Clacton-on-Sea Bombing May 1940
On 30th April 1940, anti-aircraft fire shot down a German Heinkel 111 bomber while on a mine laying sortie off the east coast of England. The bomber crashed onto a house in Upper Victoria Road in Clacton-on-Sea in Essex killing the occupants, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Gill. They became the first civilians, of more than 60,000 killed in England during the war. Frederick and Dorothy Gill were buried in an unmarked grave in the Burrs Road Cemetery. In 1994, the grave site was discovered and a proper Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone was erected and dedicated on the 59th anniversary of their deaths.
The German aircraft was actually on a mine laying operation over the North Sea, but the crew became disorientated due to heavy fog. Flying blindly until just before midnight the Heinkel crossed the coast near the radar station at Bawdsey in Suffolk. Anti-aircraft batteries along the coast at Bawdsey, Felixstowe and Harwich opened fire on the bomber. Ironically, the Heinkel did not receive a direct hit, but it is thought that exploding shells underneath the aircraft caused considerable damage to the aircraft controls. Eyewitnesses have said that it does appear that the pilot tried to find a landing area because he released flares as his plane circled Clacton and Holland-on-Sea before flying out to sea again, then returning at a considerably lower altitude.
The German bomber hit the chimneys of a number of houses before crashing on the house occupied by the Gill family. After the bomber crashed, the live mine that it was carrying exploded and this is what caused the unintentional, but spectacular damage.
The four German crewmen died and approximately 160 civilians were injured, most by flying glass. According to the County ARP report four houses were demolished and 50 badly damaged, with many other properties being affected.
One of the injured civilians was my aunt, Mrs Elsie Victoria Haas (née Ephgrave). Neither of her children, Avril (aged 7 yrs.) and Malcolm (aged 1 yr. 8 months) were hurt.
Elsie was injured by flying glass and spent some days in Colchester Hospital. The images below from Elsie's scrap book show a letter to her mother from the Women's Voluntary Service, and a Post Office Telegram requesting 'FETCH TWO HAAS CHILDREN' as 'MOTHER IN HOSPITAL'
Ironically Elsie and the children had moved from Hornchurch to avoid the anticipated bombing of London and the surrounding area!
Below are some copies from Elsie's scrap book. Click images to enlarge.
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