Blitz victims honoured 70 years on

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Seventy years ago tonight Portsmouth's Guildhall was ablaze.

It would be another two days before the fire died out leaving nothing but a blackened shell.

Elsewhere, there was carnage, the heart ripped out of the city centre in a blitz of German bombing aimed at destroying Britain's premier naval port.

Most importantly though, the air raid of January 10, 1941, left 171 people dead, 430 injured and 3,000 without a home.

Today, in a symbolic and moving open-air ceremony on the steps of that proudly rebuilt Guildhall, Portsmouth was remembering its war dead and that dreadful night seven decades ago.

Between 1940 and 1944 more than 1,000 people died as a result of Luftwaffe raids on Portsmouth.

And today the names of those 1,013 people, ranging from weeks-old babies to men and women in their 80s, were being read out in a poignant roll-call honouring Portsmouth people who died in their city.

The commemoration – the ?rst of its kind – was being staged on the 70th anniversary of the massive German air raid which violently changed the face of the city forever.

City council leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: 'The reading of the names in Guildhall Square is a mammoth undertaking, the ?rst time we have done anything like it.

'It is right and proper that we continue to remember those from this city who died in the front line, but also those who died as civilians.

'The raid on January 10, 1941, changed Portsmouth forever. We live with its impact every day and we should never forget it.'

Don Murdoch, 81, of London Road, Widley, was 11 and living in Tokar Street, Eastney, during the raid.

He said: 'Those of us who survived will never forget that night. We will also never forget the empty desks when we got back to school of those who didn't survive. To honour those who died in this moving way is a marvellous way of ensuring they are never forgotten.'

As well as the ceremony in Guildhall Square, a plaque was also being unveiled outside Portsmouth's Anglican cathedral in memory of the 14 who died when a bomb fell on 101 High Street, Old Portsmouth.


During the attack on Friday, January 10, 1941, more than 300 German aircraft dropped 25,000 incendiaries and dozens of high explosive bombs on Portsmouth.

The sirens sounded shortly before 7pm for the raid which lasted most of the evening.

There was a short lull while the planes returned to their bases in northern France to re-arm.

At one time 28 major fires were burning in the city with no effective water supply to fight them. It, along with electricity, had been knocked out early in the attack.

In total there were 2,314 fires caused by the massive raid with firemen called in from all over the country to tackle them.

Every school in the city was closed until the following Wednesday while families, split up by the raid and the ensuing chaos, attempted to reunite themselves. Many didn't.

The city's air defences, gun batteries surrounded Portsmouth including one on Southsea Common, claimed to have shot down two of the raiders.

When they finally headed for home they left the Guildhall blazing and in ruins and a trail of death and destruction.

The main shopping centres in Commercial Road, Palmerston Road and King's Road were destroyed.

Also gone were six churches, the Eye and Ear Hospital, part of the Royal Hospital and Clarence Pier, the Hippodrome theatre in Commercial Road, the Dockyard School, Connaught Drill Hall, Central Hotel and the Royal Sailors' Rest.