Remembering the South West's Blitz

Image caption Nearly 300 people died in the Blitz in the region

Seventy years ago the full force of the Blitz hit Cornwall and Devon.

Plymouth and Saltash were the worst hit, leaving hundreds dead and many homes destroyed.

One of the best-known individual tragedies in Saltash was the loss of six firefighters in March 1941.

The men had crossed into Plymouth to help tackle the fires raging across the blazing city.

They drove over in a Packard taxi towing a water pump and never came back.

Barry Brooking, whose Grandfather was one of the men who died, said: "My Grandmother was waiting for my Grandfather to come home. He was the local area fire training instructor.

"One of the men who should have been there that night couldn't make it, so my Grandfather went and that proved to be a fatal decision.

"The equipment they wore was very basic. They had tin hats, overalls, oil skins and gas masks."

Michael Lavelle, from Saltash, was just four years old in 1941. His home was hit by an incendiary bomb.

Mr Lavelle said: "We'd had lots of air raids before and we'd gone down to the little shelter. This was a big night though. You could hear thumps and cracks and whistling with the bombs coming down.

"It got worse. You could smell the smoke. At three or four years old you just sat there but you knew something terrible was happening.

"When our house caught fire my mother hadn't had much time to do anything. She just managed to grab an armful of clothes. There was nothing for my parents, just clothes for the children."

Dee Blake was at primary school during the Blitz. She said: "Mum used to listen to Lord Haw-Haw. One evening he said that the dockyard into Plymouth is still standing and that the Royal Albert Bridge is still standing. My mother didn't sleep that night. She got really worried.

"Within a few days the Blitz was happening in Saltash. We had a lot of bombing. I think they were aiming for the dockyard or the bridge."

Ken Speare, another Second World War school child, said: "I can remember coming up from the air raid shelter, looking over Plymouth and there was this red glow in the sky of Plymouth burning."

Image caption The Royal Albert Bridge, built by Brunel, was one of the targets during the Blitz

The attacks on Cornwall and Devon during the Blitz have fascinated local historians for 70 years.

David Coles, the archivist for Saltash Heritage Museum, said: "Bombs fell sporadically from 1940 until 1943. The bad raids came in 1941. We spent many hours in the shelters.

"We think the Germans were trying to get the Royal Albert Bridge. Bridges are notoriously difficult targets to hit from the air. No bombs hit the bridge.

Fore Street in Saltash is on a direct line with the famous bridge. That area took most of the damage when the Blitz hit the Cornish town.

Mr Coles said: "Many houses and shops were destroyed. The last Tudor building in Fore Street took a direct hit and two people were killed.

"We lost our beloved cinema, which was our main source of entertainment in those days."

Nearly 300 people died in the Blitz on Devon and Cornwall in March 1941. One month later further attacks brought the toll to 590 deaths in the region.

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