Air Raids in Berkshire

The Air Raid Wardens’ Service was set up by the government in 1937. Volunteers were recruited by local authorities to administer and advise the public on Air Raid Precautions (ARP).

The wardens’ role included reporting air raid damage, administering first aid, directing the public and preventing panic, patrolling the streets during blackouts and investigating reports of unexploded bombs. The Women’s Voluntary Service was set up in 1938 to enlist the help of women with ARP.

Booklet relating to air raid shelters at home and Air Raid Precautions Handbook, c.1938-1941, D/EWK/B2/8/7.

This pocket guide explains the procedures for how air raids were managed in Reading, including the use of gas masks.

Public air raid shelters were provided across the town with a capacity for over 8,000 people. The Berkshire County Control centre was based at Shire Hall, with four Report Centres and three district councils reporting to it.

Pocket guide to ARP arrangements in Reading, issued by Reading Borough Council, n.d. c.1939, D/EX1650/1

Practical Wound Treatment: A First Aid Book illustrating the use of the “Pad and Bandage” as issued to All Services, by Edward Akester, c.1940-1945, D/EX1370/1/4; Plan of alterations to the county air raid shelter at the Shire Hall, Reading, 1941, C/CL/L2/290

The incident report below contains summaries of bombing raids and alerts across Berkshire, which include statistical data on casualties, damage to buildings and unexploded bombs.

Berkshire County Council bombing raids and alerts incident report, list of casualties, 1940-1943, C/CD/C2. This includes the casualties in the Newbury bombing raid on 10 February 1943

Unexploded Bomb Clearance Certificate for Priors Meadow, Bray, 1944, C/CD/C5

The People’s Pantry

On Wednesday 10 February 1943, at just after 4.30pm, a Dornier bomber released four bombs over Reading town centre before opening fire with a machine gun. The bombs fell on buildings in and around Minster Street and Friar Street.

There were approximately 41 fatalities as a result of this attack, with the youngest victims being only 10 years old. At least 29 of these people were killed or fatally injured in The People’s Pantry. This was a popular restaurant at 175 Friar Street, staffed by the Women’s Voluntary Service, which provided cheap and nutritious meals for an affordable price to supplement rations. The restaurant was instantly demolished by the air raid.

Had it not been early closing day for many shops the casualties would have most likely been even greater.

Photographs of bomb damage in Reading town centre, 1943

These photographs of the bomb damage and the report are from the records of William John Seager (1903-1999), Chief ARP Warden in Reading, who was involved in the response.

The report records commendations for the bravery shown by wardens and civilians. The Women’s Voluntary Service provided refreshments to survivors and rescue workers in the aftermath of the attack.

Report of air-raid damage in Reading, 1943

The Newbury bombing

Also on 10 February 1943 a second Dornier bomber released 8 bombs over Newbury and fired with a machine gun. St John’s Church was demolished, and the Senior Council School was badly damaged.

There were 15 fatalities as a result of the bombing. The incident report gives a detailed account of events in order to inform future air raid responses.

Berkshire County Council Civil Defence and Emergency Planning
Incident Report, 1943, C/CD/C3

It remains unknown why Berkshire was targeted that day, but the previous year German bombers had been directed to target towns other than London in attacks that would have the greatest effect on civilian life.