SEVENTY years ago today the people of Spalding woke up to the devastating impact of the Second World War – after a bombing raid that killed five people and destroyed many of the shops in the town centre.
On the night of May 11/12, a day after the last major Luftwaffe attack on London and several towns in the Blitz, at least 24 high explosive bombs and hundreds of “incendiaries” were dropped on Spalding, while RAF Sutton Bridge was also struck.
Historian Alastair Goodrum (pictured, right) has pieced together the events of that night for his book “No Place for Chivalry”, which is about the RAF night fighters’ battle with German warplanes.
In the book he details how the big raid followed a bombing raid on Friday, May 10, 1941 – when bombs were dropped on homes in King’s Road, Pinchbeck Road and West Elloe Avenue.
Air raid sirens sounded out just before midnight on the 12th – when one of Herman Goring’s feared flying forces unloaded 12 bombs on Cuckoo Road – close to the railway line that then ran from Spalding to Bourne.
About an hour later incendiary bombs rained down on shops and homes in and around the old market place in the middle of Spalding. Alastair’s book details how the bombs were described as like “pebbles clattering” as they hit roof tiles and soon sparked off major fires.
The blazes quickly got beyond the control of the Spalding Urban District Fire Brigade and Auxiliary Fire Service – and help had to come in from Peterborough, Boston and Bourne.
The impact of the attack destroyed well-known premises such as Pennington & Son in Hall Place and Sheep Market, Harris & Son jewellers, Freeman, Hardy & Willis and the Home & Colonial store in Hall Place.
Other premises reported as “totally gutted” included the County Court office and Liberal Club in the Crescent and Boots in the Market Place and Woolworths in Bridge Street.
Our newspaper printing works were also hit and the Free Press had to be printed elsewhere for three months afterwards.
The raid was not over there though – and the third and final enemy bomber swept in from the south east, laying 12 bombs across a mile-long residential area from Matmore Gate to St Thomas’ Road.
Alastair said: “For a small town this was quite a big blow.
“I believe it was a deliberate attack by three planes as part of railway and airfield targets in Eastern England.”
Between 1am and 2am three enemy planes made a separate attack on RAF Sutton Bridge.
A total of 16 bombs fell on parked Hurricanes, setting two on fire and causing serious damage to seven others.
Many people believe that Spalding was bombed because it was mistaken for Boston or Peterborough, or out of mischief from pilots who still had bombs left to drop as they headed back across the sea after raids elsewhere in land.
But Alastair believes the town was in fact targeted directly, especially due to having no fewer than six railway lines converging on Spalding in 1941.
The town lay at the junction of the existing Peterborough to Lincoln line as well as the now non-existent tracks linking the town to Boston and Grimsby and linking Leicester to King’s Lynn.
The lines would have been a vital back up route to the east coast main line.
However, none of the railways were knocked out by the raids – with bombs narrowly missing key bridges and junctions in the town’s network.
In his book, Alastair wrote: “Whatever the reason though, the raid became a clear indication to the ordinary citizen of what ‘total war’ really meant.”
The tragic cost of the raid came as five people were killed and several others seriously injured.
Our newspaper contained limited information about the raid at the time – and pictures printed on May 27, 1941 did not name Spalding as the “market town in Eastern England” left scarred by the raid for security reasons.
It was not until mid-1942 that “The Blitz on Spalding” was fully reported where we wrote: “The attack shortly after midnight on the Sunday has left ugly scars on this little market town, so ruthlessly selected as one of the Nazis ‘military objectives’.”
We reported how the emergency services were praised for their brave battle to fight the flames that ripped through shops in the town centre.
At the time Urban Council chairman Mrs K Mulley said: “I have moved among the people who have suffered and I have been impressed by their courage and patience.
“I am sure we are all agreed that the services involved carried out their duties with tireless devotion, The brunt of the fight fell on the fire services, who worked heroically.
“They have won the admiration of us all. The town is indeed proud of them.”