedral roof together with several volunteer watchers and after throwing many dozen of incendiaries off the roof to explode on the grass below, one chandelier was seen floating toward the Chapter House, missed by the bomb that destroyed the Chapter library, Bill Gardiner dashed round the Corona east end and along the north roof and across the bridge that had been made to gain access to the Chapter House roof and managed to throw eleven phosphorous incendiaries to the gravel below where they all burnt out. He turned to check that no more were coming toward the building, tripped over something in the walkway and fell to the gravel below, George Easton making his way along the North Quire roof also turned to check for incendiaries, could not see Bill and realised what had happened and raised the alarm. Bill had broken his neck in the fall and spent many months in plaster but he lived to serve the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury for many years as gatekeeper to the Mint yard gate. Archdeacon Alec Sergent, Archdeacon of Canterbury was on ARP duty and had left his mother and housekeeper at number 29 the Precincts and had gone on duty and when the library was hit, they were in the kitchen right next door to the library, Mrs Sergent was sitting in the sitting room and thought this is silly, the house keeper in the kitchen me in the sitting room here, she got up, picked the cat up, walked into the kitchen where Hannah was making tea and when the bomb came minutes later, both were blown over, the east end of the house where Mrs Sergent had been sitting was demolished completely, the tree outside blown over, many thousands of books blown to pieces, but both women were shaken but safe. His watch over, the Archdeacon came home to find the extent of the damage that had been done to the house, the Chapter library was completely lost and many thousands of books carried to safety by school children days later. Lois Lang Simms and her mother went to bed at the usual time to be woken by gunfire and bombing and to see the whole city lit up by flares, they both spent the rest of the raid in the broom cupboard under the stairs, coming out very dirty and gasping for a drink, but safe and Lois told me years later that the lawns round the Cathedral were white from the phosphorous of the incendiaries that had been thrown on them.
A very large four ton bomb destroyed Star House a large Georgian red brick building and another fell some twenty yards from the Warriors Chapel of the Cathedral and when General Montgomery visited the Deanery, the Dean showed him the damage and the General ordered the two huge craters covered to stop astute photographer interpreter from Germany from seeing them, it was released after the war that three of the heaviest bombs in south east England had hit the precincts but at the time, strict censorship was enforced and were rigidly kept to by newspaper and radio, ensuring safety as far as possible. Freda Watson, housekeeper at the Deanery, who fed Geoffrey Keable and his wife. Joe Poole, Fred Crowe, and A.T. Dye who all lived with the Dean, went to go home, opened the door and nearly fell into the huge crater that had been made by a bomb that demolished the front of Deanery and she told me later she nearly fainted with the shock. Mr Van Der Steen has kept people away form his burning gun shop, fearing the flames would set off an explosion from the ammunition stored there and when he and Mr Wanstall went to report to number one (the precincts head office) they discovered the complete south side of the Cathedral covered in bright red dust, caused by the Georgian brickwork of Star house demolished by a big bomb and spread by the wind all the brick dust over the stone work. It took two years of rain to wash it all off. Sidney Gill gatekeeper at Christchurch gate has watched in horror the many fires in the city on ARP duty, he and Reverend Keable had both been in Burgate and St George’s and when Reverent Keable went to inspect the damage done to St George’s church the roof contents, pews, alter, all burned to bits, a visiting American staying at the County Hotel at the time gave him tern shillings to start a repair fund for the burned out church. The Dean had spent some of the raid in the crypt and emerged to find Archbishop and Mrs Temple with a fire extinguisher, walking home to the old palace, together with his chaplain Father White Thomson and chauffeur Walter Brindle, he in an overcoat and pyjamas a steel hat, Mrs Temple in her night dress, her overcoat and also her tin hat and she had tried to encourage him to keep out of the way, fearing his glasses would be broken and his sight badly impaired as a result.
In 1972 I went into the Cathedral to dust on a Friday afternoon as always and came across a white haired man sitting in a chair in St Johns Chapel very upset, tears pouring down his face, so I sat down by him and we talked for nearly two hours, he had not long lost his wife, they were married in 1934 and came to Canterbury on holiday just after, he had returned to Canterbury for the first time since the war and was shocked to bits to see the devastation of the city. His name was Helmutt Maender and he was commander of the Luftwaffe bomber group responsible for the bombing of the city and was devastated at the destruction having no idea at all how bad it had been. He died in 1986.
Responsibilities of those mentioned above.
Tom Hoare. Gardiner and plumber.
George Eastern. Glazier in charge of Medieval glass to the Cathedral for 74 years.
Bill Gardiner. Workman to the Chapter and after his accident off the Chapter house roof was gate keeper to the Green court for the Dean and Chapter for many years.
Joe Wanstall. Foreman carpenter.
Sidney Gill. Gatekeeper to the Dean and Chapter of Christchurch gate.
Archdeacon Sergent. Archdeacon of Canterbury a Churchman/
Hewlett Johnson. Dean of Canterbury a Churchman and head of Chapter of Canterbury.
Lois Lang Simms. A member of the Cathedral community, author and historian.
Ian White Thomson. Chaplain to the Archbishop and Mrs Temple of the old palace.
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