Bury St Edmunds

Like all Invasion Committees, the Bury St Edmunds Committee had no executive powers of its own. Its main task was consultation, explanation and co-ordination of various plans. They did have authority to execute high priority measures as directed by various superior authorities. If communications were cut or hostilities broke out in the area, the Military Commander would assume control under common law. The Military Commander would give instructions regarding Civil Defence through the Controller and the civil population through the Invasion Committee.

The Headquarters of the Committee at times of invasion was at first Borough Offices, Angel Hill, with an alternative HQ at The Cricketers’ Arms, Kings Road. A Civil Defence Exercise held on July 26th 1942 showed the difficulties caused by the Invasion Committee HQ (Borough Offices)and Military HQ (Gibraltar Barracks)being located at a considerable distance from each other. A possible solution was to establish a combined HQ at a dug-out at Boby’s Works under the machine shop, which was to be the Battle HQ of the Suffolk-Sub Area on “Stand To”. The location was suitable from the Invasion Committee’s point of view but not the military commander as it would mean he would be separated from his mobile reserve. In the end, it was decided to move the Invasion Committee HQ to Boby’s Works, but keep the military HQ at Gibraltar Barracks. A representative of the Invasion Committee would be dispatched to Gibraltar Barracks and the Suffolk Sub Are Battle HQ would undertake to keep the Invasion Committee informed of the military situation.

The main duties of the Committee with regards to invasion were:

Phase A – Large scale bombing immediately defer bombing
Direct responsibility would fall on the ARP Services, Fire Service, Food and Billeting Officer. The Invasion Committee would help in co-ordinating assistance from local resources if the Civil Defence services required additional support.

Phase B – Invasion had begun but the enemy was still some distance away
The community may have to rely on its own resources if communications broke down. The Committee would assist the Food Executive Officer in bringing in supplies from the neighbourhood including arranging additional transport.

Phase C – when battle locally is imminent or taking place
The Military Commander would assume control. The Invasion Committee was to assist him in every way, especially in the distribution of food. The primary role of the Committee, under the direction of the Military Commander, would be to ensure roads were kept open for military traffic, which would take precedence over steps to save civilian life and property. The Military Commander, aided by the Civil Authorities, had a duty to hold the town until relieved completely regardless of the cost to civil and military life and property.

Civil Defence – Roles and Invasion Conditions

The Police Station was at St John’s Street. The police strength was one Chief Constable, two Superintendents, two Inspectors, five Sergeants, 32 Constable and 77 Special Constables. There main roles were traffic control and immobilisation of vehicles.

The main object of traffic control was to keep essential military roads open. This would be carried out in conjunction with the Military Police. The main routes were:

  • Newmarket Road – Westly Road as far as the junction with West Road – West Road – Hospital Road – Westgate Street – Southgate Street
  • Crown Street – Angel Hill – Mustow Street – Eastgate Street
  • Northgate Street – Fornham Road
    • Once Phase B or C had been reached, these routes could not be used for access to the town for local supplies. Refugees would not be allowed into the town after “Action Stations”, although residents living outside the anti-tank ditch (about 3,000 people) could on showing their identity card. They would be notified by loudspeaker.

      ARP Services

      • The ARP Control Centre was at Shire Hall and the Report Centre at Borough Offices.
      • Wardens Service organised into four Divisions. Originally it had been recruited up to the level recommended by the Ministry of Home Security. However, call up into the Armed Forces and the number joining the Home Guard would mean the ARP services available to deal with invasion conditions would be meagre. It was a constant problem to recruit up to full strength.
      • Six First Aid Parties (consisting of five persons each), six ambulances and two cars for sitting cases. Each ambulance was equipped with four stretchers and eight blankets. The cars could carry three to four persons.
      • Mobile first aid party (consisting of a doctor, trained nurse and seven assistants)
      • Two Decontamination Parties (consisting of six persons each). In invasion its main role was to decontaminate and repair roads required for military movements.
      • Gas Identification Officer and assistant. To report on the presence of gas to the Military Commander and the Decontamination Party.
      • Four Rescue Parties (consisting of 10 men each). Each party was mobile with a lorry equipped with hoisting and lifting tackle, ladder, wheelbarrow and other tools. It was to rescue trapped persons, including the Military and Home Guard. Two men in each party had First Aid training. The parties also helped in demolishing unsafe buildings following a raid.
      • One mobile cleansing unit
      • Two mobile canteens
        • Air Raid Shelters
          Air raid shelters had been provided on a basis of 7 ½% of the population. Public shelters could accommodate 1,100 persons and there was existing private shelter for 7,090 persons. In the event of invasion, arrangements were in hand to provide slit trenches for the rest of the population. Example trenches had been dug in the Abbey Gardens. The labour reserve would dig trenches for those residents unable to dig their own trench.

          Public Air Raid shelters were located at:

          • Kings Road, opposite Prospect Row – 1 shelter accommodating 50 people
          • St Andrew’s Street South – 4 shelters accommodating 50 people each
          • Junction of Hospital Street and St Andrew’s Street South – 1 shelter accommodating 50 people
          • St Martin’s Street – 1 shelter accommodating 50 people
          • Angel Hill – 4 shelters accommodating 50 people each
          • Short Brackland – 1 shelter accommodating 50 people
          • Risbygate Street – 5 shelters accommodating 50 people each
          • Play Field – 1 shelter accommodating 50 people
          • Playhouse Car Park, Butter Market – 1 shelter accommodating 50 people
            • Other shelter provision could accommodate the following numbers:

              • Surface Shelters, individual – 25 shelters accommodating 225 people
              • Surface Shelters, communal – 259 shelters accommodating 3,005 people
              • Private dug-outs – 160 accommodating 1,237 people
              • Strengthened buildings, individual – 414 accommodating 1,695 people
              • Strengthened buildings, communal – 85 accommodating 928 people
                • Fire Service
                  The Fire Service had strength of 13 officers and 54 men with 18 youths acting as messengers. In the event of invasion its main tasks were to keep all routes open required for military movements and deal with fires that may affect those roads, to deal with fires that threatened food stocks, ammunition and communications and to deal with fires in the proximity of perimeter defence posts.

                  Water for fire fighting was to be drawn from the mains if possible. Arrangements had been made to obtain supplies from the River Lark using movable dams and six static water supply points had been prepared, holding a total of 145,000 gallons.

                  There were about 2,000 Fire Watchers in Bury St Edmunds.

                  Emergency Labour
                  The Labour Sub-Committee was tasked with compiling a list of all able body persons capable of carrying out necessary works in an emergency. The planned requirements were:

                  • 8 gangs of 30 persons for clearing roads and digging trenches
                  • 72 Water Stewards
                  • 30 persons to work on food salvage and distribution
                  • A special reserve of 120 men for road clearing and repairs as well as other duties.
                    • Rest Centres
                      Eight Rest Centres had been organised for the purpose of dealing with persons rendered homeless as a result of enemy action. The centres would provide medical attention, refreshments, clothing and financial aid. People were to be dispersed from the rest centres with all speed – a list of homes available to take in those made homeless was drawn up for each Rest Centre. It was paramount that Rest Centres were completely evacuated on the day following the raid, in case they were needed again in subsequent raids. There were about 200 volunteers available to man the Rest Centres, many being members of the WVS.

                      Food Stocks
                      There were 25 centres for the distribution of food and lorries from various businesses had been earmarked for distribution. The Rest Centres would be used for shelter and feeding those dispossessed. The Public Assistance Committee held stocks sufficient to feed the population for the first 48 hours. Wholesalers also held stocks, including Ministry of Food Emergency stocks. In total it was estimated that there was sufficient stock to feed the population and military for 14 days. Arrangements were made to issue six days emergency rations for each home immediately in the event of invasion took place. Food was to be salvaged from damaged buildings.

                      On Phase B of invasion, arrangements were to be made to distribute the food stocks. The Military Commander would provide a guard if required. For fresh milk, arrangements had been made to bring herds of cows (approx 100 cows in total) into the town, with Public Houses reconnoitred for yards. Bread could be provided for the population at 1lb per person if the three largest bakers worked 24 hours which was considered possible if the entire bakery staff of the town was used.

                      Emergency cooking for the homeless was to be provided by four mobile units (consisting of a 6 ft range and three field boilers), each capable of providing 300 meals per hour.

                      Medical Arrangements
                      A civilian Aid Post was established in the West Suffolk General Hospital. Other posts were established at Feoffment School, The Square House, Westgate Street and the County School, Northgate Street. If the West Suffolk General Hospital became unusable as a result of attack, patients were to be moved to the other Aid Posts or their homes. Patients that could not be removed would remain at the hospital with a small staff left to look after them. Each Rest Centre also had a First Aid Post. Ambulances were allowed to use the roads at any time although should be prepared to be taken off the roads at 30 minutes notice should the Military Commander require it.

                      Health and sanitation
                      On Phase B occurring, instructions would be issued to fill bath tubs etc. Three hours would be allowed then the water supply turned off to allow static supplies to be filled to maximum capacity. The Town Reservoir held a maximum of 575,000 gallons, but considerably less than this during the summer months as the pumping stopped at 6 pm daily. The pumps were powered by electricity from the grid; a steam engine at the waterworks yard could run the pumps in an emergency. Provision had been made to utilise private water supplies should the pumping station be destroyed. Some pipes were held in stock in case of damage to the water mains with further stocks held at Cambridge in the case of serious damage, if transport was available. Static supplies could hold a total of 609,200 gallons and included the Town swimming pool which could hold 100,000 gallons. Further reserves were planned and under construction. The Westgate Brewery had its own wells from which water supplies could be drawn if needed.

                      If Phase C commenced, the water requirements would be a minimum of 70,000 gallons per day (at two gallons per day per person for 25,000 persons , 7,000 gallons for hospitals plus the requirements of the First Aid Posts, Cleansing Stations and the need to keep the bakeries going). A total of 72 water police would be required to enforce these instructions. These would be provided by the Committee of Labour.

                      If the water supply was damaged, instructions would be issued to stop using WC’s and deep latrines would be dug.

                      A portion of West Road cemetery had been earmarked for the burial of the dead.

                      War Damage to Property
                      All damaged property by raids was to be inspected as soon as possible and made weather- tight .First Aid to properties still habitable would be made as soon as possible after the survey had been completed. Permanent repairs could only be made after the First Aid repairs and been completed and were largely the responsibility of the property owner. A scheme of mutual co-operation between the Local Authorities of West Suffolk and the Borough of Thetford was in place to ensure the necessary labour for property repairs.

                      An Information and Report centre was established at Moyse’s Hall, Cornhill. All important notices relating to Civil Defence were to be posted at this centre as well as at other locations and copies published in the Bury Free Press. Likely notices were:

                      • Dinking water and milk – boil all drinking water and milk and cooking utensils
                      • Don’t waste water
                      • Food and drink – list of Communal supplies
                      • Corporation Employees – were to report
                      • Roles of the various Civil Defence Services in the event of Invasion
                      • Billeting and evacuation
                        • Skeleton Telephone Service (STS)
                          If extensive damage was caused to telephone cables due to enemy action, arrangements were in place to ensure a STS between the various vital Civil Defence services, by improvised means if necessary, e.g. field cable.

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