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A guest post from Dylan Bailey

For a week or so in August, I worked as a volunteer at the as-yet-to-be-opened North Hertfordshire Museum in Hitchin. I wanted to do some work experience to put on my personal statement, as I am interested in studying History at university and thought working at a history museum would be an interesting experience to include.

I was given a job to do on my first day. In the museum, which contains a variety of valuable museum pieces collected from all over North Hertfordshire, there is a map (presumably printed in the 1930s) called the ‘Incident Map’, which shows us where Axis bombs were dropped in and around the Hitchin Rural District during World War Two.

Hitchin Rural District Council's Incident Map

Hitchin Rural District Council’s Incident Map

The map (which was originally on display at Hitchin Museum) has a key with eight symbols on it. These symbols each represent a different bomb or object that landed in the Hitchin Rural District during the war. The eight ‘subjects’ that are featured on the map are: ‘High Explosive Bombs’, ‘Parachute Mines’, ‘Oil Bombs’, ‘Firepot Bombs’, ‘Phosphorous Bombs’, ‘Fly Bombs’, ‘Rockets’, and ‘Enemy Planes’. The final one, ‘Enemy Planes’, was marked by a Swastika (the symbol most typically associated with the Nazis during World War Two).

Bombs dropped between Pirton and Holwell on a modern background

Bombs dropped between Pirton and Holwell on a modern background

This map indicates that all these bombings took place throughout the war, from 1939 all the way to 1945. The task that I was given to do at the museum was to start mapping out these bombing positions on Google Earth, so then people could see where the bombs landed in relation to our present-day geography. I was given this job due to my personal fascination with World War Two and in general modern history. There are plans for the Google Earth map to eventually be processed, so then people can interact with it in the museum.

Incidents around Lilley mapped onto an aerial photograph from 1945

Incidents around Lilley mapped onto an aerial photograph from 1945

Knowing exactly where the bombs fell in North Hertfordshire in relation to how the county’s land is laid out now and being able to interact with it will hopefully help people to learn more about our local history then they could before now. I finished placing all the bomb markings on except for the ‘High Explosive Bombs’. I started on them but found that there were simply too many to finish by the end of my tenure at the museum. However, I got the vast majority of the bombs mapped out onto Google Earth.

The bombs so far mapped by Dylan shown in Google Maps

Yet I think I have made a positive start to the project in which the museum workers can continue to work on. I had some trouble with the scaling, and so I am not completely confident that I have placed all the markings from the map in the right spot on Google Earth. However, I feel that overall I have made a significant contribution to the North Hertfordshire Museum and helped them in their goal of preserving North Hertfordshire’s culture and heritage.

31 August 2016

6 Responses to North Herts Museum update: a Second World War map of local bombs

  • Sean says:

    Amazing work. Is this map still on display or can we get access? I would love a copy framed in my house in North Hertfordshire.

    • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

      The map will be on display in the new North Hertfordshire Museum, which will be opening in 2017. We don’t have copies for sale, I’m afraid; the map is big and is in a glazed frame, which makes photography very difficult. We will be adding to Dylan’s work on Google Earth, so eventually all the data on the map will have been plotted out and publicly available.

    • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

      I’m afraid that I can’t give a timescale for this. Dylan made an excellent start, but was only with us for a few days during the school holidays in August. I am hoping that another volunteer will be able to pick up where he left off. Once it’s all complete, we’ll let people know on here.

  • Deniel Smith says:

    Is the old map fully comprehensive and correct? I grew up in Hexton and was always told a Nazi plane crashed killing all in woods above the village, near Ravensburgh fort (apparently dogs refused to go near the spot for years), but this is not marked; does that mean this German plane was merely rural legend?

    • Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews says:

      As far as we know, the map is complete and correct, as it was the official record maintained by Hitchin Rural District Council. Even if it is just local legend, there may be some basis in truth: might there have been an airship crash during the First World War or a civilian plane crash in the 1930s or 40s that has become a “Nazi plane” in faulty memory? I am not aware of such a crash, but who knows?

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