CAMPAIGNERS have welcomed plans to commemorate those who died in Bournemouth’s worst wartime bombing raid – but questioned why people are being discouraged from attending.
A memorial plaque at the site of the former Metropole Hotel at the Lansdowne will be unveiled next Thursday, 70 years on from the bombing raid that killed an estimated 131 people.
But Bournemouth council has restricted the event to a small number of invited guests only, claiming public safety could be put at risk if too many people turn up.
Among those disappointed not to be invited is 76-year-old Rhona Taylor, who used to live at Lansdowne Crescent, where the post office now stands.
She was seven when a squadron of the Luftwaffe’s Focke Wulfs bombed the town and said the memories of it are as strong as ever.
“I was playing in the garden with my sister when the sirens sounded and my mother called us both in,” she said. “Afterwards our garden was covered in rubble, it was about a foot deep.
“We wouldn’t be here today if we hadn’t obeyed her and gone in. I’ve never forgotten that day. My husband’s aunt went on to marry a Canadian serviceman and he tracked down one of the German pilots who had bombed Bournemouth.”
She said she had been involved in some of the preparations for the memorial and would have liked to have been there to see it unveiled. “I would like to pay my respects,” she said. “I was quite upset not to be invited.”
And Tom Jones, 85, was in the civil defence team who were first one of the scene following the raid. He has also not been invited.
“The heavy rescue lads did a fantastic job that day,” he said. “I just find it odd that they seem to have made no attempt to contact people who were actually involved with it.” Angela Beleznay, whose book ‘Incident 48: Raid on a South Coast Town’ tells the full story of what happened, said despite the disagreements over how best to publicise the event, everyone was supportive of the memorial. “Those young men came here to help us fight a war,” she said. “Some may have expected to die in battle, some may have expected to go home unscathed. None of them expected to die in one of Britain’s most beautiful seaside towns on a lovely sunny day.”
Bournemouth council said representatives of the service personnel and civilians who were in the hotel on the day the air raid took place had been invited to the unveiling of the memorial.
Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Dorset, the Canadian Assistant Air Attache, the Australian Air Force Advisor, the Mayor and three Canadian veterans have confirmed they are attending.
Tony Williams, Chief Executive of Bournemouth Borough Council, said: “It was only 70 years ago that the air raid happened in Bournemouth and there are people living in the town that still remember it. “Residents that have a personal connection to the events that took place that day are very welcome to attend the unveiling of the town’s memorial and remember those who lost their lives.
“The location of the plaque does mean that space is limited and we are therefore respectfully encouraging the wider public who wish to see the plaque to do so after the unveiling.”
- A report in Friday’s Echo incorrectly stated that the plaque will be unveiled on Wednesday. The ceremony will actually take place at lunchtime on Thursday.