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15 October 2014
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Plymouth Blitz

by csvdevon

Contributed by 
csvdevon
People in story: 
Joyce I Reeve (nee Prowse), Gordon Prowse, Ivor Slee, Hilda Ann Westcott (nee Prowse), Percy Coleman, Kate Prowse
Location of story: 
Plymouth
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4398249
Contributed on: 
08 July 2005

The war years started for me in 1939, when walking home from Sunday school at 11am, some man walking along the street shouting, ‘We are at war.’ It didn’t mean a thing to me at 12 years of age, little did I know what lay ahead.

My first horrific experience was on a Sunday afternoon in 1941. I lived at 4B Arnold’s Point, on the Embankment, Plymouth. My mother and I were standing at our front gate enjoying the view of Saltram. The galvanised air raid shelter was right beside us in the garden.

Mother said, ‘That plane is flying low, he’s almost touching the trees,’ which were in Saltram Park, opposite us across the River Plym. Then she shouted, ‘He’s dropping bombs!’ I saw four bombs released before being pushed into the air raid shelter face first. There was no warning, then the siren sounded. The bombs hit the Cattedown area and one woman was killed.

I heard that the plane was shot down or had crashed in Plymouth Sound, or just outside. I don’t think many people can say that they saw the first bombs released on Plymouth in WW2.

My next terrifying experience was in 1941 when 1000 incendiary bombs were dropped on Plymouth, the Embankment was like fairy land. We were in the air raid shelters, bombs whistling down. I was 14 years old and played the piano accordion, Mother said, ‘Play louder, we won’t hear the bombs whistling down.’

My brother Gordon was in the Light Infantry and was home at the time. One incendiary bomb was in the loft next door. He was running in to help when one incendiary bomb hit his helmet, which had a big dent in it. He and Ivor Slee said ‘We will get onto the roof with the hose.’ I had to be nosey and see what was happening, so Gordon said to me, ‘You pump the stirrup pump’, which was outside the back door. I was busy pumping away when another bomb was dropped outside the back wall on the chicken runs. I was blown through the back doorway passage to the front door, no injuries, but covered in dirt, Mother shouting, ‘Joyce, where are you!’ I could write a book on that episode, chickens running around with no feathers on.

The railway sidings behind our houses were loaded with ammunition waiting to be shipped out, we were lucky that night, or I wouldn’t be here writing this. We had no windows left in our house, floorboards were forced up and bulging, our side wall had a two inch gap disconnected from the main house. It should have been condemned, but just got filled in.

Another time in 1941, I was riding my bicycle to work at 8.30am, I was a hairdressing apprentice, and a bomb exploded in the River Plym. I wasn’t injured but continued riding to work with mud in my hair, ears and clothes and cleaned up when I got there. I wouldn’t miss work, loved it.

Mother once told me the bombs that went in the Plym wouldn’t explode. She was wrong that time.

When the Blitz on Plymouth really started, I had kept all the newspapers. The Evening Herald Front Page was ‘FIVE NIGHTS OF HELL’ and it was. My sister Hilda Westcott was bombed out. She lived at Lucas Terrace, Prince Rock, next to the railway bridge, and lost everything.

My mother said to me after the worst night, ‘Come on, we’ll walk to town to see what damage they’ve done,’ so we walked to the end of Ebrington Street and stood at ‘Burton’s Corner’ and saw nothing but smouldering rubble, hundreds of fireman and hoses. They said, ‘You can’t go any further.’ We didn’t intend to anyway, we just stood, Mother crying her eyes out. I’d never seen mother cry before. She was heart broken.

My brother was on the beaches of Dunkirk. His sergeant told him and another soldier to stay behind and get the next boat with all the gear. All his battalion got aboard a coal boat and he saw them all blown up, no survivors. He came into the Millbay Docks filthy and exhausted. Mother put him to bed, dirt and all. He slept for 24 hours and cleaned up after. Whilst he was sleeping, Mother received a telegram. Telegram boys came on motorcycles or bikes in those days. It said he was missing, presumed dead, so when he’d had a couple of days rest, he reported to the Citadel that he was still alive. Six weeks later he was sent to Egypt with Monty’s army and came home in 1946.

I loved to dance on Plymouth Hoe and sure wore out a lot of shoes on that concrete. My brother-in-law, Percy Coleman, of the Waldorf Dance Orchestra, played on Plymouth Pier and at Spooners tea dances before the bombing, then at the Continental Hotel, etc.

There’s a lot more, but I’m out of energy.

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