Cambridge District Scout Archive
The home based correspondents of this circulating letter passed on the Cambridge experience of being bombed. Those scattered by the war responed with their own experiences.
Reports reveal a growing awareness that not all experiences were equal. The reports of bombing on Cambridge are of general interest to the readership, as are the deaths. Reports of bombing in Liverpool and London are in increasing contrast.
The comparison with Liverpool is particularly marked. In March 1941 the increased attacks in East Anglia are seen (from Liverpool) as equivalent to those on Liverpool. The underplayed descriptions in the letters does not present a clear picture – ‘dropped some stuff’, ‘came gliding over’, ‘dropping a couple’, ‘another piece of blitz’ – and the gentle propaganda of the era may not have yet made the constant severity of the raids on the ports and London apparent. However, the public understanding grew and the reports stopped being phrased in reassuring terms.
WTT in Cambridge ‘blasts’ the disruption of repeated warnings but reports no bombs, whilst Arthur in Liverpool received ‘a fair pasting’, and underplays it at that. The Padre’s report of November 1941 recognizes this in a piece declaring his un-heroic life, in which he ‘forgets’ how long ago he was (so very closely) bombed.
Arthur, in Liverpool, is congratulated on being the first member to put out an incendiary bomb in early 1941. A little later he reports his landladies daughter and son in law as being ‘bombed out’ and having to move back to stay in an overcrowded terrace house. His description is again underplayed – ‘A bit of a blitz’. WT Thurbon in Cambridge tells of two warnings on one night that went on from 11 to 3.15 and again 4 to 6 AM – no bombs but significant disruption.
It should be remembered that these letters were between male friends, not boasting but not seeking to reassure family. They may stand as a fair example of the tone and attitude of the general population as expressed at the one remove of the letter writer. The events happened recently, they are not the emotional response of the moment as modern technology can provide. The cinema news reels took days, at least, to reach the public.
The following reports a first experience of the level of destruction some places experienced – presumably the news reels at the cinema had not captured the reality. Dated August 1941
‘We spent one day in London. We left Rodger with Harold’s wife here at Reading and proceeded to ‘do’ the city. We got a fast train to Paddington + Metro train to the Mansion House. Until now we had seen no great damage in London at all, + continued to remark on how surprised we were to find so little damage (I wished to see a friend of mine who works in Queen Victoria Street) –hence the trip direct to the Mansion House – we walked out of the underground there and believe me fellows the sight we saw can never be described fully by such as I. I say that we stopped amazed. We did really. To the left the complete block of buildings on our left, – that is on the same side of the street as we stood – were down. Completely, just a pile of bricks. I’d not the faintest idea where I was and fortunately the people I was looking for were to the right and I was able to find them. The amazing thing about all this is that in the middle of this complete destruction stands St Pauls as large as life and looking quite in order. We went inside and I got the impression that although two bombs have fallen inside it will want a great many more before any great difference is made.’
Reports from the letters:
Dec 1940 ‘Gerry came over at dinner time on teh 30th and machine gunned the streets. Guns opened up around the town and it was bad for Gerry, I hear he was brought down outside the town’ Basil in Cambridge
Jan 1941 ‘We finished , as usual, before Xmas with a Half Pound Night. We had just got the ? when the sirens went off but no one appeared to hear this! From the Evercircular letters
Jan 1941 ‘Great excitement over a Dornier 215 on Monday. I saw him streak across town around 500 ft. up, damn cheek. I hear one of the Pyes spotters called him a Hudson.‘ Evercircular Letter WTT
Feb 1941 Kath Thaxter killed while fire watching WTT
(Kathleen Ada Irene Thaxter was killed in the raid of 24th February 1941, see below. She is listed as ‘daughter of’ and as such was probably unmarried.)
Feb 1941 Bill Carter reports the attack on a convoy (he was in Traffic Control of the Military Police) in which the response was fierce enough to fight off the attack.
Feb 1941 ‘I report another piece of Blitz’ ‘Two houses near Mill Road Bridge (Town Side) were hit when Jerry came over during the afternoon recently’ Snowy Cambridge
Feb 1941 ‘On Saturday we had an alert. All clear about 10.0’ ‘About 11 Gerry came over and dropped some ‘stuff’ ‘There were three houses lost their fronts, no casualties. Also a fine fireworks display on the Gogs and Queen Edith’s way. Last Monday a Win(chester?), crewless, destroyed three houses in Histon and killed 1 woman.’ Cambridge
Feb 1941 ‘Bill T tells me bombs have been dropped in Newnham, Rustat Road, Cowper Road and the back of the shops between Coronation Street and Russell St is down. Are they after the Catholic Church – I wonder?’ Cambridge
Feb 1941 ‘Whilst passing through Bury St Edmunds I was startled to see a Jerry calmly circling the town. The crosses and swastikas were clearly visible. After dropping a couple a serenely flew away. I would have loved to have had Bill there but apparently some of his kidney were on hand as the plane was brought down at Heddingham a few miles away.’
Feb 1941 ‘ Gerry has been very quiet at night lately except one when he burned out the Perse School Hall – but we have had many daylight alerts and last Friday he hit some cottages at the foot of Mill Road bridge. Sue and B….. are safe.’
March 1941 ‘Old Jerry came gliding a few thousand feet above our place the other day’.
March 1941 ‘The Luftwaffe have almost deserted us since Christmas (in Liverpool) but it is rather disturbing to hear that East Anglia is receiving so many attacks.’
The comparative weight of the attacks and damage to be done was not apparent at this time. Liverpool was heavily bombed, Cambridge and East Anglia were not. By August maybe the difference was becoming clear.
1941 ‘I can agree with you over the state of poor old Bristol. It is grim and seemed as bad as London.’
March 1941 ‘Warning every night since last Saturday. Blast Jerry’ WTT Cambridge
March 1941 ‘Other night had an alert and the windows did not stop rattling for 3 hours during the Merseyside raid’ Snowy near Blackpool
April 1941 ‘John Covell has been blitzed and had his ceiling down’.
April 1941 ‘Jerry raid’ WTT Cambridge
May 1941 ‘ On Easter Monday a stray Gerry came over and dropped a bomb bang in the middle of Chivers Jam pulp – no casualties but some of Histon looked pretty in its coating of jam.’
May 1941 ‘ Three nearby bombs brought the ceiling down.’ ‘ I am told that a gargoyle from the Roman Catholic Church in the form of a grotesque monkey landed on the lawn in an upright position with a paw shading its face.’ John Covell
May 1941 ‘Air raid three nights in a row – given us a fair pasting’ Arthur Liverpool
August 1941 ‘Gerry plastered us a bit last night and hit two … and caused several casualties’ WTT Cambridge
October 1941 ‘We certainly have some guns here now and the racket they make confuses the sounds so effectively that it is sometimes difficult to estimate whether a heavy raid is in progress or not.’ Arthur Liverpool
November 1941 Padre reports ‘Living in comparative peace and quiet for over a year now. The nearest excitement was a month or two ago when Jerry dropped a bomb in the back garden and dug up my potatoes for me. The tiles were damaged a bit by the debris, but not even a window was broken!
April 1942 ‘Swansea is quite an interesting spot but unfortunately the whole of the main shopping parts have been well and truly blitzed and as usual the Jerries seemed to make special objectives of the churches and all over the town they stand – grim blackened monuments to mans so called civilisation. Do you remember St Mary’s William? It is a mass of rubble standing on the beautifully green grass now. The other day Abertawe (Swansea to English people) had its 485th air raid alarm.’ Les
April 1942 Seeing Cambridge after eight months in Liverpool ‘the old place doesn’t seem to alter much’. Regarding Liverpool ‘the city has recovered very well from its bashing and there is certainly more life in the place and I hope it will not be disturbed as it was this time last year’. Arthur
May 1942 ‘ Fortunately we haven’t had any sirens lately so all has been quiet on the NFS front’ (Fire Service) Stan
May 1942 ‘Cambridge is all nicely tucked round with AA guns. The Pieces, except Parkers, are being covered with air raid shelters and huts for ATS etc.’ (Auxiliary Territorial Service or Air Training Squadron) WTT
August 1942 ‘The town has just experienced one of its largest raids, which I will leave to Bill to describe more fully, him being an ARP warden. Ron
August 1942 ‘We have had lots of alerts – some bombs in the Park Street area on 28th July with a few casualties. On the 30th the light AA opened up and nearly shot a Whitley. On the 31st several Gerries were brought down round here and we saw the glare of one. There were a few alerts early last Friday morning. Then we had the hell of a time – for a short while it was as light as day for a time. Many many incendiaries but few fires and fewer casualties. One Gerry in the lights was ? but a Stirling was up at the same time and the guns couldn’t fire. Last night we had an hour alert but no activity. WTT
September 1942 ‘We’ve had some air activity: Gerry looking for Tom G on a night shift and we had one Gerry shot down’ (Tom was working at Short’s aircraft works)
March 1943 Bill clad in blue ARP uniform coming out of his house in response to the alert.
End of Evercircular letters
Addendum World War II Bombs on Cambridge
During the Second World War Cambridge was had 329 ‘Alerts’ 30 people were killed, 71 injured. This is not a complete list but gives some details
- April 1940 11 HE bombs aimed at Cambridge but fell in sugar beet fields
- 18th/19th June 1940 Vicarage Terrace 9 killed 3 injured (see photo) Amongst the first British civilian casualties of the war
- August 1940 8 HE bombs including Fenners, no injuries
- 28th August 1940 8 HE bombs Leys Avenue, Shaftsbury Avenue
- 15th October 1940 1 bomb in Barrow Road, 1 casualty
- 16th January 1941 200 incendiary bombs on Hyde Park Corner and city Perse school badly damaged. Hydrants frozen with snow
- 30th January 1941 Mill Road bridge 2 killed, ten injured
- 15th February 1941 341/ 343 Cherry Hinton Road – fronts blown off
- 24th February 1941 A major three phased special operation on military activity at the rail station. 11 killed including wardens and fire watchers
- 9th May 1941 Hundreds of incendiaries between Hills Road and Trumpington Road. 50 houses had direct hits but most fires were quickly put out
- 29th August 1941 10 HE bombs 2 killed 7 injured
- 29th September 1941 Incendiaries hit Huntingdon Road damaging telephone wires and public services
- 8th September 1941 Incendiaries fell into Morley Memorial playground
- Ten month gap in the raids
- 28th July 1942 11 HE Bridge Street and Sidney Street, explosive incendiaries 3 killed and 7 injured
- 3rd January 1945 The Commencement of the meeting was delayed by the passage of a Flying Bomb. Mr Cann reported damage to the ceiling of his troop room believed to be due to an explosion following an aeroplane crash
JWR Archivist Sept 2019