The Mayor and Mayoress of Swindon, Michael and Ruth Bray, met people who survived the wartime bombing of Bath 70 years ago in the Lydiard Park conference centre in early November
The Swindon Trauma Group approached the Bath Blitz Memorial Project to invite survivors and their relations to visit the Royal British Legion Field of Remembrance in the walled garden followed by lunch in the Lydiard House.
Bath suffered three devastating raids in April 1942 after RAF bomber command hit locations in Germany identifed as storage centres for equipment destined for the Russian Front. However these were also German cultural centres. Lübeck and Rostock in northern Germany had many medieval buildings destroyed, and much propaganda was made of this fact.
German High Command ordered ‘Retaliation Raids’ but a press officer in the German Foreign Office used the term Baedeker raids, announcing that the targets in Britain were selected from the well known pre-war tourist guides which described their rich histories and architectural treasures, and the term stuck.
Pictured above, blitz survivors Margaret Reid, Alan Reid, Doreen Williams, Harry Hemming Janet Rosenburg. Below, the memorial to those who lost their lives, which is part of the Bath war memorial
Bath, and other British cities of note, were chosen as targets by the Luftwaffe for their cultural worth rather than as centres of wartime industrial production, following the Blitz earlier in the war which had hit cities like Coventry where factories were the target though the much loved cathedral was destroyed.
Unfortunately Bath was considered to be a safe city and was host to a number of evacuees, and some of these were killed. The city was bombed on three occasions on 25 and 26 April 1942 with explosions all over the city.
Alan Reid, now 87, one of the visitors to Swindon in November, said he was a London schoolboy but had been visiting family in Bath on the days of the raid. "I had experience of the bombing in London and got caught up in the rescue parties in Kingsmead and then at the Assembly Rooms in the city centre which had been destroyed.
"I was 17 and was given a home guard uniform and I recall having to dive for cover as an aircraft came low and started machine gunning anything that moved. I thought I should explain where I was and sent a telegram to my school to say I would be staying away for another week."
Doreen Williams said her father was killed on the night of 27 April. He was a volunteer fireman but was off duty as the warning sirens went off. "We know he joined a crew from Bristol to pump water. I was 13 at the time and was in a basement with my mother and sister at the top of Milsom Street and can remember the noise and the chaos, and also the terrible sadness when we were told my father was by himself when an unexploded bomb went off and he had to be identified by his uniform and service number."
Janet Rosenburg was three years and six months at the time of the raid and her parents had pushed her out of Bath in her pram after their city centre house had been destroyed by a bomb. "We had nowhere to go until we found a chicken coop under a house on a hill which the owner said we could stay in. We were there for a week until my parents thought it safe for us to return to find somewhere to live until our house was repaired.
"My mother gave me a vivid account of the bombing and said the aircraft were so low that she could see the faces of the pilots."
Harry Hemming, although 12 at the time of the raid, managed to pass himself off as a fourteen year old and was taken on as a bicycle messenger. "All the phones were out of action so messages had to be carried by hand between the civil defence and fire watch posts around the city centre," he said.
"I remember being on Pultney Street and a bomber came straight down the street with the machine gunner firing at the fireman, coming straight at me. I had time to dive into a shop doorway but I was lucky. Lots of people were injured or killed that day. It really was absolute chaos and I found myself dashing about with messages.
"But I don’t recall being frightened; I suppose it was because everybody else was so involved and you just had to get on with the job. But it was a horrifying experience for the people of Bath. My wife Eileen was traumatised for many years after being buried for five hours in a basement that was flooding. She was sitting on her brother’s lap and was pulled out alive with water up to her chest. Sadly he drowned."
The Mayor, who served in the RAF himself, said he was pleased to have met the visitors from Bath. "They all have very moving stories, many are so terribly sad. I was startled to learn more about the bombing raids on Bath and also historic cities in Germany which I was not really aware."
Richard Hilling, coordinator of Swindon Trauma Group, said the visit had been a successful and moving experience. "Until I researched the Baedekers Guide books last year I was unaware of the trauma that was to befell Bath that Spring almost 70 years ago.
"I would like to thank Chartridge Conference Centre at Lydiard Park for providing a dining room and a delicious lunch and also thank Mayor and Mayoress of Swindon Mick and Ruth Bray for coming along, and representatives from SSAFA and Swindon Carers for their support on the day, as well as Chris, the volunteer driver who brought our guests from Bath."
More about the bombing of Bath
See The Forgotten Blitz narrated by Nick Knowles on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9iqq5vopMxM">YouTube
Willi Schludecker, 90, visited Bath for the 25 April 2008 memorial service in Bath and laid his remembrance wreath. A veteran of 120 sorties, including Bath, he also provided his personal memories at: www.bathblitz.org/pilot.htm
For more on the Bath Blitz at www.bathblitz.org
Below, the Mayor and Mayoress of Swindon with Bath Baedecker raid survivors and members of Swindon Trauma Group