Air raid, 1943 - the bombing of a 'home counties town'
Reading suffered its worst air raid of the Second World War on the afternoon of Wednesday 10 February 1943. A single German plane bombed and machine-gunned in a line across the town centre from Minster Street, through Wellstead’s Department store and the Market Arcade, to the Town Hall.
41 people were killed and over 100 injured. One bomb hit a crowded restaurant called the People’s Pantry in the Market Arcade (now the Bristol & West Arcade). Casualties might have been higher had it not been a Wednesday afternoon, which was early-day closing, so the town centre was less busy than normal. For wartime security reasons, newspapers merely reported a raid on a ‘Home Counties Town’.
This ‘sneak’ attack by a lone bomber was a reprisal raid for the Allied bombing of German cities. Reading was not a significant military target compared to London, or the large industrial cities and ports. Children were evacuated from London to Reading and government departments such as the Ministry of Aircraft Production were relocated to the town.
However, in the event of an invasion the rivers Thames and Kennet would have been strategic lines of defence. The Great Western Railway was very important to the military for moving men and munitions. The BBC’s Monitoring Service, at Caversham Park, listened to all enemy broadcasts, playing an essential part in the propaganda war.