A friend of mine, Owen Thompson, wrote to me, “About a year ago I picked up an old leather wallet at the car boot sale, which had a letter in it. It was from a woman in Norwich to her husband the day after a big air raid. I attach my transcription of it as I think you will find it fascinating with the description of houses on fire and detail, such as what to rescue, that you would never find anywhere else. I subsequently did some research about who lived in which house in the street etc. I also located and met “Mrs Deeks’s” older son who remembers the raid and his brother being born 2 weeks later. I found it such an interesting story that I contacted the Eastern Daily Press and they put me on to Steve Snelling, who used to work for them. I went to see him. He had just published his book on the April ’42 raids on Norwich, and I went to a couple of talks he gave. See: www.stephensnelling.
Here is the text of the letter, and the scans of the original.
16 Aldryche Rd
My Dearest Frank
I hope the sight of the telegram didn’t give you a scare, but I sent it, in case you heard Norwich got it, and believe me it did, and you would have had to have waited till Monday before getting a card. I sent one to mother as well, because she was no doubt able to see the fires and would be anxious. This time it was worse than the other raids. Do you know Frank there is only 1 stirrup pump on this road and on Friday night or rather early Saturday morning there were 4 houses ablaze on our road. Bishops where the incendiary bomb came through the second bedroom where our walls join, Cutting’s opposite, and Mrs Deeks and Robinson joining.
It is a marvel we’ve still got our house for if it hadn’t have been for Mr Wharton they wouldn’t have got it under control. Mr Wharton thought it was ours and came up to help us as he knew there was only Gladys and I here. I yelled to the Bishops that the house was on fire so did the London woman, but they were too windy to come out, but had to when someone else was there. It was terrible, and I shall never forget it as long as I live, the whistle of the bombs which seemed as if they couldn’t miss us. When there was a lull Gladys and I rushed in and got our cases from the bottom of the stairs, and I tore upstairs to see if it was alright up there, and took my clothes out of the wardrobe, for I honestly thought it would be goodbye to our home, and it’s not a case of buying more clothes, it’s the coupons not the money now. I asked Gladys if there was anything particular of hers that we could take but she said just Jim’s photo. She would have liked to take his wireless but I said it would be of no use for it would get smashed outside, and there was no time.
I can’t tell you all in a letter, but we found there were several helping with Bishop (they are very friendly with the fresh people where there are two or 3 men) so we went to see if we could help get things out for the other people. They were shouting for ladders and stirrup pumps so I said we’d got a garden hose which they could use. In the end they had one of my baths with the stirrup pump, and the hose up the stairs, then there were three of our pails in use, both shovels and forks. I never in all my life knew anything like it people don’t seem to have anything to use. When we first went to help there was Gladys and I and Mrs Self with about 4 men and we worked till we were all in keeping them supplied with water. You see there were no fire engines or anything to come because there were so many bigger fires. By the time the “all clear” went some wardens with stirrup pumps had arrived.
Anyway the roofs of Deek’s & Robinson’s houses are gone but they managed with that little lot (Mr Robinson had a hose as well) to get the fire under control so that the bottom rooms are saved. John opposite got their front sitting room which is upstairs burnt out. Their suite is lying out in the front garden all burnt. Gladys and I still speak as though we’ve colds, it was the smoke no doubt. H.E.s were dropped as far as we know so far, one where the plane crashed, one in the prison yard, that was the one no doubt which I held my breath over, another huge crater in the road in front of the barracks, just in front of that part of the bank where a soldier is on sentry and where Gladys says they have a gun, another at the road at the bottom of the barracks.
Vincent Road has a lot of houses down with Ladiman’s drapery shop at the end, 9 people were dug out of that road. The little tin chapel is all buckled up. The first bungalow next to the houses opposite the library on Plumstead road is burnt out. Harvey lane sports club Carrow is all gone. This afternoon when Gladys took Neva out she said the Eastern C buses, 18 of them were parked in Valley Drive. I’ve enclosed Saturday’s Evening News cutting. I have a feeling we’ll get it tonight, I hope I’m wrong. The Bishops have lost everything in the second bedroom, and Violet is gone away because she is so upset. Gladys and I got wrong with her for she stood against their shelter while we were running down the garden with our things, running on a lot of dribble, and when she asked me what the time was, I told her I hadn’t looked and she had better go look herself if she wanted to know. She said she couldn’t leave Ian, Gladys said “Ian be damned why the hell don’t you do something to help”. As soon as the “all clear” went, she was out at the gate gossiping, then they all hailed in next door to have tea. I’d just made some tea for those who were working on the pumps for which they were very grateful. Gladys took a turn and gave them a rest twice. A little later when we were still taking pails of water (young Eric was a little brick) somebody started shouting for water. I thought perhaps a fire had broken out in another house, but no it was Violet throwing a faint, and I could freely have thrown the pail of water over her. Mr Clarke the soldier worked ever so hard and he was jawing because he said Deek’s house could easily have been saved if anyone had been there. Poor woman they’ve taken her to the Country she is expecting her baby any minute. I felt so sorry for her although she was not making any fuss. The N & N hospital is hit and I don’t know half.
The photographs I’ll send with this letter in case anything happens. I hope you’ll like them. I wasn’t going to send the small one but Gladys said yes. I’ve put it on one of your mounts. They were the only two kinds left to take and I was there by 11am. The small one was 3 for 6½ d and the large 3 for 2/6 both finished better than the other. Goodbye my darling, I hope you are all right. I haven’t got your usual letter for the week end, perhaps it will come tomorrow. I hope we shall be spared to see each other again, but it makes me doubt at times. Still we’ve had a very happy time together that is more than hundreds can say, and I still love you with all my heart, and after nearly 16 years you are still my whole world. Goodbye dearest,
All my love