Bathonians will be gathering in Victoria Park this coming Sunday, April 24th for an Act of Remembrance on the 80th Anniversary of the Bath Blitz – also known as the Baedeker Raids.
The service is to be held at the City War Memorial – which is just before the Queen Square entrance to the Royal Avenue – at 1 o’clock.
It will be led by the Reverend Roger Driver, who is Rector at St Michael’s in Broad Street, and a wreath will be laid by the Mayor of Bath, Cllr June Player.
The following account of those terrible events – in which 417 people lost their lives – has been provided by the Mayor’s Office.
The Bath Blitz – also known as the Baedeker Raids
Saturday, April 25, 1942. By all accounts a warm and sunny spring day, with the promise of a moonlit night to follow.
In Europe, North Africa and the far East, the Second World War raged. Britain had suffered, in the bombings of London and major cities like Coventry, Southampton and Bristol.
Bath had watched the bombing of Bristol from afar, as nighttime skies lit up with flashes of high explosive and incendiary bombs rained on its neighbour.
But until that night, Bath itself had seen little of the war. It was a tourist town, not a military target.
Then came the Baedeker Raids.
That March, the RAF had bombed the historic German city of Lübeck. Its cathedral and ancient half-timbered city centre were destroyed. U-boat and aircraft factories in Rostock, a Baltic port, had also been targeted.
Baedeker was the name of a popular German travel guide. It is widely believed, though not at all certain, that Nazi planners used it to select historic cities in Britain for reprisal raids: on Exeter, Norwich, York, Canterbury and Bath.
Over the course of the weekend and into Monday morning there were three raids on the city. Bath was just an hour and a half’s flying time from the Luftwaffe’s airfields in northern France, and was only lightly defended.
The first raid came an hour and a half before midnight on April 25. The bombers returned to their airfields, refuelled and returned for a further attack at about half past four on the Sunday morning.
The third and final attack came shortly after midnight on the morning of Monday April 27. This time there was no second raid. But Bath had been permanently scarred.
Historic buildings such as the Royal Crescent suffered significant damage. The Assembly Rooms, restored to their Georgian glory only a few years previously, were a burned-out shell. The East Window of Bath Abbey, the Lantern of the West, was shattered.
A direct hit on Second Avenue, Oldfield Park, destroyed 20 houses.
But even more terrible was the human cost. The final death toll over the two nights of the Bath Blitz is placed at 417 people.
Some 1,500 people found temporary accommodation in Civil Defence rest centres. Thousands more were displaced – after the first raids, some became “Trekkers”, moving out to the fields of Englishcombe, Batheaston and Newton St Loe to avoid further attacks.
The bombers did not return, but Bath and its citizens were left to remember – and to mourn the dead.