Night of German bombing sent city’s people fleeing

People queuing for buses outside the New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth, in January 1941
People queuing for buses outside the New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth, in January 1941
The Royal Pier Hotel, now Rees Hall.

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The anxious faces say it all – would they get out of the city before the next raid?

In their winter coats and clutching all they could grab in battered suitcases, these Portsmouth people were fleeing German bombs.

This was the morning after the night before – Saturday, January 11, 1941.

The previous evening 300 Luftwaffe planes dropped 25,000 incendiaries plus high explosive bombs on the centre of Portsmouth.

There were 2,314 fires, 3,000 people were left homeless, 171 killed and 430 injured.

This picture, taken by an Evening News photographer, was shot outside the White Swan and New Theatre Royal in what was then Commercial Road – now Guildhall Walk.

It comes from Sheila Stokes, of Drayton, Portsmouth, who says: ‘It shows Portsmouth citizens boarding Southdown buses to spend the night over Portsdown Hill to escape more bombing.’

The 21-year-old woman with her head turned to face the camera in the centre of the photograph is Sheila’s friend Dolorus Gatt.

Sheila added: ‘She lived at Lion Terrace at the time which is long since demolished, but she is still with us at the grand old age of 92.’