Between July 1940 and August 1941 Norwich had suffered 27 bombing raids. There then followed eight months of relative calm until Monday 27th April when the city suffered heavy losses as a result of the Baedeker raids. The German Baedeker tourist guidebooks were used to identify bombing targets which meant that cities of historical interest were targeted. The first Baedeker raid was on Exeter on 24 April 1942. Norwich followed soon after with raids on the nights of Monday 27th and Wednesday 29th April. A raid on Friday 1st May was comparatively uneventful.
The 1941 Fire Precaution (Business Premises) Order meant that firewatchers had to be on duty at all times on commercial premises. Males between the ages of 16 and 60 had to register for part time duty and women and males under 16 could volunteer. Firewatchers could work up to 48 hours a month and many did their duty for the premises where they worked. Firewatchers’ logs were completed and the one for Jarrolds is in the Norfolk Record Office and can be read about here.
Between the 27th and 29th April, 96 fire service action reports were completed by 13 Division Norwich operating from Bethel Street. The reports document the many buildings; residential and commercial, that were damaged or totally destroyed. Some reports detail only one dwelling while others run into pages. For example Report 87 is 11 pages long and covers the raid on 29th April mainly on Armes Street, Nelson Street and Northumberland Street.
The back of the action report detailed fire service attendance and casualties. The only casualties recorded on the 96 reports are on report 26. Casualties would be recorded on the Civil Defence reports but giving numbers only. See below.
The fire service started to receive calls shortly after 11.30pm on the 27th and calls continued until around 5am. Therefore it was inevitable that, of the 231 fatalities, most would have been at home in their beds. But at least ten men lost their lives while doing their duty in just three particular incidents.
The Oak Street Raid – 27 April 2344 hours – Fire Report 26
Sam Bussey from Oldham was a Senior Company Officer in the fire service and lived in a flat above Bethel Street station with his wife Norah and two sons. He had transferred from the police to the fire service when the two services separated in 1941. He was said to have a love of horses and when he attended the Oak Street raid he went to rescue the horses from the stables there. He died when a bomb exploded nearby. He was 39 years old.
Bertie William Burr lived at Gipsy Lane with his wife Mary and three children. Born in 1891 he had served in France in the First World War, returning to Norfolk after contracting nephritis due to “exposure in the trenches”. He then joined the Labour Corps. In 1942 he was working as a carman doing deliveries for the Great Eastern Railway Company and was a firewatcher. Bertie was injured in the Oak Street raid and died later in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.
George Walter Butler lived at Civic Gardens with his wife Una. In 1942 he was working in the shoe trade and was also in the ARP Rescue Service. George was injured in the raid and died later at home the same day. What made him go home and not to hospital? He was 44 years old.
Norwich Corporation Depot, Westwick Street Raid – 27 April 0144 hours – Fire Report 23
Westwick Street was hit on more than one occasion and the George Swain photos below show the intensity of the raid. Report 23 runs to two pages, page 1 below includes the corporation depot where three men died.
James William Davison lived at Hotblack Road with his wife Ethel. His occupation in 1942 is recorded as a Company Secretary and he served with the ARP Rescue Service. He was 50 years old.
Cecil George Lamb lived with at Bowers Avenue his wife Hilda and daughter Joyce. Born in 1893 he served in the First World War from 1914 to 1919. During that time he progressed from private to sergeant serving with the 9th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment on the western front. In 1942 he was a working as a corporation clerk and was a firewatcher at the depot.
James Frederick Sewell was a farmer’s son from Thornage near Holt. He lived at Harlington Avenue with his wife Florence Edith and their three children. In 1911 he served with the Norfolk Regiment then he joined the 1st Dragoon Guards. He discharged of his own accord in 1913. In 1939 he is recorded as a disabled ex-serviceman. In 1942 he was an ARP and a firewatcher. He was 48 years old.
The Edward & Holmes Shoe Factory (Esdelle Works), Drayton Road – Fire Report 95 and Civil Defence Report 70
Where a fire service report and Civil Defence report cover the same incident a fuller picture is given although with the raid on the Edward and Holmes show factory there are some differences in timings. A more puzzling anomaly is in the information on the fatalities. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s list of civilian war dead names three men. However the Civil Defence report below states that four bodies were recovered. Close inspection shows the number three overwritten with a four. Was a fourth body recovered later? Who was the fourth man?
Robert Kent lived with his wife Martha at Appleyard Crescent. He served with the Auxiliary Fire Service and was also a night watchman and firewatcher. He had worked in the shoe industry all his life and was a Freeman of the City of Norwich. Was he firewatching that night or part of the fire service called out to the factory? He was 67 years old.
Cecil Palmer, widower, lived at Stone Road. He worked in the shoe industry and was a firewatcher. He was 45 years old. His two young children were left orphaned.
William Self lived at Philadelphia Lane with his wife Ethel Amelia and three children. He had worked in the shoe industry all his life and was a firewatcher. He was 51 years old.
Were these men also on duty when they died?
Benjamin Hayhoe lived with his wife Clara at Clifton Street. He had been a sergeant in the First World War with the Northamptonshire Regiment and was taken prisoner during the third battle of Aisnes in May 1918. He was a public assistance nurse and a firewatcher. Was this why he was at the Northumberland street shelter when it was hit on the 28 April? He was 52 years old.
Roy Stevens lived with his parents at Parr Road and was an apprentice electrical engineer. He was also an ARP and died at Mile Cross. He was 20 years old.
These were not the first or only raids on the city and others on duty also lost their lives such as fireman Stephen Toole and Reginald Watson of the Home Guard. They both died during the raid at Frazer’s Joinery Works at St Martin at Palace Plain on 5 September 1942.
Much has been written about these raids with several records and books held at the Norfolk Record Office. The Fire Service Action Reports and Civil Defence Rescue Reports detailing the destruction, damage, injury and loss of life during this time open up many avenues of possible research.
Daryl Long NRO Blogger