Remembering Harry Stidever

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No-one who has experienced air attack during a blitz can ever forget it. Looking back, the provision of civilian protection seems woefully inadequate. Defences ranged from hastily-built brick and concrete shelters in the streets to instructions to sit under the stairs and brace oneself against the gas meter. There were Morrison shelters, there were Anderson shelters, there were air-raid wardens with tin hats and whistles, there were sirens on the church towers and a considerable amount of bravery but nothing alters the fact that thousands of ordinary people, ranging from the elderly to the new-born, lived under the threat of attack from the air for five years.

What you remember are the sounds - the planes came in low and the throb of their engines overhead was unmistakeable. The preliminary was the shouting and banging as the wardens ran round trying to get the elderly out of their homes - no time to argue with the obstinate or rouse heavy sleepers - and then that terrible whistling sound as land-mines, incendiaries and bombs began to fall. Running to the street shelter, calling out to each other, children sleepy and crying, not able to keep up as their parents ran, and even when the shelter was reached, no real sense of safety - dull thuds, explosions making the sky bright and the scene crystal clear - and then the smell - burning and smoke everywhere. Not a once in a lifetime experience but something that filled the childhoods of a generation who carried a gas mask to school everyday for years and who nightly faced the strains and tension of war.

 

John "Harry" Stidever lived (and died) at 39 Station Road in the Ford district of Devonport. Sadly for him, the targets on the night of 25 April 1941 included the Royal Naval Barracks nearby, and the station called Dockyard Halt, equally close to his house and strategically important in connection with troop movements and weapons supply to the adjacent naval Dockyard.

There was a public air raid shelter a short walk away in the Park but a lot of people preferred to stay in their own homes during raids. Maybe they didn't like running through the streets in their nightclothes or the crowded, smelly dankness of the shelters or maybe they were determined not to let Hitler turn them out of their homes. It didn't make much difference either way - several street shelters received direct hits and the Anderson shelter dug into the garden and Morrison shelter in the living room could be just as lethal so, often, people just got up, dressed themselves and waited for the outcome.

Harry - together with the other 400 victims of the April 1941 raids - was buried at a mass funeral in the Efford Cemetary at Plymouth

 

Public air raid shelter in Devonport  

 

 

Members of the public visiting a recently re-discovered  public air raid shelter in Devonport.

Steve Johnson

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  Last modified:
30/09/2005