Bodies and bedding blown into the street during blitz

The remains of the C&A store in Commercial Road, January 1941.
The remains of the C&A store in Commercial Road, January 1941.
Passchendaele. Picture: Imperial War Museum

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For those of you who have a child or grandchild aged 10 try to think how you might cope under the following circumstances.

John Coghlan told me of this experience during the blitz on Portsmouth on the evening of January 10, 1941, when there were still another four years of war to come.

Commercial Road, Portsmouth  ' the site of Landport Drapery Bazaar and C&A.

Commercial Road, Portsmouth ' the site of Landport Drapery Bazaar and C&A.

He was 10 and lived in what was then known as the Victoria Hotel, Surrey Street, now the Surrey Arms.

After midnight on January 10/11, 1941, firemen from Gravesend, Kent, assisting the Portsmouth services, aimed their hoses at the blazing C&A and LDB Stores in Commercial Road opposite Edinburgh Road junction.

Earlier, one of the numerous incendiary bombs had started a fire in the Circus Church adjacent to the Victoria. Fortunately, this was noticed by his father who immediately broke down the front entrance door and extinguished the fire before it took hold.

John said it was thought the main reasons for the destruction of the shopping area were the large display windows being blown away by the high explosive bombs which allowed the fires to spread so rapidly, as well as there being few fire wardens on the premises.

About 3am when the raid was over the family was told to leave the Victoria as an unexploded bomb had been found nearby.

They took their few possessions, which they always had ready, and went to a pub in George Street, Buckland, [the landlord was Jack Simons] where they ‘lopped out’, as John put it, on bar seats, totally exhausted.

On their way, near to Arundel Street, John can remember seeing bodies and bedding which had been blown out of bombed premises.

After dawn John’s father returned to the Victoria fearing it might have been looted. He and his mother then walked to Cosham railway station to join a long queue for the few trains available.

They finally got to Fareham and arrived near Highland Road late in the evening to stay with relations who were unable to make contact as there were few operational phones.

John says: ‘We were all very lucky to escape injury or worse. One exception was Walter Pitt the husband of barmaid Maud Pitt. He was killed when the first bomb fell on the power station where he worked as a turbine driver.’