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Exeter Stories

Exeter folk and friends in their own words - 1890's to the 1990's │ << Previous story │ Next story >>  │

Margaret Ball - the night of the 4th May 1942


On May 3rd, the night of the blitz, we went to bed as usual. We were awakened by the siren around midnight. My mother, my two sisters and I went downstairs quickly and crawled into the Morrison shelter. There was a mattress inside and we huddled together as the first bombs fell. The noise was deafening and we were all terrified. My youngest sister who was thirteen, began to cry. You could feel the ground shake as each bomb fell.

Suddenly there was one almighty crash. I thought the roof had fallen in on us, but it was the back door, blown off its hinges, which had landed on top of the Morrison shelter.

That loud crash was a bomb which had fallen on a pair of semi- detached houses on the opposite side of the road and completely demolished them, killing all the occupants. It was only 50 yards away. We felt we had a very narrow escape. Every time there was a bang, you wondered where the bomb had landed.

When the all-clear finally went we crept out of the shelter, glad to be alive. The floor was littered with broken glass from the sheltered windows and we were all barefoot and in our pyjamas. We looked out of the window towards the city and saw the sky was red. Hundreds of incendiary bombs had been dropped on the city and there were fires everywhere. It had been easy for the Germans to find Exeter. It was a clear night. All they had to do was follow the river. None of us could sleep for the rest of the night. We were in a state of shock. The next morning I cycled to work, outside the city. As I crossed the Exe Bridge I looked up at Fore Street, towards the town centre. there was a pall of smoke and dust and there were hosepipes everywhere, and fire-engines. It was absolute chaos.

That night 161 people died in Exeter and many more were wounded.

The miracle was that the Cathedral and the Guildhall, the two oldest buildings in the city, were both spared.

© 2006 Margaret Ball - David Cornforth

Margaret Ball was born in Exeter in 1922. She lived in Shakespeare Avenue when the Germans bombed Exeter on 4th May 1942. Here she writes of sheltering from the raid with her family.

Paris Street rubble 1942 Survivors picking their way through the rubble of Paris Street. Photo courtesy of the Express & Echo

A Morrison shelter measured 2 metres (6 ft 6 in) long, by 1.2 metres (4 ft) wide and 75 cms (2 ft 6 in) high. The welded wire mesh sides could be removed to allow it to be used as a temporary table. The shelter consisted of 219 pieces plus 48 nuts and bolts, and was supplied with the tools to assemble it. They were distributed free of charge to most people and by November 1941, over 500,000 were in use. It was a very effective shelter, and saved many lives.

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