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The Baedeker raids: the day Hitler tried to wipe out Norwich

PUBLISHED: 12:04 23 April 2019 | UPDATED: 14:45 26 April 2019

The bombed out remains of the Clover Leaf Bar on the cornber of St Giles Street and Upper Goat Lane
, April 1942 Picture: Archant Library

The bombed out remains of the Clover Leaf Bar on the cornber of St Giles Street and Upper Goat Lane , April 1942 Picture: Archant Library

Archant

Peace was broken on April 27 , 1942, when the Germans used the Baedeker travel guide to decide where to drop their bombs. Norfolk braced itself...

Bomb damage at Heigham House, West Parade, off Earlham Road.
 April 30, 1942  Picture: Archant LibraryBomb damage at Heigham House, West Parade, off Earlham Road. April 30, 1942 Picture: Archant Library

It was a famous travel book and in the 1930s representatives of Baedeker's Guide to Britain visited our most beautiful places...one being the Fine City of Norwich.

Some years later, when this country was at war with Germany, the Luftwaffe took a look at the book and over two nights in April of 1942 set out to destroy as much of Norwich as they could.

The castle, the cathedrals, St Peter Mancroft, the new City Hall and the ancient seat of power, the Guildhall, survived as many of the bombs dropped on residential streets...causing appalling death and destruction on a terrifying scale.

As you read this, imagine April 27, in 1942 as one of the darkest weeks in the long history of Norwich began to unfold on a moonlit and peaceful night.

St Stephens towards Red Lion Street, April 1942  Picture: Archant LibrarySt Stephens towards Red Lion Street, April 1942 Picture: Archant Library

By the end of it more than 235 men, women and children were dead, hundreds more injured and parts of the city lay in smouldering ruins.

Hitler had wanted to bring the country to its knees. It had the reverse effect. The raids, not just here but across the country, made people more determined than ever to win the war.

There had been a lull in the bombing raids over Norwich and Norfolk, which had already claimed dozens of people, in the month before the first Baedeker attack in April. In fact there were those starting to ignore the sirens and not running to the shelters.

Then came the night of April 27/28 when between 25 and 30 planes headed in the direction of Norwich. This time was different. The deep rhythmic note of the powerful engines in the sky was ominous. Parachute flares lit up the city. Norwich was under attack from above.

Oak Street bomb damage
, April 27, 1942 Picture: Archant LibraryOak Street bomb damage , April 27, 1942 Picture: Archant Library

Then the bombs fell causing shattering explosions and destroying houses, schools, shops, factories, hospitals, churches and residential streets. Norwich was on fire, the city was burning. The people were dying.

For more than two hours the Luftwaffe dropped around 185 heavy bombs weighing more than 50 tons...life for many of the survivors would never be the same again and neither would the city they called home.

Records said more than 160 people died during the first raid and almost 600 others being badly hurt – many more were homeless. Even the mortuary was hit.

The smoke was still rising when, after one night of rest, the bombers returned on Wednesday April 29. This time, although the attack was shorter and claimed fewer lives – about 70 – eye-witness said it was more devastating.

The Crown Pub on St Benedicts Street
, April 1942  Picture:Archant LibraryThe Crown Pub on St Benedicts Street , April 1942 Picture:Archant Library

In his book Assault Upon Norwich, Ralph Mottram, wrote: “Those of us who drove through the blazing streets had an unpleasant reminder of old days in Ypres and Armentieres. The light of flames flickering in pools of water, the crunch of broken glass and plaster beneath wheels and feet, the roar of the conflagration, the shouting orders and warnings were ominously reminiscent.

“The immediate effect of these two attacks, and of a much smaller one on the Thursday, was that adequate defences, both guns and barrage balloons, were moved into position in and around the city,” said Ralph.

But the people were frightened and groups of women with young children, the old and infirmed, helped by relatives and friends, with prams, barrows and handcarts, could be seen heading out of the city to spent the night in fields while others relied on the kindness of friends in surrounding villages.

Following the blitz vans equipped with loud-speakers toured the streets, giving information as to boiling water and other precautions, how necessities could be obtained, and appealing to the able-bodied to stay at their posts.

The gutted Morgans Brewery hit by a bomb on December 2, 1940  Picture: Archant LibraryThe gutted Morgans Brewery hit by a bomb on December 2, 1940 Picture: Archant Library

We were still a long way from winning the war, there would be more attacks, more lives would be lost before victory finally came....Let us spare some time to think about those who those who perished during the week of the Norwich Blitz in 1942.

We will remember them.

If you have any memories to share of those dark days write to me.

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