See shocking photos of bomb damage in the Norwich Blitz of 1942

Bomb damage in Rampart Horse Street, in the centre of Norwich, on April 30, 1942.

Bomb damage in Rampant Horse Street, in the centre of Norwich, on April 30, 1942. - Credit: Archant

Eighty years ago Norwich suffered terrible damage and loss of life in the wartime blitz on the city.  Derek James travels back to 1942.

I am sure there will be people reading this who were there and can remember life under the dark clouds of war which caused so much death, destruction and misery.

Others can only imagine sitting in an air raid shelter, listening to the bombs dropping and not knowing if they would have a home to return to…or just a pile of smoking rubble. And wondering who would still be alive ...

While so many of our soldiers, airmen and sailors lost their lives fighting for our freedom in conflicts and horrendous PoW camps across the world, others were killed across Norfolk and Suffolk.

And it was on the night of April 27/28 in 1942 when between 25 and 30 planes set off from Germany heading for Norwich.

These were the so-called Baedeker Raids, named after the travel guides highlighting our historic towns and cities.

By the time the planes left, large parts of the Fine City were smoking ruins. More than 160 men, women and children were killed, many more injured. This was hell on earth.

Damping down the fires in the ruins of Curls Store at Rampant Horse Street, Norwich, on April 30, 1942.

Damping down the fires in the ruins of Curls store at Rampant Horse Street, Norwich, on April 30, 1942. - Credit: Archant

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Just as people were trying to come to terms with what had happened the aircraft returned.

On Wednesday, April 29, there was another terrifying blitz claiming about 70 lives and destroying more of the city.

While the two Cathedrals, the Castle, the Guildhall and the City Hall were spared so many of the bombs fell on churches, factories, shops, pubs and residential streets.

The bombed out remains of the Clover Leaf Bar on the corner of St Giles Street and Upper Goat Lane, Norwich, in April 1942.

The bombed out remains of the Clover Leaf Bar on the corner of St Giles Street and Upper Goat Lane, Norwich. - Credit: Archant

Many women were forced to put their children into prams, barrows or home-made carts, containing what was left of their possessions, and head out of the city at night to sleep wherever they could.

The emergency services were pushed to the limit. The electricity, water and gas supplies had been hit. The fire service and other organisations were working flat out.

Vans with loudspeakers toured the streets, where they could, telling people where they could get help and support in their darkest hour.

There were about 126,000 people living in Norwich and members of the civil defence and others groups stepped forward to help others.

Looking along St Stephens towards Red Lion Street - a scene of devastation in the heart of the city in April 1942.

Looking along St Stephens towards Red Lion Street - a scene of devastation in the heart of the city in April 1942. - Credit: Archant

The Women’s Voluntary Services ran the 13 first-line centres across the city giving shelter, food and support to the victims of the bombing. Then there was the Red Cross, the YMCA and MAGNA, the Mutual Aid Good Neighbours Association. They, along with others, did amazing and wonderful work. Police and fire officers, those who made unexploded bombs safe, and so many more all came together to help others.

There were more bombings, more misery and heartache before victory was finally declared in Europe and then in Japan. Fathers, brothers, sons, uncles and friends would be returning to a very different country.

One thing hasn’t changed, the hand of friendship which is offered at a time of need. It helps to bring our communities together, whatever the crisis.

Bomb damage at Oak Street, following the Norwich Blitz of April 1942.

Bomb damage at Oak Street, following the Norwich Blitz of April 1942. - Credit: Archant

Heroes honoured

Commendations were awarded to 23 police officers, one first police reserve and one war reserve, two women auxiliaries, one police messenger and 11 special constables.

Insp Edwin Buttle, bomb reconnaissance officer, was awarded a Merit Badge and later a British Empire Medal. John Grix, a brave 15-year-old ARP messenger who was blown off his bike as he raced around the burning city with messages during the raids, was awarded the BEM for bravery and devotion to duty.