28th September 1942: Air Raid on Colchester

Up at 7.  Pouring with rain.   

About 11 o’clock I heard a plane flying very low a little to the west, than at once a tremendous crash of bombs.  A few people were running towards the rear of All Saints Church.  Just outside Geernant’s [shop] was a lump of bomb casing, about 9” long, lying in a pool of water, steaming.  At first I thought it was an incendiary.  A road-man pushed it into the gutter with his broom.  There were several other pieces in Queen St., and Culver St., and I was sure the bombs must have fallen fairly near.  The workmen and girls from Adams’ Garage were all outside, laughing and talking about pieces which had hit the glass and tin roof.  There were bits of broken tile in the road by the Cross Keys, and a shop window was cracked at the corner of St Nicholas’ Street.  No sign of anything else, and people looking in shop windows with their umbrellas up, traffic running up and down the High St.

I called at Lancasheer’s in Queen Street, and collected two prints which I am giving to Joanna [as a wedding present], and found that a skylight had been broken there.

We loaded up Joanna’s presents, called at Neale and Robarts for the tea buns, and soon learnt the worst.  [Bombs had fallen across South Street, Chapel Street, Wellington Street and Essex Street].  There were shop windows out at Headgate, - Murdoch’s, Benner’s, Daldy’s old shop, Reeman & Dansie’s, Smith’s and a dozen others.   

I asked a policeman if he knew anything about Charlie Brooks and Bob Cooper, but he had no information, and would not let me by the rope.  Plowright was at the end of Princess St., loading somebody’s bedding onto his coal cart, but he knew nothing either.  I walked down St. John Street.  Windows out all along the north side of the street.  Noticed the usual crowd queuing for the Playhouse afternoon show.  Chapel Street, shut, and again refused permission to go through.  Ambulances and fire-tenders parked all along here (Why firemen?  No sign of any fire).

Walked through the folley to Walsingham Road and up Cedars Road.  Windows out all along, Plymouth Brethren Chapel had a lot broken, fragments of brick, coping-stones and iron railings all over the road.  People standing at their doors.  

No rope at Chapel St., so I pushed into a crowd and began to see what had happened.  Brooks’ forge was comparatively intact, but every window was out.

There was one block [of houses] gone in South St., another in Chapel St., another in Wellington St., and a fourth in Essex Street.

There were dozens of wardens, rescue men and demolition men about, while a party worked on one place almost opposite to me, throwing out pieces of wood, soaked clothes, broken chairs.  Heard somebody say there were six dead.  Then a young boy came away from the ruin, and said to a warden near me “They can see her back and legs now.  She’s under the dresser,” referring to a body which was then being dug out.  An ambulance drove up and stopped near by.  There was a pile of stretchers on the opposite pavement.  The rain came down even harder than ever.

I could not wait any longer, so went back to The Bull, and looked in at Rose’s to collect sandwiches.  Even in Church Walk a window was smashed, next door to the café.  Rose seemed as busy as usual.

Drove out of the Bull [with Robin], crunching over broken glass, with much shying at heaps of rubbish.  Got to Birch in good time, very wet.  Delivered the presents.  Dull meeting.  Much talk about the wedding, and the Chairman warned Committee members not to come in cars, in case of trouble with the police.

Drove back in pouring rain.  As I was feeding Robin, P.C. Bennall brought in a sheep which had been found in Beveny’s garage.  Both boxes were occupied, so I put it in a pig stye and fed and watered it.  I suppose it must have strayed off the Wick.

Back to the office, finished letters, and then up to the Post Office.  Up Chapel Street I could see a long line of red lights, stretching away up the hill.  Head Street was full of laughing soldiers and girls.  Cycled to Lawford very tired, and thankful to be there safely.

This air raid caused the second highest loss of life in Colchester during the Second World War, after the tragic air raid on Severalls Hospital in August 1942.  More details on the effects of this daytime air raid on Colchester on 28th September 1942 can be found in E.J. Rudsdale's book. CP

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