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Devon County

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War Memorials



Boys of Plymouth's Civil Defence Corps

On 11 March 1941, the Duke of Kent came to Plymouth. Here, in this old newspaper photograph, he can be seen inspecting representatives of the City's Civil Defence Corps.

But look again. Apart from the pensioner at the far end, this line-up consists of children. These very brave youngsters were used to form communication lifelines between ARP Command Posts, running through the City and its environs with messages while bombs rained down and fires raged  about them.

Amazingly, most survived the blitz but others, like 15 year-old David Gibbs, did not.  His home received a direct hit and his family were killed outright but David never knew about that - while this was happening, he was delivering official messages across the streets of Plymouth, when he too was killed.


A - B C - D E - F G - I J - L M - O P - R S T - V W - Z


Many figures have been suggested for the total number of people killed in the bombing raids on Plymouth but it is probable that none are definitive. From the outset of the war, Plymouth had among its residents, a huge shifting population of civilians from outside the City  - civil defence  personnel, fire fighters, nurses, dockyard workers and so on - single people living among strangers who did not know them - strangers who, in the midst of their own tribulations, may not have noticed their absence.

Some years after the war ended, Tony Dean of Plymouth began researching this scenario. Thanks to him, for instance, we now know that on 22 April 1941, an Air Raid Shelter at the back of the Technical School in Devonport received a direct hit. At the time, it was recorded that one woman - Olive Spracklan - was the sole casualty. It appears that after some weeks, a decision was made that the shelter should be repaired and brought back into use so workmen were sent in. They reported, on 11 June 1941, finding the bodies of a man and a woman who have now been identified as Phyllis Shortman (19) and Edwin Brazier (38).

The fact is that Plymouth's bombing produced hundreds and hundreds of casualties. Whole families were wiped out in an instant, with children being particularly vulnerable to the masonry falls which characterised so many  incidents. Tracing and identifying casualties would have been an overwhelming task in any event - with the infrastructure of such a large City totally wiped out, it was a miracle that it happened at all.

So we should forget totals and remember each individual tragedy recorded in these lists. And we should also remember those who somehow survived among the flattened, desolate ruination that Plymouth became and who, in sheer defiance of the enemy, kept alive their own spirits and the spirit of their City and became a glowing example to the rest of the country.


To read samples from the BBC's archive collection of people's memories of what is was like to be in Plymouth at the time, go to








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