Norwich Air-Raids

The Preliminary Raids – September 3rd, 1939 to March, 1942

In the year prior to the declaration of war, Norwich prepared itself thoroughly: building air-raid shelters and sandbagging important buildings such as the Guildhall (left).

During the early months of the war itself, numerous air raid warnings were sounded in Norwich, including one on the very day that war was declared; ten months elapsed however before the city experienced an actual attack.

A considerable number of bombs had been dropped before that date in neighbouring areas, but until June 1940, one month before the first Norwich raid, the only casualties appear to have been a few farm and wild animals killed, with quite minor damage to property.

Lowestoft was the first place in this part of East Anglia to suffer loss of life through a German bombing raid.


Although quite a number of raids were carried out on the city of Norwich in this year, damage to property was mostly confined to residential areas. Many of the raids were at night or in the early morning, but the most damaging visitations, and those that caused many of the casualties, took place in the afternoon or early evening.

The city's death-roll for the year amounted to sixty-one, of whom twenty-six were killed on the 9th July during the first raid which Norwich sustained.

9th July, 1940. At about 5pm eleven bombs of the whistling type were dropped by a Dornier 17 and a Junkers 88; they included several incendiaries which fired part of a warehouse on the Salhouse Road (just beyond the city boundary) and high explosives which fell both on Boulton and Paul's Riverside Works and on Carrow Hill.

At the latter place some 40 feet of the old City Wall east of the Wilderness Tower (left) was blown down. The most serious aspect of this raid was the high casualty list - due to the incident coinciding with the time at which Colman's employees were leaving work for the day, and the fact that no air-raid warning had been given.

19th July, 1940. At about 6.15am a lone enemy raider dropped a stick of bombs which damaged or destroyed the following places- 78-80, Bull Close Road; the garage of the Cat and Fiddle inn, Magdalen Street; 33-35, Botolph Street; 172, St George Street; 45-47, Pitt Street; and (by fire) the Norwich Aero Club rooms just beyond the city near Heartsease Lane. Although the sirens were not sounded, there was but one casualty - an old lady who was taken to hospital and died some days later.

30th July, 1940. At about 6am a number of bombs dropped by a single enemy raider caused some damage and casualties, Victoria Terrace, Pegg's Opening, being the scene of several deaths, as four or five of the houses collapsed and there had been no warning sounded. Other places involved included the printing works at Colman's; houses in Argyle Street and Compass Street; 68, Ber Street; the Omnibus Station, Surrey Street; and in front of 25-27, Surrey Street (below). The portico of the last-mentioned place was blown to pieces, but as it possessed some historic and artistic interest the fragments were collected together with the hope of effecting a restoration after the war. Unfortunately they were destroyed by fire in a later raid as they lay in the builder's yard.

1st August, 1940. At about 3.15pm a single enemy raider dropped bombs which fell at Boulton and Paul's Riverside Works, causing a great blaze in the Joinery department and the office. The first incendiaries to fall within the city boundary were dropped during this raid. Several workmen and others were killed. Many windows were broken around by King Street and Foundry Bridge, and before leaving the raider machine-gunned the streets. No warning was given. It was subsequently announced, both by the BBC and in the Press, that Norwich had been attacked. With the exception of an air attack on Dover harbour, no newspaper until this time had been permitted to divulge the name of any town or city raided.

On the 2nd August, 1940, a deputation from the Norwich City Council met representatives of the Ministry of Home Security in London regarding the sounding of sirens whenever an air attack upon the city seemed imminent, and urged that the system of air raid warnings should be adjusted so as to make this possible. The deputation was assured that active and urgent consideration was being given to the matters which they had put forward, and that adjustments would be made in the light of experience.

10th August, 1940. Just after 6pm three bombs were dropped on the city, one falling upon a timber shed at Carrow Works. Little damage was caused.

20th August, 1940. At about 6am a number of incendiary bombs were dropped, falling in Surrey Street; Davey Place; outside the Guildhall and at the Home and Colonial Stores, 40a, Magdalen Street. The latter shop suffered most, with a shattered plate glass window, some of the contents being destroyed. Damage otherwise was negligible.

19th September, 1940. In the early hours of the morning a bomb fell at the narrowest part of Theatre Street (left), but fortunately failed to explode. It embedded itself in the path against No.4, sinking deeply into the soft subsoil. People were evacuated from the immediate vicinity until its removal five days later by the disposal squad. Digging took place for the best part of a day before the tail was sighted, after which came the delicate task of unearthing the rest of the bomb, removing the fuses and hauling the missile out of the crater. It was then conveyed to Harford tip for investigation.

At the same time as the above incident, a search was conducted in the gardens of the Bishop's Palace following statements which suggested that a bomb might have fallen there. The investigation centred upon a disused well, formerly covered in, which was located about ten yards from the north transept of the Cathedral. Excavations to a depth of nearly thirty feet were made without any sign being discovered that was suggestive of a bomb having fallen there.

27th October, 1940. At about 6pm a number of high-explosive bombs fell around the outskirts of Norwich. A bungalow in Orchard Close and another in Furze Road were demolished.

1st November, 1940. Three incendiary bombs were dropped in the Larkman Lane area but only very minor damage was caused.

11th November, 1940. Several incendiary bombs fell in the early hours of the morning causing small fires in the Thorpe Hamlet district, but all were extinguished with little difficulty.

2nd December, 1940. Just before 6pm bombs from an enemy aircraft fell in Norwich, demolishing 49, St John Street and 49, Bracondale. Damage was also caused to the Orchard Tavern, 38, Mountergate. A bomb which fell in the Cloister Garth (right) of the Cathedral did no damage beyond shattering some modern glass. There were several fatal casualties.

11th December, 1940 (early). A single enemy aircraft dropped bombs at the foot of Carrow Hill, demolishing 10, Dunston Cottages. One of the occupants was killed and another injured.

21st December, 1940 (at night). A high explosive bomb was dropped in Rye Avenue, Mile Cross. It fractured the water and gas mains and broke a number of windows, but caused no casualties.


Although during this year Norwich was not subjected to any sustained attack, material damage was greater than in 1940 when the raids covered roughly a similar period. The casualty list however was considerably smaller. Twenty people were killed and twenty-eight injured. Only two of the attacks were made in daylight. They were of the hit-and-run type, carried out by single raiders that approached the city under cover of heavy cloud.
5th January, 1941. At about 10.30am an enemy raider dived from clouds to drop a number of bombs on the outskirts of Norwich. They fell on Eaton Golf Course and the City of Norwich School playing fields but did no material damage. The Unthank Road district (left) was afterwards machine-gunned but the only result was a number of smashed tiles and windows.

4th February, 1941. Bombs fell during the night damaging Boulton and Paul's Riverside Works, and at Plumstead Road damaging a number of houses and bungalows. Two persons were killed and a few injured.

18th February, 1941. A single raider caused considerable damage when it dropped a heavy bomb of the whistling type at Vauxhall Street at about 5.15am Many houses, shops and other business, premises were destroyed and eight people were killed and 12 injured.

27th February, 1941. During the morning several bombs were dropped on Barnard's factory, Salhouse Road. Some damage was caused to the building but there were no casualties.

14th March, 1941. Thirty or forty incendiary bombs which were dropped by enemy aircraft during the night in the St Benedict's Street area did little damage, through the alertness of street firewatchers and others. One bomb lodged on the roof of St Swithin's Church but although it melted the lead it was extinguished before the roof timbers were set ablaze. The most serious damage was to a private garage and car.

30th March, 1941. Bombs dropped during the night by an enemy aircraft did little damage. They fell on Caernarvon Road and at the back of 130, Earlham Road occupied by Mr W.J.Finch, then Sheriff of Norwich. Nobody was injured but one of the occupants at the latter address had to be dug out of the wreckage.

2nd April, 1941. A number of heavy bombs were dropped in the Riverside district during the afternoon, killing one of Steward and Patteson's draymen whilst at work. The raider also machine-gunned houses and other buildings, but little material damage was caused. A party of workmen escaped unscathed when a bomb fell fifteen yards from a surface shelter in which they had just taken refuge. A large fragment of bomb crashed through the roof of the Shirehall (right) and fell into the courtroom during a Quarter Sessions sitting but nobody was hurt.

29th April 1941. High explosive bombs of varied calibre, oil bombs and other incendiaries were dropped during the night by a raider whose chief target was the extensive works of Colman's (left) where several mills were burnt out. Of eight casualties only one was fatal. With three major fires raging at the same time the services were hampered by a series of misfortunes. A water main was fractured; a building collapsed into the river at a point from which water was being taken, and roads which the services would normally use were blocked.

5th May, 1941. Enemy aircraft dropped high explosive bombs during the night which destroyed some houses in Bury Street and blew out the fronts of other houses on Unthank Road. At the same time a few incendiaries were dropped in another part of the city, one falling on the roof of St Michael at Pleas Church, but the fire was extinguished before any serious damage was done. There were several casualties, three of which were fatal.

7th May, 1941. During the night bombs were dropped on the Larkman Lane Estate killing a Mr and Mrs Britcher and three of their six children. The other three had to be taken to hospital. Although many other houses were damaged only one other person was detained in hospital. A newly erected school on this estate and a Mission Church also suffered.

10th May, 1941. At about 2.30am five bombs were dropped in a line in the Cecil Road area; there were no serious casualties. A flat in Lady Betty Road was demolished by a direct hit, and houses in Cecil Road were damaged by a bomb which fell near the A.R.P. post at the junction with Grove Walk. Another fell at the rear of the house of Mr Clifford White (Sheriff 1941-42).

17th May, 1941. At about 1am two heavy bombs were dropped at Old Lakenham, a short distance from the Lakenham Baths, and the Villa Gardens, Martineau Lane (right). Although the walls of the house withstood the terrific blast, many windows were broken and the tiles were stripped from the roof, some of the timbers of which collapsed.

Furniture in every one of the eleven rooms was twisted and broken but in spite of this nobody was killed and only three people required hospital treatment. The panelling from one of the upper rooms of this house (which dated from the early 17th century) had for a number of years been preserved in the Keep of the Castle Museum. During the same incident several semidetached houses on the nearby Long John Hill also sustained considerable damage.

30th July, 1941. A stick of bombs was dropped near Marl Pit Lane, Dereham Road during the early hours of the morning. Apart from the uprooting of a tree no material damage was done.

8th August, 1941. Late at night eight bombs were dropped near Church Farm, Eaton, but failed to explode.

From this date until the heavy raid on the city of the 27th April, 1942, Norwich enjoyed a period of quiescence; a good many air raid warnings were sounded throughout this time but no incidents of note occurred.

Bombed by enemy aircraft on some twenty-seven occasions during the period dealt with above, Norwich suffered hardly any damage throughout that time in-so-far as its antiquities were concerned. The majority of the raids were carried out by single enemy aircraft - those that came during daylight hours approaching the city under cover of heavy cloud. The brunt of these attacks was borne by houses and shops.

The "Baedeker" Raids – April 1942


As already mentioned the period of quiescence which commenced in the middle of 1941 was rudely shattered on April 27th of the following year by the first of the several blitz raids which the city was to endure. The second followed in rapid succession two nights later, with a third on June 27th and a fourth on August 2nd. Incendiary bombs accounted for a large proportion of the damage done during the latter occasions. The total number of casualties for the year amounted to over 250 killed and many hundreds injured to a greater or less degree.

Equally vicious raids were being carried out at the same time upon such towns as Exeter, Bath, Canterbury and York, which, like Norwich, could hardly be counted as military objectives. Indeed it appears that they were deliberately selected from the famous Baedeker Guidebooks in which they were starred as cultural centres containing many places of historic and archaeological importance, and bombed as a direct response to Britain's bombing of the historic German city of Luebeck on March 28.

27th April, 1942 (at night). Considerable and widespread damage was done in various districts, mainly in working-class and residential areas, during a raid which lasted for well over an hour and which commenced with the release of many flares over the town. Anti- aircraft fire was not particularly heavy but this was apparently due to the pressure of R.A.F. night fighters whose machine-guns were heard.

Tracer bullets were also seen. Several hundreds of small houses, new and old, were more or less heavily damaged, but as the raiders concentrated more upon the residential areas rather than the city proper, the majority of the famous old buildings of Norwich escaped serious damage.

Unfortunately, for the same reason (and also no doubt because of the long preceding period of quiescence) casualties were heavy, 162 being killed (including firewatchers, ambulance men and a Home Guard) with over 400 people being injured.

From the heavily attacked areas many made their way at the height of the raid for shelters on the outskirts of the city. With bombs screaming down on all sides, firemen worked feverishly to control the conflagrations. Five units from neighbouring towns assisted the Norwich Fire Service. One of the worst hit areas was that of Heigham Street, the Westwick Depot (above) being one of the many buildings in that district which were reduced to a mass of rubble. The firewatchers there were killed.

The former Orchard Tavern (right) was also destroyed.

Much of St Augustine's School was wrecked; the Norwich Institution for the Blind was damaged by the same stick of bombs which wrecked the roof of the Odeon Cinema in Botolph Street. The Public Assistance Institution on Bowthorpe Road received direct hits from both high explosives and incendiaries, but many of the inmates were in the shelter at the time and unhurt.

The upper floors of the Grapes Hotel (left), a late Georgian house by St Giles' Gate, were gutted.

But it is useless to record odd incidents - a page could be filled merely by listing the names of the places which were either destroyed or damaged in varying degrees. In all parts of the areas attacked the scene was the same on the following day - houses and shops demolished or severely damaged, and the streets deep in broken glass, tiles and masonry.

At a number of points digging was proceeding for trapped people and many families, soot-covered but free of injury, were rescuing what they could of their belongings. It has been estimated that 185 heavy bombs of a total weight of over 50 tons were dropped on this occasion.

29th April, 1942 (at night). Norwich was still in the first stage of its efforts towards restoring some sort of order after the sharp attack made by the enemy during the night of the 27th when on the Wednesday it was again the target for a reprisal raid.

This time the people were ready for it, and practically every family went under cover. Anderson, Morrison and street shelters must have saved the lives of hundreds of the inhabitants of working and middle-class houses during the re-enactment of Monday night's scenes in different parts of the city. Incendiaries caused much of the damage - one of the largest areas affected in this manner incorporating Curls' department store at Orford Place, and both sides of Rampant Horse Street (right) as far as but not including St Stephen's Church.

Part of St Stephen's Street with the famous old Boar's Head inn (left), Barwell's, Peacock's, and beyond that several of the large factory buildings of Caley's were also involved.

A warm tribute was paid to the Norwich people for the way in which they stood up to their grim ordeal, and to the Civil Defence Services, the Town Clerk and his department, the Chief Constable, the Fire Service, and all auxiliary services, by Messrs.Shakespeare and Strauss, the city's Members of Parliament, who also expressed admiration for the way in which the matrons of the various hospitals had evacuated patients to the basements.

During this, the second heavy attack on Norwich, it was estimated that 45 tons of bombs were dropped, including 112 high explosives and numerous incendiaries. The death-roll amounted to 69 and there were 89 seriously injured. Public funerals of many of the victims of both raids took place at the Norwich Cemetery on the 4th, 5th and 7th of May. The Bishop of Norwich, the Dean, the Lord Mayor and other notabilities attended the first of these ceremonies, and the address was given by Dr Gilbert Laws of St Mary's Baptist Church.

Amongst the other losses of the 27th and 29th April were the churches of St Bartholomew in Heigham (right) and St Benedicts (below); and parts of Oak St, Pitt St, St George's St, Gildencroft, St Benedict's St, Wellington Lane and Westwick St.

1st May, 1942. In the early hours of the morning many incendiaries were dropped, chiefly in Heigham Street, Duke Street and St Andrew's Street.

9th May, 1942. Enemy raiders who were over Eastern England during the early hours of the morning scattered their bombs over a wide area, many being dropped at the village of Stoke Holy Cross about three miles south of Norwich, although one was also dropped upon the boiler house of the Norwich Public Assistance Institution, injuring nobody. The aircraft were cruising in the vicinity for a considerable period, and were obviously harassed by the heavy anti-aircraft barrage. Two were eventually destroyed. One in East Anglia and the other near its base in Holland. [Editor's note added 03/2020 from information received: A Heinkel 111 from the raid was shot down by a night-fighter from 219 Squadron based at Tangmere. It hit a power line on the way down and broke up. The crew of 5 are buried in Brighton City Cemetery.]

On 26th May, 1942 a visit to Norwich was paid by the Duke of Kent who made an extensive tour of the damaged areas. He visited the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital where he talked to several victims and also the Norwich Institution for the Blind. The tour began with an inspection in front of the City Hall of members of the Home Guard, and Civil Defence Workers. Subsequently the Lord Mayor (Mr J.H.Barnes) received a letter from the Duke expressing his sorrow at the extensive nature of the damage suffered by the city, but stating how he had been impressed by the courage and fortitude of the inhabitants in such difficult times.

The Fire Raid – June 1942

27th June, 1942. Three enemy aircraft were destroyed when a small number of planes crossed the east coast in the moonlight of the early morning to attack Norwich for about an hour. Flares lit up the sky and incendiaries and high explosives were dropped which started several big fires.

Four wards of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, the main operating theatre, the Leicester Nurses' Home, as well as two smaller residences occupied by the staff, formed one of the major conflagrations, whilst not far off the large stores of Bonds of All Saints Green and Ber St, together with the Thatched Assembly Rooms (right) suffering a similar fate.

A determined attack was made upon the Cathedral, around which no less than 850 incendiaries were showered, but owing to the efforts of the firewatchers and to the fact that the whole of the inside roofing is a vault of brick and stone, the only damage suffered here was to the roofs of the north and south transepts where some of the lead was melted and the timbers burnt. Two or three old houses in The Close were gutted however, including the Audit Chamber and one of the Grammar School blocks.

Archaeologically, Norwich lost more in this than in any previous raid. Ecclesiastical buildings which suffered were the church of St Michael at Thorn in Ber Street, and of St Paul's, both of which were burned out.

St Julian's Church in King Street (left) had almost everything excepting its north wall and porch completely annihilated by a high explosive bomb.

St Mary's Plain Baptist Church, which was accidentally burned a few days after the beginning of the war and had since been restored, was again gutted - this time hopelessly so, and with its adjoining schoolrooms; and similar fates were suffered by the sacristy of St George's Roman Catholic Church in Fishergate; by the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Theatre Street (right); and the Synagogue in the street of that name.

Other buildings attacked and burnt included 20 Timberhill formerly the Star and Crown PH. 70 and Kett's at 72 St Giles Street (below) were similarly lost; as was Heigham Grove House, the City Maternity Home just beyond St Giles' Gate on the south side of Earlham Road.

Although a considerable part of Morgan's brewery in King Street was badly damaged, their offices in the 17th century Howard House came through almost unscathed.

In addition to all this, extensive damage to houses and business premises was caused (a total of 34 high explosives and literally thousands of incendiaries were dropped during the raid) but casualties were fortunately comparatively light - sixteen people being killed and fifteen seriously injured. Some of the raiders narrowly missed the housetops in diving to their objectives; there was heavy anti-aircraft fire and night fighters were busy.

One of the three raiders destroyed was a JU 88, shot down by a D.F.C.Squadron Leader flying a Spitfire; the JU was sighted by the pilot ten miles off the coast. Both aircraft opened fire but the German soon abandoned the fight for evasive tactics. Five quick attacks were made by the Squadron Leader with cannon and machine-gun fire and after the third burst the JU 88, with pieces falling from it, dived towards the sea. Suddenly it began to climb again, so the Spitfire pilot, closing to one hundred yards, fired two more bursts. There was a blinding flash and the JU went straight into the sea.

End of the German Initiative – July to December, 1942

28th July, 1942. In the early hours of the morning enemy raiders unloaded a shower of incendiary bombs over the St Benedict's area of Norwich, the most serious of the resulting fires being at Bretts of 15, St Benedict's Street, where the top storeys were burnt out and stock of considerable value was damaged both by fire and water. It was some time before the blaze could be brought under control.

Nearby, the lecture hall of the Independent Labour Party's premises at St Gregory's Alley was badly damaged and the sleeping quarters of the brewer at Bullards in Coslany Street were destroyed. In the same raid a plane believed to be a fighter-bomber released its missile so that it fell in the back garden of a house in Rowington Road.

Some of the houses whose doors and windows were shattered by the blast had been similarly damaged on three previous occasions. A wooden building used by Boy Scouts was demolished and the debris from it, together with a big shower of earth and stones from the very large crater, was scattered over a wide area. Most of the residents took shelter and there were no casualties.

2nd August, 1942. A small number of enemy raiders made another attack on Norwich early in the morning and showered incendiary bombs as well as a few high explosives during the course of a short sharp raid. Several fires were started, mainly in business premises, and there were five fatal casualties. Trevor Page, the house furnishers, had their premises in St John Maddermarket as well as on one side of Exchange Street largely destroyed by fire, and in the same block Back's wine shop (Exchange Street) and Frost's tool shop (Lobster Lane) (right) were also involved. In St George Street the upper part of the rear of the extensive premises of Gunton Sons and Dyball, ironmongers was fired, and here a caretaker was trapped in a lift and subsequently died.

At St Mary's Plain a considerable part of the factory of Sexton Sons and Everard was gutted and the ancient thatched house formerly the Rosemary tavern had its thatch destroyed and upper storey damaged. Two old people, both blind and one also deaf, were rescued from here.

Another boot and shoe factory in a different part of the city which was also burned out was Hurrell's of 96 to 100 Magdalen Street (left). Their offices were housed in a fine old Georgian mansion, the front of which had been modernised early in the 20th century. The residential district of Napier Street, which had already suffered badly in the April raids, was hit once again by a number of high explosives, and several families were rendered homeless.

13th August, 1942. A small number of enemy aircraft unloaded their bombs on the city during the night, causing only slight damage and no casualties. The raiders, which first dropped flares, were harried by fighters and subjected to heavy fire from ground defences.

A number of high explosive bombs which fell in a working-class district caused damage to Mousehold Avenue Infants School as well as to some houses nearby, but many fire bombs which also dropped in the vicinity of houses on the outskirts of the town burned themselves out harmlessly in fields and gardens.

5th September, 1942. Five people were killed and a number of injured had to be admitted to hospital when, during the morning, a high-flying raider dropped a number of high-explosive bombs on either side of Magdalen Street - a busy shopping centre in Norwich. Many women with their baskets rushed for safety whilst others gazed up to the sky.

The whole incident was over in a matter of seconds. Among buildings hit were the engine room of Frazer's Joinery Works at St Martin at Palace Plain, and Batson and Webster's factory at Fishergate (where were most of the casualties). The remainder of the stick fell in a back garden at the rear of Boots the chemists in Magdalen Street (close by the Old Meeting House) and in the centre of an old house – 3, Calvert Street (right) - which had been gutted by fire in a former raid.

Ancient dwellings on the opposite side of Calvert street (below) were also considerably shaken.

On the 12th October, 1942, His Majesty the King paid a surprise visit to the city in order to see at first hand the extent to which Norwich had suffered during air raids, and to inspect members of the Civil Defence Services who had done commendable work during and after the attacks. Several hundreds of men, women and boys, representing a score of branches of the Civil Defence Services, paraded outside the City Hall. So well had the secret of the visit been kept however, that few of them were aware that it was the King himself who was to make the inspection. During a 25 mile tour of the city His Majesty visited the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, the Cathedral and the Services' Club. Accompanied by the Lord Mayor (Mr J.H.Barnes) he motored through no fewer than forty-eight different streets including some in which extensive damage had been caused to residential property by the raiders.

19th October, 1942. A Dornier flew very low over the town at about 7.15am and dropped a number of bombs in the Carrow-Thorpe district, which exploded without causing damage or injury. Some machine-gun fire took place both before and after the incident.

19th October, 1942. At about 11am another raider dropped some bombs on the city and certain damage to property was caused. There was also one slight casualty. One of the bombs which fell in the Jenny Lind Children's Playground, Pottergate, demolished the end and part of the roof of the small building used by the Seventh Day Adventists. The shell of St Mary's Baptist Sunday Schoolrooms, burnt out some months ago in a previous raid, was hit, as was the building in Westwick Street adjoining St Lawrence's Church to the west, used by Edwards and Holmes as a shoe factory since the April raids when their works on Drayton Road had been destroyed. The adjacent church of St Margaret had its windows shattered and was otherwise shaken by this bomb.

3rd November, 1942. At about 8am a raider flew over Norwich and opened up with its machine-gun. Bombs (all of which failed to explode) were dropped in the Cattlemarket, All Saints Green and at the Surrey Street 'Bus Station.

5th December, 1942. Enemy aircraft flew over Norwich at about 1pm taking advantage of the cover of low cloud. Anti-aircraft defences and fighters went into action. A few bombs were dropped by the Heartsease Inn but no damage was done.

The Final Stages – January 1943 to May 8th, 1945


For this year we have noted only five raids on the city during the course of which bombs were dropped. All were on a comparatively small scale although that of March 18th saw the spectacular destruction of Harmer's extensive clothing factory in St Andrew's Street (pictured right for the Silver Jubilee in 1935). This reduction of raids, both in regard to their size and number, gave adequate proof (were any needed) of the fact that the enemy were feeling the pinch in other quarters and that the initiative had passed from their control to ours.

1st January, 1943. During the afternoon an enemy raider dropped a stick of bombs on North Heigham, a congested area of small houses in Norwich which had suffered in previous raids. Two houses collapsed and one was partly wrecked by blast, but there were no casualties as the inhabitants had all managed to reach their shelters before the bombs fell. Another bomb tore a hole in the south wall of St Barnabas Church, a building erected early in the 20th century. The fine east window lost several panes of glass and the roof was damaged. The church schoolroom and a number of houses nearby also suffered from blast. Other bombs which were dropped on the outskirts of the town did little damage and hurt nobody.

18th March, 1943. At about 10.30pm a small number of enemy planes became active over a wide area of East Anglia. Flying singly, several of them attacked Norwich and had to face a particularly heavy barrage which only one or two succeeded in penetrating. The remainder confined their attention to the outskirts. High explosives and a large number of incendiaries were showered on several localities and there was some damage to civilian and business property by blast and fire. Many of the bombs were of the explosive canister type, throwing out phosphorous projectiles which came to be known as flowerpots among A.R.P. workers.

The worst incident was undoubtedly in St Andrew's Street (seen to the left in this 1937 westerly view from the cathedral spire) where the large clothing factory and warehouse of F.W.Harmer was burned to the ground - a fate which might have been shared by the new Telephone Exchange opposite had not its windows been bricked up some time previously as a precaution. Three persons had to be admitted to hospital, one of them seriously hurt. Two houses on an out-lying estate suffered from a direct hit by a bomb of the canister type, which caused a fire, and there was similar damage in other parts of the town - to a doctor's residence and a public house. A pilot of a squadron which had shot down at least thirty-six Nazi aircraft and damaged many others was responsible for the destruction in ten minutes of two of the three enemy machines which were brought down during the course of this raid.

5th May, 1943. A small number of enemy raiders were over East Anglia between the hours of 3 and 4am They dropped incendiary bombs and a few high explosives over a wide area. Some damage to property resulted, but only three slight casualties were reported. The main incidents were once again centred around St Andrew's. The tower of St Andrew's parish church (right) was struck by portions of a bomb which ripped off the coping and started a fire in the priest's room above the north porch. A baker's shop which stood in Bridewell Alley within a few yards of the church was completely destroyed and in nearby Queen Street the Cathedral Restaurant and Bell's the estate agents' premises were gutted by fire; Plowright's the antique dealers' premises next door suffering severely from blast which scattered and smashed a quantity of valuable silver and glassware. Scores of fire bombs were also scattered over the Larkman Lane and Hellesdon districts but such good work was done by firewatchers and the N.F.S. who received a number of calls, that damage to residential property was not serious.

7th October, 1943. In a small raid which took place during the evening some high explosive bombs were dropped which caused slight damage to the railway.

6th November, 1943. A small raid was carried out on Norwich by enemy aircraft between half past ten and midnight. Firebombs were dropped in the Unthank Road district causing one or two outbreaks which were soon brought under control. Another bomb fell in Morse's the rose-growers grounds on Bluebell Road. One man who was slightly injured constituted the only casualty.

1944 - 45

No further damage by enemy action is noted as having occurred in Norwich during the last year and a half of war in Europe. The sirens continued to sound on frequent occasions but the raiders never succeeded in unloading their bombs on the city. September and October of 1944 saw the arrival of a number of rocket-bombs in the county but the nearest point to the city where any exploded was the golf course at Lower Hellesdon.

22nd April, 1944. At about 10.15pm a number of enemy planes followed allied aircraft back to their bases near Norwich. No bombs were reported to have been dropped but one of our planes was shot down in flames, crashing near Eaton Road on Daniels' Nursery Gardens.

13th July, 1944. Evacuees from the London area, taking refuge from the flying-bomb menace, commenced to arrive in Norfolk. About 20,000 arrived in the space of three days.

8th September, 1944. Further evacuees arrived in Norwich.

September and October 1944. During these two months the rocket-bombs fell in Norfolk. Although one or two fell very close to Norwich (notably on the golf course at Lower Hellesdon) none fell within the city boundary. Statistics in regard to this type of weapon (as far as the county was concerned) show that four were the most to fall in any one day, and the worst incident caused was at Rockland St Mary where twenty-one children and a woman were injured.

24th November, 1944. Whilst returning to its base in difficulties, an American plane flew low over the city during the afternoon. Its wing-tip struck the tower of St Philip's Church in Heigham Road (left) causing slight structural damage to the building but sufficiently upsetting the craft to cause it to crash. As his last act the pilot managed to manoeuvre the machine so that it avoided a row of houses in Heigham Street and landed instead on some vacant ground near the railway. All the crew were killed. A bronze plaque to commemorate their gallantry was affixed to the houses so nearly destroyed and was unveiled by General E.C.Kiel, Commanding General of the 8th Fighter Command, U.S.A. Air Force in November 1945.

The Reckoning

Throughout the period of the war the eleven city sirens sounded no less than 1,488 alerts, the first being sounded on the first day of the war and the last on the 27th March, 1945. The total amount of time taken up was 1,887 hours 51 minutes, or 79 days.

The Norwich air-raid casualty list amounted to 340 killed and 1,092 seriously injured. A total of 681 high explosive bombs were dropped within the city boundary during the war.

Information concerning the amount of repair work which was necessitated by these raids was contained in a detailed report made by the City Engineer to the Housing Committee of the Corporation and the following summary appeared in the Norfolk News dated January 6th, 1945:

"The first air raid on Norwich was on July 9th, 1940 and subsequently up to April 1942 there were other small or single-plane raids of a similar character which occasioned damage to houses, the maximum at any one time being 360. The repair work caused by these raids was carried out by the Corporation without outside help. The much heavier raids in April 1942 however, necessitated help being brought in from other parts of the county and further afield. A fairly elaborate organisation to operate the repair work had been prepared by the City Engineer well in advance and this generally proved successful in spite of exceptionally difficult circumstances caused by the loss of the Corporation's central depot and stores at Westwick Street.

"Materials were supplied by the Corporation through central stores which operated for some time from sheds and other temporary buildings set up at the Barker Street Depot. For distribution purposes sub-stores were set up in houses in various parts of the city and were staffed by workmen who carried out their task with considerable success. At one time over 160 contractors were operating in the city and under the terms of the contract had to be paid weekly.

"The total cost of the work occasioned by all raids during April 1942 and since was approximately 1,060,000 of which 280,000 was for materials and haulage. Other work, such as repairs to roads and sewers, was carried out by the City Engineer's department as well as over 2000 removals of furniture, whilst 850 loads of furniture were stored.

"The following statistics tell their own story: - Dwelling-houses - Totally destroyed 358; not repairable 1678; badly damaged, vacated, repairable 1158; badly damaged but habitable 1539; moderate damage 25,621; total 30,354.

"Industrial Establishments, offices and business premises and public buildings - Totally destroyed 80; not repairable 129; badly damaged but repairable 258; moderate damage 508; total 975.

"First-aid repairs were carried out to 29,398 houses, this figure including 3511 houses damaged a second time, and 144 damaged a third time. More substantial repairs were carried out to 24,811 houses. Of the 2697 badly damaged houses the local authority has repaired 2326 and 228 have been or are being repaired privately.

"All available Corporation employees were engaged on the work augmented by men from 68 different builders, contractors and maintenance staffs of industrial firms in the city, 42 country firms, 28 Yarmouth contractors and 24 London contractors. The special repair service of the Ministry of Works also sent down a squad of men, the biggest number being 500 in May 1942. The average number of men employed from the blitz to the end of 1942 was 1530 per day. The greatest number employed was during May 1942 when 2001 were employed on a single day.

"Repairs were done to 23,450 ceilings, 2300 chimney stacks and 19,850 doors and window frames. Glass used to repair windows totalled 610,000 superficial feet."

Photos: post-war reconstruction of Orford Place
Curls (Debenhams) Department Store, 1953-55

Text and photographs copyright George Plunkett