Spirit of the Portsmouth blitz: bacon and eggs served on a newspaper

David Yates recounts a story his mother used to tell about the night of January 10/11,1941 when Portsmouth was overcome by the blitz.

Saturday, 25th March 2017, 6:00 am
Updated Saturday, 25th March 2017, 12:10 pm
David Yates, right, outside 23, Garnier Street, Fratton. The original front room of the house is where he is standing.

Many of you might have visited the Troxy cinema in Fratton Road, either when it was a cinema or perhaps afterwards when it became a bingo hall.

In its final guise it was a wholesale shoe shop.

It closed a fortnight ago and will no doubt be demolished for more housing on overcrowded Portsea Island.

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The largest air raid on the city took place on the night of January 10/11 and began about 6.30pm.

There were many patrons in the Troxy that evening and when the raid began large words were displayed on the screen telling everyone an air raid was taking place outside and they should either go home or they could remain in the cinema as the film would continue.

David’s great-grandfather Harry Baker, a retired sailor, was sitting in the cinema with his 13-year-old grandson Bill.

Half-way through the film an announcement came over that an air raid was taking place and anyone who wanted to leave for the shelters should go immediately as the doors to the cinema would be locked with those who wanted to remain left inside.

Harry decided to stay put with Bill.

Meanwhile, at 23 Garnier Street, just around the corner from the Troxy, events were occurring.

Resident were David’s grandmother Elsie Booth and her two daughters Rene, 17, and the girl who would later become David’s mother, Doreen, aged just three.

There was an impatient knock at the door and when answered there stood an ARP warden.

He told the family to get out as quickly as they could as the roof of the house had been set on fire by incendiary bombs and was about to cave in.

Elsie rushed upstairs where Doreen was lying in her cot.

The room was ablaze and Elsie was surrounded by flames.

However, she managed to get Doreen down the stairs. Before running from the house Elsie managed to grab a photograph of her wedding off the wall. It is a family memento to this day.

Everyone was outside the burning house standing on the pavement in their night clothes. Eventually they were taken to a rest centre where they were reclothed.

Elsie could remember that there was no pressure in the water for the fire engines and many buildings were just left to burn themselves out.

When the bombing had ceased, Harry Baker and young Bill came out of the Troxy and walked down an ally on the left hand side of the cinema which is still there today, where it came out into Garnier Street.

One of two boys rushing past said: ‘Cor mister, there’s a house well on fire in Garnier Street.’

Harry stepped into Garnier Street and indeed saw that it was his house, the only one hit, and, yes, it was ablaze.

Not knowing if his family were safe, Harry suffered a stroke and fell to the pavement.

He survived, but was deeply affected by the experience.

The following morning David’s grandmother returned to the house and actually lit a fire in the grate in the front room.

There she served bacon and eggs on a newspaper to her family.

It had started to rain and as there was no roof things were somewhat dampened – a true case of the spirit of the Blitz, as it was called.

In months to come, the Troxy will be no more but what stories it could tell if bricks could talk.

In the photograph David, on the right, is standing on what was once the front of the front room of the house before it was burned by the incendiaries.

In the doorway is the present owner, Harry Davies.