When bombs rained down on Exmouth
SEVENTY years ago this week, on February 26, 1943, eight German fighter bombers took off from an airfield near Caen in France to attack Exmouth.
Each plane carried a 550lb bomb and was armed with cannons and machine guns.
In the subsequent air raid, the worst in terms of casualties Exmouth suffered in the Second World War, 25 men and women were killed and another 40 taken to hospital.
Flying in from over the sea, the planes split into groups of four, then cut their engines and glided in at tree-top height over the town, guns blazing and dropping bombs.
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In the Strand passengers waiting for a bus sought shelter in shops on the other side of the road.
A bomb burst through the roof of an amusement arcade then skidded down the road before crashing through the window of a tailor's shop where it exploded. A row of shops collapsed and 18 people died, including those who had fled from the bus stop.
Seven more bombs fell in other parts of the town, one hitting the gasometer and setting it ablaze.
Many other buildings were badly damaged and seven lives lost.
Because of the relatively large loss of life, extra gravediggers were recruited from Sidmouth with more help given by the Royal Marines.
At 3, Cranford Avenue, Esther Rowley graphically described in her 1943 diary how four of the German planes raced above her lawn, machine-gunning and dropping bombs nearby, as the house swayed, windows shook and her terrified dog, Domino, raced out of the house barking as she fled with one of her cats in her arms.
In his book Dogs, Goats, Bulbs and Bombs, author John Folkes of Nadderwater, near Exeter, compiled entries from four of Esther's diaries. The incident and the aftermath of the following day are described over two pages.
After the raid, two of the Herman Focke-Wulf planes were shot down by two Hawker Typhoon fighters from the Rhodesia squadron based at Exeter.