Second World War
The Second World War brought major changes to Canterbury. Shortages meant food was rationed. You can see an adult’s weekly ration in the recreated wartime kitchen at Canterbury Heritage Museum and hear stories of local experiences. People were encouraged to ‘Make Do and Mend’, as visitors can discover in the ‘Utility’ cupboard.
Bombing was an ever-present danger and there is a real Morrison shelter visitors can enter.
The most devastating bombing raid was one of several on landmark cities that are known as the ‘Baedeker Blitz’, since places highlighted in the Baedeker tourist guide were targeted. Just after midnight on 1 June 1942 German bombers attacked Canterbury, dropping about 10,000 incendiary bombs. Such firebombs caused more destruction than high explosive ones. When they hit the ground the magnesium or phosphorus inside ignited, melting the aluminium casing and starting a small intense blaze.
Firewatchers at Canterbury Cathedral saved the building by throwing hundreds of firebombs from the roof into the Precincts below. The incendiaries could be sprayed with water and covered with sand until extinguished. Instructions for how to do this, and a fire-pump, are on display among items relating to defence on the home front. There are also items relating to the Home Guard.
Where access to incendiary bombs was difficult they caused fires that rapidly burned out of control. Lives were lost and great damage caused, with areas of Canterbury flattened.
Film, photographs, stories and relics commemorate the event and the brave men and women who saved the city and Cathedral from destruction.
A recent addition is ‘Teddy’, a toy bear evacuated from Canterbury with young Jennifer Keen in September 1940. Jennifer, aged 6, was evacuated from Canterbury West Station with her mother and grandparents as invasion threatened. Waiting for the evacuation train, Jennifer fell asleep in a pram cuddling ‘Teddy’, and was photographed by a Kentish Gazette photographer. The photograph is on display at Canterbury Heritage Museum with ‘Teddy’. Jennifer’s evacuation suitcase can be seen beside her in the picture.
Canterbury devastated after the 1942 Blitz