I am a freelance writer, living in Bath with my wife and son.
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Published July 26th 2017
Bath And The Baedecker Raids
For those interested in World War Two, Bath has a fascinating and harrowing history. Between 25-27th April 1942, the city was bombarded three times by aircraft of the German Luftwaffe, in what was known as the Baedecker raids. A reprisal attack in retaliation for the bombardment of the Medieval city of Lubeck, its aim was to destroy any buildings of cultural or historical value to Britain. With targets being picked from the famous Baedecker travel guide, Bath provided a cluster of churches, Georgian Crescents, bridges and residences that had prominent mentions in the book. The city was left scarred by both bombs and machine gun fire, leaving much of the city centre forever changed.
Incredibly though, one building still stands as a testament to the terrible events of the 'Bath Blitz', and acts as a symbol of the courage and 'Make Do And Mend' mentality of wartime Britain. On James St West (just off Kingsmead Square and next to the Odeon Cinema, visitors will find the scarred and pitted walls of Bath's former Labour Exchange. With fist-sized machine gun craters and football- sized shrapnel scars, this rectangular building looks like something from a film set.
This building of living history is now a Halls of Residence on the upper floors, but the damaged lower facade of the place has been preserved as a monument. As a proud Bathonian, I think it is a touching and appropriate monument to remember those who lost their lives during the bombing raids. Large areas of the city were reduced to rubble by powerful bombs, which resulted in a terrrible loss of life. Another memorial to the raids lies on the site of what was once a public air raid shelter on Moorland Road across the river Avon. There is now a memorial garden and park space there.
Bath is a city full of ghost signs from the past, and it is also a place that has a great deal of commemorative plaques. Look carefully and you can see a wealth of history carved into the walls. One such example can be found on the facade of the Francis Hotel on Queen Square. The hotel restaurant now stands on the foundations of three five floor Georgian town houses that were completely destroyed by bombs. The surrounding buildings still bear the scars of machine gun fire and shrapnel damage.
Bath is a city with a rich historical legacy and with a little time and patience it shows it to visitors. I always find it remarkable that the World's oldest fighting Tommy from WW1, Mr Harry Patch, was born and lived in Bath. He was also instrumental in fighting the fires of the Bath Blitz, as his role in the Home Guard was that of senior fireman in the Combe Down area of the city. There is so much to find out, and I feel that I have barely scratched the surface. Perhaps you can help me?