Listen to the Audio Guide and discover:
- How the Curate, Reverend Whitehead's 'test' to make sure his firewatchers really could put out a fire nearly resulted in disaster!
- Just what was the fire watchers' daring escape plan to get off the tower if the stairs caught fire. Clue - it includes a 60 foot descent just holding on to a rope!
- What it would have been like to be one of firewatchers on duty on the first long and terrifying night of the 'Bath Blitz' raid.
- First-hand accounts of the shocking discovery of seeing the Abbey's blown out windows on the morning after the Bath Blitz.
- The remarkable and sustained service that these brave firewatchers gave to the Abbey during the Second World War.
25 and 26 April 1942
On the nights of Saturday the 25th and Sunday the 26th of April 1942 German aeroplanes bombed the city of Bath. This terrible weekend is known as the “Bath Blitz”. The heavy and repeated German air raids killed over 400 people, injured more than 800, and destroyed or seriously damaged over a thousand buildings in the city.
A “Book of Remembrance” with the names of those who were killed in the Bath Blitz is usually in, or near, the Gethsemane Chapel, located in the South East corner of the Abbey.
The "Baedeker air raids"
The “Bath Blitz” was part of Hitler’s retaliation for Britain’s Royal Air Force raids on Germany’s historic Baltic ports of Rostock and Lubeck. Other cities which were attacked were Exeter, Norwich, York, and Canterbury – all cities which had a “three star” rating in the German “Baedeker” guide book to Britain. These raids have since come to be known as the “Baedeker” air raids.
Impact of a bomb blast
Fortunately, Bath Abbey did not suffer a direct hit. However, the blast from a bomb which exploded on the recreation ground shattered the great East Window. Eight other windows were blown in and a further 12 were damaged.
Cynthia Sebestyen was a young teacher in Bath and a former member of the Abbey Youth Group. She was at her parents’ home on the first night of the raid, when the East window was blown in. In the Audio Guide, she describes, getting out of Bath on the second night and the shock of returning the next day and seeing the damaged Abbey.
The Abbey's Fire Watchers
A number of volunteers helped to protect the Abbey during the Second World War by fire watching. Being a fire watcher meant spending the night at the Abbey in order to prevent any fires that might break out in the building as a result of air raids and bombing. The firewatchers stationed in the Abbey were all boys and girls from the Abbey's Youth Group.
These young volunteers spent one or two nights each week sleeping in the Abbey. Each night, they took turns to climb up to the roof in pairs to watch for falling incendiaries and were prepared to extinguish any which landed and started a fire.
It is really interesting finding out about the start of the firewatching scheme, the training they received and even their sleeping arrangements. Two former members of the Abbey Youth Group, John Waterson and Eric Lanning, recall what it was like to be a young fire watcher.
Training to be a Fire Watcher
The firewatching team received some training in what to do when the air raid sirens were sounded. They were given buckets of water and stirrup pumps with which to extinguish any fires that broke out. A stirrup pump is a portable pump with a stirrup-shaped foot-stand. Two people are needed to work it. The pump is placed in a bucket of water and whilst one person pumps vigorously the other runs out with the long hose to spray the water jet at the fire. The water could reach a fire 30 feet (or 9 meters) away. Pat Hunter recalls the training she received as a 17 year old firewatcher.