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Newmarket Local History Society

The Newmarket Telephone Exchange (page 2)

Disaster strikes the Post Office and Telephone Exchange - February 18th 1941

On that fateful Tuesday, February 18th 1941, Newmarket High Street witnessed terrible damage, 27 fatalities and numerous injuries when a German Dornier bomber dropped a stick of 10 bombs along the length of the street on the afternoon of a busy market day.
Among the buildings hit was one of vital importance to the war effort, The Post Office was destroyed including the telephone exchange housed in the same building. Newmarket's communications with the outside world had been effectively cut.
Miss G B Cole (later awarded the B.E.M), the switchboard supervisor, remembers: From 1923 the Post Office was situated on the corner of New Cut and had a glass roof. When war broke out the glass was painted black and the windows were bricked up but this made the place very dark so the glass was replaced with a wooden cover. The staff were issued with tin hats and gas masks and in the event of a bombing, staff were instructed to put their head set cords round their waists and walk out in an orderly fashion. The 250 pound bomb fell mostly on the engineering section and the order to evacuate came out as SCRAM!!
The bomb fell at 3.15 pm - by 5 pm the telephone communication was worked by handset in the Doric Cinema where they stayed a couple of days. The Post Office counter and sorting office moved to the Memorial Hall where Miss Cole's sister was in charge of Telegrams.

Myrtle Hazlewood nee Fisher (picture right November 2009) was an operator working on the switchboard when the bomb fell on the building. She explains that the switchboard was situated on the upper floor. The engineering section was housed in a part of the same building and the bomb came right through it before exploding on the ground floor, in the counter and sorting office area. She says it was 'like an earthquake'. Two persons were killed here, Miss Queenie Kerry, a counter clerk and Mr Allan Barnes a sorting clerk; other staff and customers sustained injuries.
Miss Cole, Myrtle and the other operators were severely shaken up and suffered cuts and bruises, but they were were lucky to be alive and were led to safety via a rear emergency stairway.

Looking at the ruins of the bombed Post Office building it seems amazing that anyone survived.

You can read much more about the bombing of Newmarket in the NLHS publications 'One Afternoon in February' and 'When Newmarket Went to War'. The former is now out of print but you should be able to borrow a copy from a member. The latter is still on sale in Tindalls, High Street Newmarket.

List of civilian casualties resulting from the February 18th 1941 bombing

History of the Newmarket Telephone Exchange - opening page
History of the Newmarket Telephone Exchange page 3
History of the Newmarket Telephone Exchange page 4
Jack Hoxley's story
The Admiralty Shutter Telegraph of the early 19th c

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