Victims of Portsmouth bomb shelter tragedy are remembered

TRIBUTE Susan Harvey
TRIBUTE Susan Harvey
Grace Hutton after the cut
Pictures by Ellie Pilmoor

Grace, from Cosham, says goodbye to hair in memory of mum while Leanne, from Gosport, did the same for cancer charities

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SEVENTY years on, Susan Harvey is deeply grateful that her grandmother’s death in a devastating bomb blast has finally been commemorated.

The 62-year-old gave a moving speech at a service in honour of the 80 victims who died on January 10, 1941, in one of the Second World War’s forgotten tragedies.

Thanks to local engineer Robert Rowe, a memorial plaque stands outside the Total UK garage at the junction of Arundel Street and Besant Road, in Landport, formerly the site of the bomb shelter which took a direct hit.

Mrs Harvey, of Clarendon Road, Southsea, said her family was torn apart by the loss of not just her grandmother Nellie Tombs, but also two of her great aunts Pearl and Madge in the explosion.

She said relatives of those killed have had to wait too long for recognition of the tragedy.

‘I am so grateful to Mr Rowe for what he has done,’ she said.

‘So many families in Portsmouth were shattered by this tragedy.

‘I don’t believe my mother or her sister ever got over what happened – and they almost had a feeling of guilt for having survived.

‘My aunt has never walked past the garage in all the years since, because it brought back too many memories.

‘Now they finally have something that tells people what happened there and how much was lost.’

The new plaque bears the names of the 80 victims and was unveiled by their relatives – including Mrs Harvey – in an emotional ceremony attended by 100 people including the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Cllr Cheryl Buggy.

‘I read a short speech I had prepared as part of the service,’ said Mrs Harvey. ‘Then other people started coming forward to ask if they could speak as well. Some of what was said was so powerful and really brought home the scale of what happened.

‘Lots of people had waited decades to get things off their chests, and suddenly all that came pouring out of them.’

Mr Rowe, 63, from East Cosham Road, in Cosham, said he was overwhelmed by the number of people who turned up to pay their respects.

‘It was incredibly moving,’ he said. ‘I planned it as a low-key affair, but we had loads of people turn up, including councillors and the Lord Mayor. I have to say thank you to everyone who gave me their support.

‘It went better than I ever could have expected.’