Twist of fate saved Portsmouth mum and baby from air raid cellar death

Some 12 years ago my book Portsmouth – City of Gallant Hearts was published. It recorded the many stories and anecdotes concerning the years of war in the city and I spoke to many who survived but lost family members.

Saturday, 20th July 2019, 7:00 am
Updated Saturday, 20th July 2019, 7:00 am
The remains of The Bedford in Chase on the corner of The Hard and Clock Street, Portsea, the morning after it was blitzed. Picture: The News archive.

The book included a roll of honour of names and addresses of those lost, plus where they were at the time they were killed.

Two members of one family killed in Portsea were Ivy Burton and her daughter Barbara.

On December 15, 1940, 16-year-old Barbara wrote a letter to her aunt Hilda telling her about the bombing and how awful it all was. Six days later Barbara and her mother, who were sheltering in the cellar of The Bedford in Chase pub, which was on the corner of Clock Street and The Hard, died with four others when the pub took a direct hit.

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Ivy, left, and Barbara Burton who was 16 when this picture was taken. Both were killed in the cellar of The Bedford in Chase pub.

In the long letter, part of which is seen here, Barbara mentions her baby cousin Richard and how his grandmother was ’simply nuts about him’ .

Unbelievably, last week I was contacted through my publisher by a man in Wolverhampton. It was former Portsmouth man Richard Green who was the baby mentioned in Barbara’s letter to Hilda, Richard’s mother.

He happened to be in Portsmouth last week, bought the book in a museum and was astounded at what he found. He tells me but for the fact his mother was feeding him both would have also been in the cellar and perished.

Richard says: ‘Before that raid in December 1940, the sirens went one one night and she wrapped me in a blanket and, holding my two brothers by their hands, made a dash for the shelter. When she reached the shelter she went to hand me to somebody… and I wasn't there! I'd slipped out of the blanket and she had to run back looking for me. She found me lying on the pavement!

Part of Barbara Burton’s last letter.

‘After the raid on December 23, 1940, we moved to Kings Road. Our house was destroyed in a later blitz. Fortunately, mum had taken me and my two brothers, Maurice and David, to the shelter. Dad was away serving in the Royal Navy. He had managed to convey to her through a code they had in letters, where he was stationed – Ardrossan, Scotland. When she came out next morning to find our home destroyed, having lost her relatives in the earlier raid, she had no alternative but to try and go to dad.

‘ It took 48 hours of travel in blacked out railway carriages to reach Ardrossan. She presented herself at the dockyard gate and explained her predicament to the sentry. Dad later appeared, and we spent the next several months living in digs down the road from the dockyard. I was christened in Ardrossan.’

‘Baby’ Richard today. Richard Green, the baby in Barbara’s letter. A former Portsmouth Grammar School boy he now lives in Wolverhampton.