By Harry Mottram. More than 400 Bathonians died due to one of the Second World War’s pettiest episodes in the global conflict.
Following the bombing by the RAF of the German city of Lübeck which destroyed its ancient centre during 1942 at the height of the war the Nazi high command decided to punish Britain by deliberately bombing cities they considered to be of historic interest.
The cities of Bath, Exeter, Norwich, Canterbury and York were chosen from the Baedeker tourist guide books to England despite having little or no strategic importance.
Because of their lack of importance in the war effort – unlike for instance Bristol or Southampton – they were lightly defended with anti-aircraft guns.
On the night of Saturday, April 25, 1942, the first of three bombing raids took place over the weekend leaving damage to 20,000 buildings and 417 people dead.
Around 1,000 people were injured with massive damage to homes in Oldfield Park, while the Assembly Rooms were hit and the East Window of Bath Abbey, the Lantern of the West, was shattered.
Second Avenue in Oldfield Park took a direct hit destroying 20 houses while the Royal Crescent suffered significant damage.
Such was the terror inflicted on the population that thousands of people fled the city to camp out in the fields of Englishcombe, Batheaston and Newton St Loe becoming known as the ‘trekkers.’
They slept out in the open for the most part while many sort shelter in farms, or relatives in Somerset and village halls.
Peter Dickinson related to the BBC in 2006 the experiences of his father who lived through the blitz. He reported: “As we were sheltering we could hear the bombs exploding as the raid continued, then finally the raid finished, the aircraft left and the all clear went. We came out of our shelter to discover a stick of half a dozen incendiary bombs had fallen in our garden, including one that had hit a large greenhouse and set it on fire, so I grabbed a stirrup pump and put the fire out. Fortunately our house had not been hit directly but a high explosive bomb had dropped in the next door garden belonging to a Commander Percival. Very luckily it had dropped into a deep dell so the explosion went mostly upward; the only damage to our house was to some leaded light windows, which, although not broken, had all buckled outward, sucked out by the force of the bomb blast.”
Photo: Sky News