Southampton In World War Two
Written in conjunction with the BBC Remembrance Website
Looking out from the restaurant balcony of Southampton's West Quay shopping mall across the Retail Park towards Leisure World, it is difficult now to imagine the scene in the final year of WW2. Then, in the foreground stood a transit camp for German POWs guarded by soldiers of the American 14th. Major Transportation Corps.
Southampton docks laboured under the movement of three and a half million troops, supplies and equipment bound for the European theatre of war. Southampton High Street was mostly destroyed, and much of the rubble had been pushed towards Town Quay to construct the Staging-Hards for D-Day. From Millbrook to West End hundreds of bombsites littered the town.
Southampton was the seventh heaviest bombed city in Britain. It was considered an obvious target; it was Britain's Number One Military Port, and the home of Spitfire production. Therefore, Southampton's air-raid precautions were advanced and preparations in the borough were intensive. The first blackout exercise in England was staged in Southampton in June 1937, and the town was well provided with shelters. The historic Bargate, and many of the town's 600 year old underground vaults were utilized as bomb shelters.
Southampton was raided 57 times, and three raids were classified as major attacks. The first bombs fell on 20 June 1940 after which a pattern emerged of strategic daylight raids on aircraft factories, shipyards, docks and railway lines, with occasional small scale attacks on populated areas and sometimes machine gun strafing of streets.
There is a strong folk memory of certain incidents and attacks. These include the leaflet drop,' A Last Appeal to Reason, by Adolf Hitler': the sight of Flight Lieutenant J. B. Nicholson baling out of his burning Hurricane over Millbrook, only to be shot by an over excited Home Guardsman: the attack on the International Cold Storage Depot setting alight 2300 tons of butter, which ominously burnt for 9 days: and the harrowing destruction of the Civic Centre School of Art.
In late September heavy raids destroyed the Vickers Supermarine Spitfire factory at Woolston, but amazingly Spitfire manufacture continued through the dispersal of production into a variety of buildings including garages, laundries and bus stations.
The increasing number of attacks ratcheted up the level of fear in the town culminating in three major raids at the end of November 1940. The raids were of similar duration and intensity. They commenced around 6.30 p.m. and lasted between 5 to 7 hours, with 120 bombers streaming in on each raid. The glow of Southampton burning could be seen from as far away as Cherbourg.
Most of the High Street and thousands of homes were destroyed or damaged. Two thousand firemen mobilised from surrounding brigades to reinforce the courageous local fire fighters, but incompatible equipment and lack of water supplies rendered the situation hopeless.
It was Southampton's darkest hour. Accounts of people's reaction varied widely ranging from the Southern Daily Echo's, 'these people survive today amazingly cheerful, and full of courage'; to Mass Observation unit's, 'people are broken in spirit', and the controversial Hodsall Report (made public in 1973, and heavily refuted) claiming incompetence of the local authorities.
There had been numerous acts of individual heroism, and most people remained defiant. But understandably the most immediate public reaction to the blitz was to vacate the town at night, and for a while 'trekking' became a way of life for some people
Although sporadic attacks continued, the worst was over with the last big 50 bomber raid in June 1942. The Spring of 1942 was a turning point. In February the docks re-opened to receive Lease-Lend cargoes from America.
Then there followed the gradual build up to D-day and Operation Overlord, with Southampton people playing an important role working long hours in the factories and ship yards, and building the Mulberry Harbours. South Western House became the headquarters of Combined Operations Military Movement Control.
The US Army 14th. Major Port Transportation Corps arrived in July 1943 and took over docks organisation. One of their final tasks in 1946 was the embarkation of British war brides for the USA and Canada.

Southampton Blitz : The Unofficial Story. Compiled and edited by Claire Frankland, Donald Hyslop and Sheila Jemima. Publication: So'ton Local Studies Section Oral History Team (1990).
Southampton and D-Day, Peckham, I. Hyslop, D. & Jemina, S. Publication: So'ton Local Studies Section Oral History Team (1994).
Southampton's Children of the Blitz. Andrew Bissell. Redpost, Bournemouth (2001)
Southampton: The English Gateway. Bernard Knowles. Hutchenson (1951).
Southampton at War 1939-1945. Anthony Kemp. Ensign (1989).
The Southampton Blitz. Anthony Brode. Pub.Barry Shurlock Winchester (1977).
Got Any Gum Chum; Reminiscences of War Time Southampton. Marion Ainsworth. ISBN 187356001X
Springboard for Overlord: Hampshire and the D-day Landings. Anthony Kemp, Milestone Publications (1984)
Hampshire Evacuees. Eric Wyeth Gadd. Paul Cave Publications (1982).
Hampshire and D-Day. Martin Doughty. Hampshire Books (1994).
Southampton An Illustrated History. (Chapter 12) Adrian Rance. Milestone (1986).
An Account of the Blitz, Lawrence Burgess. Pub. by Friends of Old Southampton (1981).
Yanks At Southampton. Paul Pothecary ISBN 0 902129775

A WW2 Photograph from Monica
Dear Mr. Simpkin,
As I mentioned at your talk last Tuesday to the U3A, I was on your "Blitz Walk on the Monday and thought you would be interested in this old photo of wartime which requires a little explanation. The occasion was the day my father received his long awaited Home Guard uniform and we decided on a family photo of us all in uniform.
Dad had been in the Home Guard right from the beginning, but now he had a uniform and a gun. (there was also a Sten Gun which was kept right by the kitchen door). My brother in the strange looking uniform on the left was a member of the Army Cadet Force at his school. The uniforms were left over from the Great War - no concessions there !

Cornforth Family
Copyright Monica Cornforth
These uniforms caused trouble when the boys were exercising in the school yard one afternoon and a Messerschmit swooped out of the mist and raked them with machine-gun fire - fortunately none of them were hit. "Lord Haw-Haw" announced over the radio that the Germans had attacked big concentrations of troops at Odiham that day. They also dropped a bomb, but that is another story. I am the girl-guide on the right. I don't think my cat would have put up much of a fight.
At the time we were really expecting the invasion at any time, watching every night Southampton burning in one direction and Portsmouth in the other. My father was a most happy man and he never looked as stern as this, but if Hitler had come who knows ! We all survived the war except for the cat who was run over by a tank. Hope this might be useful for your archives.

Sincerely Monica Cornforth.

PS I did enjoy both the Blitz Walk and the talk on Southampton Parks.

Pearl Miller's Memories...
My son and I watched the dvd this morning and I am absolutely delighted with it. Am going to order one for my grandson for his birthday later this month. Steve and I were very taken up with the American soldiers carving their names in the wall - we hadn't heard of that before.
I was born in 1939 and as a small child lived in Romsey Road fairly near Maybush corner. I recall one or two incidents towards the end of the war- one being the 'marbles' which were turned out at Green Lane and which my friends and I used to pick up on our way home from school. Another memory is that of having a ride on an American soldier's motorbike. Gosh, we used to trust people in those days, didn't we? It must have been a very short ride (from Green Lane to Maybush Corner). Several children were given this 'thrill' and I happened to be the last one as I lived nearest to Maybush Corner.
Another thing I recall is a trip to Bournemouth when I was about three. My father attended to all the sound equipment for the aerodromes - Hurn, Ibsley, Thorney Island, and others which I can't recall. On one occasion my mother and I went with him for the ride and I remember there being lots of barbed wire along the beach at Bournemouth (or some seaside place) and as I was paddling a huge wave drenched me and we had a long wait for my father to finish his inspection. There were several American soldiers relaxing on the beach and they saw that mum was in a bit of a dilemma, so they sat with me whilst she went off and bought me a dress.
I don't know how she managed to pay for it or get enough coupons but I remember the dress as clearly as anything. It was yellow and white check with a white collar. I am often amazed at the trust she put in these chaps, because as far as I can recall I only wore a coat to keep me warm as it wasn't summer, and everything else was soaking wet.
Sadly mum died when I was 17 as she had been ill since having rheumatic fever as a child
I recall going to the Co-op in St.Mary's and having tea and cakes in the restaurant and it was furnished with Lloyd loom style tables and chairs, but I cannot remember the colour - it was definitely either peachy/pink or turquoise. I know the tables were glass topped.
I also remember Lyons Tea House where mum and grandma would take tea on our trips to town. There were lots of wooden barriers along the road there stopping people falling into the bombed areas and I tore a coat on a nail protruding from one of these fences.
I have so many odd memories of those post war years. My grandma and her friend who lived in Janson Road, must have looked a strange sight in Shirley. They were extremely smart and must have looked rather odd walking along in their tailored suits, fox furs, white gloves and posh hats. They'd look even more odd now, wouldn't they?

Fact File
57 raids
1605 air-raid alarms
475 tonnes of High Explosive bombs (2361 bombs)
31,000 incendiaries
631 dead: 898 seriously injured: 979 slightly injured.
963 homes destroyed
2653 demolished
8927 seriously damaged
32,019 slightly damaged
(Source, Knowles,1951)

Merchant Navy Memorial is the blitzed ruin of Holy Rood preserved to commemorate the 38,000 members of British Merchant Navy who were lost in WW2.
The Cenotaph. Located in London Road.
Civilian War Memorial. At Hollybrook Cemetery; a raised platform of Purbeck stone, with a Portland stone wall containing the tablet.
Roll of Honour of Civilian War Dead. A heavy gold embossed Remembrance Book - located in Mayor's Reception Room.
Memorial Plaque in Hoglands Park, on site of public shelter which received a direct hit.
The Art Gallery Chamber, Civic Centre.
WW2 Memorial Plaque. Located south side of The Bargate.
The Supermarine Memorial. Located in Spitfire Walk, Woolston.
The Battle of Trebouba. Memorial Plaque located in Trebourba Way, Millbrook.
US. 14th. Major Port Transportation Corps. Memorial Plaque attached to Southampton's Mayflower Memorial, located opposite the Royal Pier.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial, Holly Brook Cemetery,
and a second memorial at Southampton's Crematorium.
Burma Star Memorial. Located in Grosvenor Square (off Bedford Place)
Jack Mantle, V.C. A children's corner at Municipal Sports Centre.
The Polish Community. Located in Bowden Lane, Swathling.

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