WORLD WAR TWO - 1939-1945
9 -11 Victoria Street, Southwold, Suffolk IP18 6HZ - Tel: 01502 725600 email
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When Britain went to war with Germany for the second time in 25 years on 3rd September 1939, Southwold had already been preparing for hostilities.

Local territorial soldiers were mobilised in the early autumn of 1938 and trenches dug in various parts of the town. Air Raid wardens, Red Cross and Ambulance parties, road repair gangs, decontamination and rescue services, local firemen and special constables were trained.

Within days of the outbreak of the war, gas masks were supplied to townsfolk and fifteen concrete air-raid shelters built. The six cannons on Gun Hill were removed and buried to avoid giving the Germans any excuse to shell or bomb the town. Even beach huts played their part and were scattered over The Common to deter enemy gliders.

The early part of the war was quiet, with the Grand Hotel, other hotels, the school and empty buildings taken over by the War Office for troops. Soon dozens of children arrived from London.

Evacuees arrive at Southwold School
Evacuees in Southwold School waiting to be billetted

Evacuees from London arrive to be processed at Southwold Primary School (P1572 and P1570), creating an urgent need for bedding.
Click pictures for enlargements

Appeal for bedding for the evacuees

Billeted on local householders, the evacuees clutched small suitcases and had identification labels attached to their overcoats.

But Southwold was not seen as a safe haven for city dwellers for long. The evacuation of Dunkirk and the prospect of a German invasion meant that it became effectively a frontline town. Now it was the women, children and elderly who left for other parts of the country. Soon the population was reduced to about 800 and the town was closed to holidaymakers.

Barbed wire covered the beach and hundreds of mines were laid along the shoreline. Engineers blew a hole in the pier in case the Germans landed on the end of it. Road signs were removed. Sticky-tape criss-crossed the windows of every building.

To defend the town against naval attacks two six-inch guns were installed in the front garden of a seafront villa near Gun Hill.

But the most dangerous attacks Southwold suffered were from low-flying aircraft that swept in from the North Sea below radar cover. The first bombs to hit the town were dropped on 20th August 1940, causing little damage and no casualties. The German Focke-Wulfs returned the next afternoon dropping 1,000lb bombs which demolished three houses in Lorne Road and damaged 100 houses and shops.

The following May during a night raid, bombs damaged houses on Barnaby Green, York Road and the High Street, and later that month more than 500 incendiary bombs were dropped. A bomb hit St Edmund’s Hall, which was burnt out. Click for a first-hand account.

The air raids were stepped up in 1943. In February a lone German bomber dropped one 1,000lb bomb near houses in Pier Avenue destroying one of them, partially demolishing seven others and damaging a further twelve, though no one was killed.

May saw the worst raid of the war. Seven fighter-bombers targeting Lowestoft spotted barrage balloons over the port, turned south and flew at 100 feet above Southwold. One bomb destroyed a building in the grounds of St Felix School. Four more hit the town, one destroying the Marlborough and Dunwich Hotels, another blowing out the windows of St Edmund’s Church and destroying nearby houses in Hollyhock Square, killing seven people. There is an extraordinaly story about this particular bomb. To read it, download this PDF.

There were few other such raids until February 1944 when more than 1000 incendiary bombs were dropped on The Common where anti-aircraft guns were placed., But in October when German flying bombs known as ‘Doodle Bugs’ began passing over the town on their way to London, one was hit by the guns and exploded, damaging more than 600 buildings. Click for a first-hand account

It was nearly the end of Southwold’s war. Troops stationed in the town to deter an invasion had gone, much of the barbed wire along the beach, and all of the mines, were removed. Those evacuated returned and the town gradually returned to normal. Street parties were held to mark the end of the war.

Statistics told the story of Southwold’s role in the war. 119 bombs and 2,689 incendiaries fell on the town. Thirteen civilians were killed and 49 injured. More than 2,000 properties were damaged and 77 totally destroyed. And the names of 20 servicemen who died in action during the war were added to those on the war memorial by the church gate on St Bartholomew’s Green.

Explore Southwold’s other war stories below.

The Battle of Sole Bay
The First World War

Memories both terrible and comical of Southwold in the last war.

"When the evacuees came to our school we had more time to work on the farm."

"I found a live incendiary bomb which I took home and was very proud of."

"Everywhere that wasn't being lived in was requisitioned"

"The Night St Edmund's Hall burned down"

"There was a great big ginger Scotsman who always used to wink at me! "

Creative use of salvaged goods.

"I was shot at twice. We never thought anything of it!"

Terrible memories of the bombing

"Petrol Coupons? No problem!"

"As we got to the door the bombs fell and the stones were rattling down on our heads"



The high-explosive bomb that went through the Doctor's house without stopping.

Read more by downloading this PDF



Southwold Museum & Historical Society, 9 -11 Victoria Street, Southwold, Suffolk IP18 6HZ
Tel:01502 725600 email

A Charitable Incorporated Organisation, Registered Charity No 1159790,