Unexploded bombs & the homeless

Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies

For the duration of the War, Hertfordshire’s Air Raid Precautions department was based at Leahoe House near County Hall in Hertford.  The first high explosive bomb to fall on Hertfordshire was reported at London Colney in June 1940.  Thousands of tonnes of explosives were dropped throughout the summer, but not all of them exploded.  Some still lurk underground and are just as dangerous now as they were in 1940.

Bombs were fitted with a variety of fuses, some designed to detonate immediately, some with a time delay and some which were booby trapped. A delay-action bomb was designed to explode some time after impact, from a few hours up to several days. They were used widely by British, American and German forces. About 10% of them didn’t detonate on impact and German delay bombs still turn up on building sites today.
A member of the Hatfield Home Guard with an unexploded bomb. Churchill didn’t like the name ‘Local Defence Volunteers’ so it was changed to the ‘Home Guard’ in June 1940. (HALS CV/HAT/157/13)
LUCKY ESCAPE AT WARE - On 24 September, a parachute mine became entagled in a tree at Ware Park Sanatorium and failed to explode. It was made safe by the Royal Navy and moved to the town centre where it was displayed as a showpiece to raise money. It stayed there for several days until someone heard it ticking and declared it had not been fully defused. After the panic, it was taken away the Army and exploded in a gravel pit - in the process, one house was destroyed, three had to be demolished and several more lost their roofs.
Ware Park (HALS ref CV/WAR/254)
Secret letter sent by the County ARP officer to local councils, reporting that the enemy is using Delay Fused Bombs, 6 Aug 1940
HALS (ref DE/X508/08)
Watford Borough Council Decontamination Squad. These civil defence personnel were trained to deal with the hazardous chemicals that German bombs might contain.
HALS (ref WatGrv 0317-00-0025)
THE HOMELESS - People made homeless by the bombing could rely on the council for help. They could go to rest centres for meals and shelter whilst their homes were temporarily repaired, if possible. In addition, many homeless families found their way from London to Hertfordshire’s towns and villages when The Blitz began in September of 1940.
Houses in Wood Street, Barnet, damaged by a bomb on 18 October (HALS ref Acc 4525)
Many people left London to escape the bombing and found their way to Hertfordshire's towns and villages. By October, the population in Ware had increased by 2,000 as a result of official evacuation schemes and others seeking respite from the bombing in London. Whole families were found sleeping rough at night in the town’s shelters. With accommodation at a premium, some people took advantage of the Londoners and charged excessive rents. One council tenant who exploited the crisis was found to be letting three rooms to evacuees, whilst he slept and ate with his wife and children in one room.
Notice from the Ministry of Information on what to do if you're made homeless and an advert asking for men to clear debris (HALS ref Herts Advertiser, 25 October 1940)
Leaflet produced by Watford Borough Council in 1940 for residents who had been made homeless. It dealt with temporary accommodation as well as compensation and what to do with the body of a relative who had been killed.
HALS (ref WBR/5/77)
This page was added on 09/07/2020.

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