I’ve lived in this town for 37 years, and although I’m not from here, I feel part of it, as much as I feel part of where I’m from. Even as my roots are in the south of Norfolk, here in the west of the county I feel at home, because like King’s Lynn itself, there’s something here of a feeling of being ‘othered’ – of belonging to somewhere else. And though King’s Lynn is firmly rooted in Norfolk history and geography, there’s always been a sense of it somehow being separate from the rest of the county; a long way from Norwich. On the Fen edge. Different. Unique almost.
Much has been written about the immense wartime punishment meted out on the medieval jewel that is Norwich, a punishment deserved simply for apparently being listed in Karl Baedeker’s travel guides. The damage done to that great old conglomeration of Saxon settlements in a series of WW2 bombing raids wiped whole swathes of irreplaceable architecture away from history; and taking with it hundreds of civilian casualties.
I write this not to compare Lynn with the occupants of the mass graves of Norwich, whose memory and legacy is well recorded in writing and in photography, but Lynn suffered too. Other than being a port, I know nothing of the motivation behind Lynn becoming a particular target. If the docks were the reason for enemy attention, it confirms the lack of accuracy displayed by both sides. Though much of the history of those events is less accessible, this is simply my attempt to pull some of the story of the effects of aerial war on King’s Lynn together; in particular the events during 1940-42 that caused fatalities through enemy action. We are approaching 80th anniversaries of some of the darkest nights in modern West Norfolk local history, and it’s only right we remember.
In the early 1980s I’d lived in the flat above Rowlinsons sports shop at 33 Norfolk Street, almost opposite The Eagle Hotel and Limberts chip shop, acutely aware that I lived between two former bomb craters in front and behind where I lived, and how significant that gap was back then. I used to park my car beside Paradise Lane, the link between Norfolk Street and the old cattle market which became a killing field on that particular night. The Eagle in particular is remembered in the history of Lynn for terrible reasons, and living opposite the rebuilt pub for a couple of years piqued my interest in the wartime tragedy that befell the place one midsummer evening in June 1942. But there is more to tell than that one event.
January 19th 1915
Before all this though, it’s worth remembering that King’s Lynn suffered some of the UK’s earliest aerial bombing fatalities, so that’s where I start.
On January 19th 1915, Zeppelin L4 swept across The Walks, following the railway line dropping random acts of death on the population. The railway line, and some of the other locations visited by Kapitänleutnant Count Magnus von Platen-Hallermund and Zeppelin L4 that late evening may become of interest again later in the tale, but on this well recorded occasion, L4, lost and believing it was over the Humber, wove a path along the West Norfolk coast from Thornham, dropping bombs via Heacham, Snettisham, Sandringham and, eventually Lynn.
L4 dropped eight bombs on Lynn, beginning in the vicinity of Tennyson Avenue railway crossing, then Bentinck Street (where the swimming pool is now), East Street/Albert Street (behind The Eagle pub in the now Albert Street carpark), on to the rear of St Ann’s Street and the Alexandra dock with the final two falling on and near Cresswell Street as they departed. Unbeknown to the crew of L4, they’d come perilously close to striking a genuine military target in the fledgling wartime aviation industry at Savage’s St Nicholas Ironworks, but that’s another story.
For the purposes of this short tale, it was bomb three that fell on Bentinck Street that killed Percy Goate aged 14, and Alice Gazley, aged 26; thus becoming the first fatal casualties of aerial warfare in the town. It is said they ‘died of shock’. Tragically, Alice had only recently been widowed when her husband Percy was killed in action in Belgium on October 27th 1914, serving with 3rd Battalion Rifle Brigade.
Much is written elsewhere about the L4 attack, and the slightly earlier L3 attack on Great Yarmouth, but for now though we move forward to the 1939-45 war, and as mentioned above, the far more potent threat of Hitler’s Luftwaffe.
Although there were a number of bombs dropped on the town during the second war, and relatively, Lynn experienced it’s share of ‘The Blitz’, I want to focus on those who lost their lives, rather than just list the raids, although apparently the total amounts to over 70 bombs in 14 attacks, with around 30 seriously injured and 10 slight casualties. The air-raid alert was raised some 400 times throughout the war. There are a number of sources of information of the damage done to the town.
The first bombs of the war to fall on the Lynn borough were near Mintlyn on October 7th 1939, although there’s a debate if these were German or British. And so it would continue. Sporadic raids, and passing lone assailants, keeping the local community on guard.
What strikes me about the tales I’ve been able to glean about the town is the effect on families; the men out working as fire watchers or wardens who returned home to find families or friends and neighbours killed. The women working in the pubs filled with servicemen. The mothers sheltering young children alone until the all-clear sounded. It’s impossible for me to include all of that in the scope of this blog.
I’m also aware there is a degree of speculation locally about some names who might have died subsequently from injuries after the relevant dates and who might not be included in the official lists. All I can do for the purposes of this blog is look at the Civilian War Dead records and various military sources for the service personnel casualties, and apologise if I’ve missed anyone by name.
November 13th 1940
My account continues on November 13th 1940, and the first recorded civilian fatalities of the war. If you stand in St James Park opposite the swimming pool and face Blackfriars Road, you’ll see what was most recently Hotel Mildenhall, and the row of houses to the right that form St Johns Terrace. You’ll notice that number 1 is different to the rest and has obviously been rebuilt in a different style.
The list of names begins with Anna Elvin, aged 78, a widow; Sarah Jane Moore, aged 80, and Kate Moore, aged 53. All were killed by a bomb that struck the house. There’s a bomb crater near here too, near St Johns church, and this is the former site of the Kings Lynn FWW display tank.
Mildred May Griffin, aged 59 was also killed, at nearby Regent Street (now Clough Lane and uncomfortably close to where Percy Goate and Alice Gazley were killed in Bentinck Street in 1915). I suspect it was due to a separate bomb to the one that hit St Johns Terrace. Regent Street, and its neighbour Bentinck Street are long gone, and are replaced by the multi storey St James car park.
November 20th 1940
Death came calling again a week later around 01.30am on November 20th 1940. Again sweeping across The Walks, bombs fell on South Street and Wood Street.
Those claimed were:
Raymond Beaney, aged 11; Nellie Beaney, aged 46, and Walter Beaney, age 54, all of 48 South Street. Frederick Beckett, aged 33, of 44 South Street was killed with his wife, Violet Grace Beckett, also aged 33.
Florence Bouch, aged 68, was killed at 16 Wood Street, while Sarah Ann Drayton, aged 93 died at number 15.
Seven names erased in this visit. There’s no obvious trace left today, as Wood Street and South Street have long since been redeveloped.
It was several months more before the harvest continued; The Battle of Britain had been and gone, and the Luftwaffe had settled into a pattern of raids across the east and towns and cities elsewhere.
March 13th 1941
I have read of the next fatal raid on Lynn being an attack consisting of 9 HE bombs falling on the docks and causing damage in the town centre and North End on March 13th 1941. The account suggests four soldiers were killed, although it doesn’t specify where, and in an attempt to identify them I discovered that the total may have actually been five. I base this hypothesis on the presence at Gayton Road Cemetery of the grave of Driver John Neilon, aged 24, of 272 Field Company Royal Engineers, killed on that date. Searching the CWGC database revealed 4 other men of 272 Field Company also killed on March 13th:
Sapper 1889089 Douglas Wilson, aged 22
Lance Corporal 1890209 Arthur Gordon Taylor, aged 22
Corporal 1890234 Frederick Albert Owen Young, aged 22
Sapper 2004060 John Smith, aged 23
I find it too much of a coincidence for five men of the same company of Royal Engineers to be killed on the same date for it not to be them. 272 Field Company, part of 46th Division, were posted to the area in January 1941 and involved in coastal defence and other duties. Although John Neilon was from Doncaster, he remains here. The others are buried in their home towns.
June 12th 1941
On June 12th 1941, bombs fell on Lynn’s river front in The Friars area. A stick of HE bombs scattered at 02.12am on a short line between the river edge at Whitefriars Terrace, Boal Street and Bridge Street. The heartbreaking list of those gathered up by fate on this occasion contained the following names, 16 in total, and the locations where the bombs struck:
11 Whitefriars Terrace: Brenda Eileen Stringer, aged just 5 years old. Marie Stringer, aged just 8.
12 Whitefriars Terrace: John Walter Emerson, aged 26, and Margaret Emerson, aged 53.
13 Whitefriars Terrace: Peter Norris Dawson, aged 16
14 Whitefriars Terrace: Anne Elizabeth Faulkner, aged 71.
15 Whitefriars Terrace: William Bowen, aged 56. Margaret Ann Bowen, aged 54.
1 Boal Street: Arthur Thurlow, aged 65.
3 Boal Street: Ernest Sharpin, aged 31, Florence Sharpin, aged 64, Edna May Sharpin, aged 28, and Walter Howard, aged 66.
4 Boal Street: Twin brothers Derrick John Brittain and Donald Edmond Brittain, aged just 8, and their mother Leah Grace Brittain, aged 42.
So many children taken from within the grasp of their mothers.
Whitefriars Terrace has been replaced by postwar flats and houses, but Boal Street was gone forever, once standing on your left in the gravel car park as you now enter Boal Quay. Somehow, the Greenland Fishery of 1605 survived.
The parish burial register for South Lynn makes sobering reading on June 16th.
November 10th 1941
Moving on to November 10th 1941, the bombers revisited North End, as the Zeppelin had done in 1915; a consequence of being close to the docks. On this occasion, The Victoria Hotel on the corner of Loke Road, and what is now John Kennedy Road, bore the brunt at 5am. George William Balls, aged 63; Alice Maud Balls, aged 63 died at 2 Loke Road, and Gladys Evelyn Castleton, aged 16 was killed as a result of the strike on The Victoria. Apparently parts of the nearby railway line were found as far away as Queen Street and Baxter’s Plain. Three more lives.
June 12th 1942
The list of names would grow no more until the summer of 1942. As before, when bombers swept across The Walks and devastated Wood Street and South Street, an uninvited guest, possibly following the railways as the Zeppelin had done before him swooped down again to unleash a strikingly similar stick of bombs on the population. It was June 12th: the first anniversary of 16 lives lost in Boal Street and Whitefriars Terrace.
On this infamous occasion, etched into the psyche of Lynn, there is more detail available about the sequence of events leading to the chaos that followed, although I’ve read two accounts which describe the attack as coming from opposite directions.
In general, Friday June 12th 1942 was a dull, overcast evening, but Norfolk Street, and the popular Eagle Hotel a hive of activity. It was also the day in history that Anne Frank received her diary and began recording another chapter of the war. The pub, with its function room/billiard hall at the rear would have been busy as usual and nearing last orders, filled with locals and service personnel alike – an important darts match and an airman’s 21st birthday party if you delve into the local knowledge.
It’s not been my intention to investigate the Luftwaffe unit(s) involved in this particular raid, or any of the others, but coming soon after the Baedeker raids on Exeter, Bath, Norwich, York and Canterbury Kampfgeschwader 2 were very active on ‘tip & run’ raids along the east coast from their bases such as Soesterberg in the Netherlands. Aircraft loss databases show iii/Kg2, v/Kg2 and ix/Kg2 had aircraft in the skies that night, but it matters not.
Witness accounts describe a lone aircraft, likely a Dornier 217, emerging from the low cloudbase and visible from Gaywood, swooping in a shallow dive in that now familiar trajectory from Tennyson Avenue, across The Walks and towards the docks – the same line taken by Von Platen-Hallermund 37 years earlier, and by the raid of November 1940. Whether Lynn was a planned target, or if this was a lone aircraft returning from another aborted mission, again it matters not. As I said previously, another account suggests the first bomb fell from the opposite direction.
Witnesses tell of the lone intruder making one, maybe two passes over the town before unleashing its load. As ever, we have no idea as to what intelligence they had, whether they knew where they were, or if they especially cared who they terrorised; for that was the motive of such sudden attacks. It seems the stick of four HE bombs fell on The Walks to the rear of South Street, and close to St Johns Church. If you know where to look, you’ll see still perceivable depressions in the ground left by the craters, but other than that no serious damage was caused.
In the moments following, another bomb struck the livestock pens at the Cruso & Wilkin saleyard, causing much destruction as seen in the picture below. Sainsbury’s carpark has occupied the site for forty years or so.
The next bomb is the one that is forged by heat on the collective memory of the town. Reports say the fatal stick was made up of 500kg high explosive types. In any case, at around 9.30pm The Eagle received a direct hit. It is said the device penetrated the three storey building to the basement before taking the structure with it, including Limberts fish cafe next door and many of the surrounding shop fronts in Norfolk Street. The pictures below tell their own story, and materials held by The National Archives go into more detail than is necessary here. In total, forty two names were added.
Local knowledge debates who was killed within the pub, and those who were likely killed in the street or premises nearby, but for my purposes I simply record the dreadful toll of the dead. By using the Commonwealth War Graves Commission link below it is possible to decipher who may have been where, and learn more about all the second world war civilian casualties mentioned in this blog.
The names of the 27 fatalities as recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Civilian War Dead are as follows, and not listed in any particular order:
1. Edward Watling, 36, of 65 Austin Street.
2. Freda Ellen Watling, 27, of 65 Austin Street.
3. James McKenzie, 51, of 1 Winfarthing Avenue.
4. Florence Daisy Franklin, 49, of 24 Albert Street.
5. Ann Susan Gibbs, 63, of 11 Gaywood Road.
6. Frederick Barnaby Curtis, 49, of 8 Johnson Square.
7. Charlotte Drew, 63, of 9 North Place.
8. Wilfred George Jeckells, 30, of 43 Vancouver Avenue.
9. Herbert William Jones, 32, of 1 Burstock Road, Putney.
10. Ralph Evershed King, 49, of 111 Norfolk Street (The Eagle).
11. Kathleen Elizabeth King, 49, of 111 Norfolk Street (The Eagle).
12. William Edmonds Riches, 50, of 11 Sidney Street.
13. Sarah Johnson, 46, of 31 Lansdowne Street.
14. William Thomas Adams, 19, of 2 Kirby Street.
15. Ernest Victor Adams, 54, of 2 Kirby Street.
16. Violet Ethel Waller, 51, of 8 Littleport Terrace.
17. Frederick Waller, 44, of 8 Littleport Terrace.
18. Albert Seaman, 44, of 4 Johnson Square.
19. Edith Mary Seaman, 44, of 4 Johnson Square.
20. Emma Curtis, 50, of 8 Johnson Square.
21. William Davis, 66, of 12 Albert Avenue.
22. Stanley Augustus Sculpher, 36, of Mon Abri, Jubilee Road, Clenchwarton.
23. Ivy Eveline Paddy, 26, of 14 Cresswell Street.
24. Priscilla Taylor, 47, of 39 Whincop Street.
25. Gladys Louvain Baker, 27, of 38 Burkitt Street.
26. Eva May Adams, 44, of 131 Austin Street.
27. Leonard William Adams, 46, of 131 Austin Street.
Husbands, wives, family, friends, colleagues. It’s noticeable too that many of the victims lived in close proximity, and in streets and yards that also no longer exist in modern Lynn. More of the details of all the civilian fatalities mentioned in this blog can be found here:
But of course, The Eagle tragedy included more than the civilian toll of 27. As described, soldiers and airmen found it a popular place to find comfort and entertainment. All the commentary since the war has used the total of 42 as the accepted toll from the raid- 27 civilians and 15 servicemen. I have to admit I’ve struggled to interpret the names of those from the services who lost their lives. Using various databases it’s possible to identify men who died on that date, whose deaths were registered in King’s Lynn, or who are buried locally; but I’ve never seen one definitive list, and I’m left speculating whether the names are correct or the total accurate. However I’ve come up with 15 names, all registered as dying at Kings Lynn, and linked by circumstances to the others by unit, squadron or burial, and I think this is as close as its possible to get. Maybe someone else will do the necessary work to eliminate any coincidences.
1. Lance Cpl Walter Morley, 70th Bn, Beds & Herts Regiment
2. Pte Reginald Frank Martin, 70th Bn, Beds & Herts Regiment (Buried at Gayton Road)
3. Sgt William Reuben Cooper 218 Sqn RAF
4. Sgt Norman Buckenham Day, 114 Sqn RAF
5. Sgt Tom Illenden Fielding, 21 Sqn RAF
6. AC2 William Thomas Holmes, RAFVR (Hardwick Cemetery)
7. Sgt George Jones, 218 Sqn RAF
8. Sgt David Edmund Killelea, 115 Sqn RAF (Gayton Road Cemetery)
9. Sgt James Hunter Laurie 218 Sqn RAFVR
10. Sgt Edward Walter Mallett RAFVR (Gayton Road Cemetery)
11. Sgt John Bertram Campbell RAFVR (Gayton Road Cemetery)
12. Sgt Joseph Milligan 114 Sqn RAFVR (Gayton Road Cemetery)
13. Sgt George Thomas A Robins, 114 Sqn RAFVR
14. Sgt Brian William Swaffield RAFVR (Gayton Road Cemetery)
15. Sgt Albert Joseph Young, 114 Squadron RAFVR
Campbell, Killelea, Mallett, Milligan and Swaffield are buried in a communal grave at Gayton Road Cemetery, as pictured below, with lone soldier Reginald Martin buried nearby. William Holmes is buried at Hardwick Cemetery. The other names on the list can be traced to their home towns, although all suffer from a lack of descriptive connection to The Eagle.
It’s long been speculated that many of the airmen killed had been at The Eagle to celebrate the 21st birthday of David Killelea, although I’ve been unable to confirm an exact date of birth for him. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that the venue had drawn in men from West Raynham, Bodney and other bases as well as Marham.
The aftermath leaves little to the imagination of the scene that followed the attack. Remarkably, it seems there were a number who had miraculous escapes among those killed directly in the pub or buildings attached to it. Others were in the busy street where more casualties fell.
What is clear is that despite the desperate situation, some of those affected sprung immediately into action to rescue the dead and injured as a rescue operation swung into action. It took the whole weekend to complete the recovery of the dead.
The most remarkable account I have come across is that of the actions of Acting Sergeant Francis Faulkner, who immediately went to the aid of those trapped in the devastated basement of The Eagle, spending some hours comforting those he found; in particular one woman who he sang to over a period of six hours. As can be seen here, he was awarded the George Medal for his bravery. Incredible in the circumstances.
Local lore and archive material has graphic accounts of the rescue work and the subsequent efforts to identify the dead at the temporary mortuary set up in Tower Street, but that is not for here. Instead, I move on to the last recorded Civilian fatality of the war, which occurred a few weeks later.
July 24th 1942
Harry Parr, aged 67, of Burwell in Cambridgeshire holds the distinction of being the last name on the register of casualties. Again a raid saw bombs fall on the docks, one of which struck a boat on which Harry was present. His body was recovered by divers a few days later.
By my reckoning, Harry brings the total number of victims of aerial bombing in King’s Lynn to eighty over both wars.
And that’s where it ended. Although the threat of aerial attack remained, the grim toll of Lynn’s civilian bomb victims remained thankfully static. There are no more names added to the official list of civilians after Harry Parr, and it’s proved impossible to verify if any more servicemen fell within the town during the remainder of the war as a result of enemy action.
The cemeteries of Lynn hold a total of 31 second world war military casualties, including those named above. One day maybe we’ll have a look to see if enemy action on the home front was responsible for any of their deaths in the town. If anyone has any more facts to add to their stories, or knows more detail, I love to hear from you.
If you’re in a position to visit any of the war graves in our town, not just those of the names mentioned here; or if you happen to be passing any of the locations pictured, take a moment to reflect on a chapter in our history and a legacy of remembrance that still exists. There’s so much to think about, even now.
I hope I’ve been able to make some sense of the history of those names I’ve mentioned. The names of the lost are scattered around the headstones of the town’s cemeteries, and the Civilian War Dead occupy their pages on the official databases. Even now, if you ask the right people, the stories still echo in the back streets; back streets that although many of which have now been wiped from history, if you know where to stand in the empty spaces, or by the empty voids where exposed gable ends overlook the vacuums of former homes, you’ll be able to hear the wartime history of this lovely old town I call home calling.
Dave Cole, May 2021.
If you’re interested in the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, #WarGravesWeek commences on May 21st: More here…