While for many the Blitz will always be associated with London, other cities also suffered. One of the primary targets for the Luftwaffe was the major naval base at Devonport, Plymouth. The city was heavily bombed and suffered extensive damage with many casualties. Someone who lived through the bombing was Irene Harris. She later recalled her experiences of living in Plymouth during the attacks.
“Matt, my boyfriend, was exempted from call-up for a while because he was needed at home. He worked at Devonport Dockyard building ships. It got embarrassing when people in our village started to whisper: “Who is this young man from London? Why isn’t he fighting like our men?
Then the Germans started bombing Plymouth. When Matt got home he found the house in which he was living was destroyed. After helping to pull out the dead and the wounded he helped the firemen put out the fires. He carried a lot of jewellery out of a shop that was on fire and laid it on a table in the road. It never entered into his head to put it in a safe place like his pocket. Then a policeman said: “I think you had better get the shoes out of the shoe shop.” A young lad about ten years old helped him but after wading through all the water and hot cinders the poor lad’s boots were hanging off his feet, so Matt fitted him up with a new pair from the shop.
Matt had nowhere to live and everybody’s nerves were stretched so we decided to get married and live in furnished rooms. You could get married quickly in those days. The registry office had been bombed. All the windows were gone, as well as half the house. The room we got married in had a rough wooden table and a few odd chairs. Most of the guests had to stand. It wasn’t a bit like a wedding. When it ended the registrar said: “We will now say the Lord’s prayer.” I was so depressed I could not prayer. What should have been so lovely was so sad. We were married on May 21st 1941 and the following September 10th, Matt got called up. I only saw him a few times after that until the war ended.
We had huge oil tanks standing at the edge of our village. These were bombed and after catching light they burned for days. The whole village could have caught fire so we were evacuated into schools where we slept on the floors. In the mornings we would line up for a piece of bread and a slice of corned beef. We were then taken to Plymouth in coaches to do our work but the factories were all bombed so we lined up at the unemployment offices. People were just milling around, utterly bewildered and confused. I don’t know how the authorities sorted it out.
There was no gas so we lived on stews made on the fire. If we ran out of coal, the meat and vegetables would be put in one dish, your name and address would be written on a piece of paper and stuck on top. This was taken to the local baker who charged four pennies for cooking it in the bread oven. At 12.30 the villagers would all gather around the baker and in would go that big shovel that normally brought out the bread. Oh, the lovely smells, believe me, we never had enough to eat.
One day we were told the gas mains had been mended and was to be turned on at a certain time. Thank God we would be able to cook again. But when it came on something went wrong and we had explosions all over the place. People were killed and even a poor horse standing with a cart in the road was blown to pieces. We had to wait several months before we were able to cook again.
Our house was built on a rocky slope that reached right down to the beach. When the Germans came to bomb us we would go down to the beach-house and use it as a shelter. We felt that the rocks around the boathouse would protect us. All around us was Plymouth Harbour. Flying boats were stationed there. They were of course manned with airmen. The flying boats were a target for the Germans and when they were hit some of the men were blown into the sea. The petrol poured out of the planes and caught alight. It was as if the sea was on fire. These poor men were surrounded by it. Their screams were dreadful. My lovely, gentle brother, Albert, could not take it. He used to lie on the floor with his head in the dog kennel trying to hide from it all. When he was eighteen he had to go and fight. He certainly did his share. He as two years behind the big guns before he collapsed with shell shock.”