Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Exeter Blitz

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Gravestones for the casualties of the Exeter Blitz in Higher Cemetery, Exeter‎. Image taken 2021.

Note: This is a sub-section of Exeter in WWII

Air-raid sirens were sounded 366 times and there were 19 raids, mostly hit-and-run types by lone raiders, when bombs were dropped. Officially 271 people lost their lives in Exeter during WWII[1], with 111 seriously injured and 677 to a lesser extent. The youngest casualty was 7 days old and the oldest was age 91.

See Exeter in WWII: Civilian Deaths

In total 1,500 of the city's 20,000 houses were completely obliterated and 2,700 badly damaged. Also 400 shops, almost 150 offices, 50 warehouses and 36 pubs were also destroyed.

1940 August 07th. The first German air raid on Exeter took place in the early stages of the Battle of Britain. A lone raider dropped a stick of five bombs on the St Thomas area of the town.

1940 September 17th. Bomb fell on 72 Blackboy Road killing the four sons of William Squire, an Estate Agent, and his wife Florence. The sons were George Alfred Squire age 17, John Arnall Squire age 12, James William Squire age 8, and Sidney Robert Squire age 3.[2]

1940 September 28th. Five killed in Heavitree area.

1942 April 23/24th. Forty-nine bombers took part but due to heavy cloud most of the raiders missed their targets and little damage was done. Seven bombs fell on the St Thomas and Marsh Barton areas: 200 houses were damaged and 5 people were killed, with 8 injured.

1942 April 24/25th. Two waves of twenty bombers, most flying two sorties during the night, attacked again. In good visibility, and at low level in the absence of any AA defence, they hit the city, particularly the Pennsylvania area, killing 73 and injuring 54.

1942 May 03/04th Just after midnight, twenty bombers arrived over the town centre, and in 70 minutes devastated the town centre and Newtown area. Bombs fell in High Street, Sidwell Street and Fore Street, starting fires in the houses and shops there, which were soon out of control. Fire brigade and emergency services struggled to tame the fires, under the threat of unexploded ordnance and despite strafing by German bombers. Reinforcements from the fire services at Torquay and Plymouth arrived to help; eventually 195 appliances and 1,080 personnel were employed to bring the fires under control, which was largely achieved by 5 May, though sporadic outbreaks continued until mid-day of 7 May. 30 acres of the city were devastated, 156 people were killed and 583 injured.

In the city centre, the whole of Bedford Circus, the top of High Street, and adjacent parts of Sidwell Street and Paris Street were destroyed. A second area at the top of Fore Street and much of South Street was also obliterated. Between these two areas, the Cathedral was only hit by one high explosive bomb, which demolished St James's Chapel on its southern side. The City Library, with over a million documents and books was destroyed, as was the Vicars Choral College.

One bomb fell in Hoopern Fields close to the university Washington Singer laboratories, and the crater is still visible today.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. WWII Civilian Deaths. Published by the Imperial War Graves Commission 1954
  2. WWII Civilian Deaths. Published by the Imperial War Graves Commission 1954