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Boston - The Small Town With A Big Story


Adam Cartwright

The declaration of war in September 1939 came as little surprise. The Council had already instructed the Borough Surveyor to draw up proposals for public air-raid shelters, and plans to create a new fire station were being discussed. Within hours of war being declared, 3,000 mothers with children and helpers arrived in the Market Place by bus. They were mainly from Hull and sent to billets in the surrounding villages as the town itself was considered too risky because of its port. Most evacuees had returned home by Christmas.

A picture of the Arnhem Survivors

Survivors from Arnhem to No2 battery, 1st Air-Landing Light Regiment, Royal Artillery, on parade outside the stump on 3 october 1944 following a service of remembrance for the fallen of Operation Market Garden (Martijn Cornelissen, Arnhem Bridge: Target Mike One)

A picture of a Air Warden with a gasmask on

A warden wearing gasmask of the type fitted with a filter manufactured by Fogarty & Sons in its Boston factory (Courtesy of the Home Front We'll Meet Again Museum, Freiston).

Rationing started in mid-September with the issuing of petrol coupons. Coal and food were also rationed, with some 24,000 food ration books being issued in the borough. With house building suspended the half built houses in Pilgrim Road and Eastwood Road were abandoned “for the duration”. The building of a dual carriageway bypass around the town was withdrawn. The town’s older men, and those in ‘reserved’ occupations, became ARP wardens, firewatchers or joined the Home Guard, which was 300 strong by May 1940. Pillboxes and defensive trenches were constructed and a team of men under the direction of the Black Sluice Drainage Board’s chief engineer were tasked with blowing up key bridges in the event of an invasion. Boston’s industry was placed on a wartime footing. Local families made camouflage nets for the Army, Forgarty’s made the filling for gas masks and Willer & Riley’s and Beulah’s increased their production of canned foods.

With many Allied bomber bases nearby, Boston was an attractive night out for RAF and USAF airmen. They were frequently bussed in from their bases to enjoy the town’s four cinemas, around 70 pubs, and also attend dances held at the Assembly Rooms and the Gliderdrome. The Royal Navy took over the former Union Workhouse near the docks and renamed it HMS Arabella.

An unexploded bomb outside of Cammack's

Digging out an unexploded bomb outside of Cammack's in Wide Bargate (Keith Ian Smith).

A picture of Bostons Freiston Shore pillbox

Boston's Freiston Shore was defended by an emergency coastal battery and a number of carefully sited pillboxes.

It was in June 1940 that the first bombs fell, mainly in the Wrangle area. During the raids that followed 21 were killed, 14 of them in the town itself. The worst incident occurred on 12 June 1941 when high explosive bombs fell in the James Street and West Street area. Nine people died, including a mother and her three young children. Properties including the Royal George and Loveley’s bakery were destroyed. Liquorpond Street and Main Ridge also suffered damage in subsequent raids. In total at least 350 high explosive and thousands of incendiary bombs fell on Boston.

Boston men saw action in theatres of conflict, from Norway during April and May 1940 to the D-Day landings of July 1944, and in Iceland when the Territorials were sent to occupy that country, whilst its trawlers were involved in the evacuation of Dunkirk. Many serving in the RAF flew bombing raids over Germany. By the end of the war around 250 Boston men and women had been killed in the service of their country.