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Home   Canterbury   News   Article

Exhibition recalls dark days of the Blitz

01 November 2001
Janet Smith with items that were commonplace during the Second World War, including dried milk. Picture: GERRY WHITTAKER

Janet Smith with items that were commonplace during the Second World War, including dried milk. Picture: GERRY WHITTAKER

AN EXHIBITION commemorating the Blitz bombings on Canterbury featured some unusual wartime memorabilia. Visitors to the Westgate Towers museum could inspect items salvaged from the ruins and listen to accounts of the devastation wrought on the city.

The exhibition was organised by the Canterbury Museums. Assistant curator Martin Crowther said: "Canterbury was one of a number of historic cities in Britain targeted by Hitler during his bombing campaign. The exhibition created a picture of life in the city in that period."

Canterbury sustained the most severe damage on June 1, 1942, when bombs rained down on the historic rooftops during Hitler's Baedecker Blitz.

The Baedecker Blitz, which relied on mapping by the renowned cartographer, was part of the Nazi campaign to target historic cities in England, in retaliation to British bombing of Lubeck. Other cities targeted included Coventry, Plymouth, Exeter, York and Norwich.

Mr Crowther said: "Most of St George's parish at the top end of Canterbury was destroyed. The main feature to survive is St George's clocktower." Before the bombs were dropped on the city, German aircraft lit the skies with flares so pilots could target the centre.

One theory, said Mr Crowther, is that the flares were carried by the wind and the heaviest bombings missed their target Ð the Cathedral. He said: "It wasn't so much high-explosive bombs that did the damage. It was incendiary bombs which pierced rooftops and set fire to the contents of a building. If people were on hand to douse them, they could just about be dealt with."

In fact, a team of four men were posted on the Cathedral rooftops ready to scoop the incendiary bombs off the building.

Among the items on display at the exhibition was the remnant of a German incendiary bomb.

Other items included a helmet, a gas mask, some rations books, some powdered milk, a White Cliffs Of Dover record and an unopened can of powdered egg. Wartime charts teaching citizens how to tell enemy air-craft from allied planes were also on show.

Younger visitors showed keen interest on the "plane-spotters" game, where they spun a disk which would reveal an unidentified plane. Players had to decide on the spot whether their "spotlights" had picked out friend or foe.

Mr Crowther said: "The items all belong to the Canterbury Museums and although there not of significant monetary value, they are of enormous historical value. It's good for visitors, particularly children, to be able to see some of the memorabilia - I think it helps people to understand and learn how it was in Canterbury during the war."

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