It is often the children who are most affected by war and WW2 was no exception. A poignant example of the terror experienced by a child is a quote from a young girl who survived the Southampton Blitzkrieg.
“There must have been some sort of warning before the sirens and when the barrage balloons went up, I knew it meant danger. I was very frightened. I used to rush down the garden to go headfirst into the shelter.”
Being within easy reach of German airfields in France, Southampton was an easy target for the Luftwaffe and a strategic one. Over the course of the war, 57 raids were carried out with approximately 2,300 bombs dropped. Six hundred and thirty one citizens were killed and 898 were seriously wounded. The damage was extensive with 45,000 buildings damaged or destroyed.
Why was Southampton such an important target for Nazi Germany? Southampton was a busy naval port and Woolston was home to the Vickers Supermarine factory which was making Spitfire planes. The industry employed thousands of technicians and engineers. By 1940, production was at full capacity to meet the demands of the RAF who were desperate to replace the planes lost during the Battle of Britain. The factory was hit in September 1940, with much of the factory destroyed and 110 people killed. In the aftermath, Vickers Supermarine successfully dispersed its activities throughout Hampshire for the rest of the war, therefore making it difficult for the Luftwaffe to either find or destroy their works again.
Two dates stand out most due to the ferocity of the attacks. On the evenings of 23rd and 30th November 1940, there was such intensive bombing that the city’s water supply was ruined. Many of the fires, ignited by German incendiaries, had to be left to burn themselves out. The glow of the firestorm could be seen as far away as Cherbourg on the coast of France. The Nazis claimed they had left the city a smoking ruin as this American newspaper headline shows.
An earlier raid on 6th November, almost destroyed the city’s Art Gallery. The raid targeted the Civic Centre; as Hermann Goering head of the Nazi Luftwaffe had arrogantly observed – it looked like a ‘piece of cake’ from the air and he would ‘cut himself a slice’. In the course of the attack, 12 bombs were dropped including a direct hit with a 500lb high explosive on the Gallery. This bomb penetrated the roof, finally exploding in the basement killing 35 people including 15 children.
A tragic footnote: A gentleman by the name of Edgar L. Perry and his wife were killed on 23rd November 1940 in the Southampton Blitz. Edgar had worked as a coal trimmer on the doomed vessel, RMS Titanic, and had survived its sinking in 1912.
In Her Secret War, my heroine Sarah Gillespie arrives in Southampton and witnesses first hand the destruction wrought by the Luftwaffe the previous winter. However, Sarah finds the citizen’s defiance in the face of such adversity inspiring, giving her the confidence to follow through on her own pledge to thwart the Nazi regime in any way she can. Sarah begins work at Vickers Supermarine but, unfortunately for Sarah, her family’s dark past catches up with her and she is forced to take on a mission that could cost her life if she is to prove her loyalty to the Allies.
A Life-changing Moment – A Heart-breaking Choice – A Dangerous Mission
Her Secret War will be published by Avon Books UK/Harper Collins on 14th October 2021
Available to pre-order now: http://smarturl.it/HerSecretWar