FOR many of us, the Second World War lives only in books and films.

As time moves on, memories of those terrible years are increasingly confined to the pages of history.

But for several Colchester residents, memories of their childhood years during wartime were brought into sharp focus. Exactly 75 years ago, eight civilians were killed in an air raid on Colchester town centre.

To mark the anniversary, a commemorative stone was unveiled at the site where the bombs fell.

Another 28 people were injured in the strike, which was carried out by a lone German bomber.

In total, 30 houses were destroyed across South Street, Wellington Street, Chapel Street and Essex Street.

It was the worst raid on a residential area of Colchester in the entirety of the war.

For the few survivors attending the unveiling of the memorial, it brought back stark memories.

Betty Day, who moved to Colchester in 1935, was working in a shop in St John’s Street when the German bomber screeched overhead.

She described the stoic attitude displayed by many residents in the town throughout wartime.

Betty, who is now 89, said: “At the time I worked in a shop opposite the old St John’s Street bus park.

“Back then there were shops all the way along the road. I worked in a baby shop right next door to the bus station office.

“The morning the bomber came over it was the noise we noticed first. We said ‘Can you hear it? It can’t be one of ours.’ “It was so loud and it sounded low. We didn’t hear planes come over that low - not over the town.

“We used to have American bombers flying around the town but not over.

“As I stepped into the back door the bomb hit, It shook the whole building. It is so fresh in my memory.

“We got up off the floor and said ‘That was close.’ “A policeman came down the road on his bike and said ‘Are you girls all right?’ “We kept our heads down and got on with it, we kept the shop open.

“Half the shops in the street had their windows blown out, we were lucky.”

The pensioner has lived in Carlisle Close, Colchester, for 42 years and has three sons, a daughter, ten grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, she recalls most children in Colchester were evacuated to the countryside.

However, her family remained. They lived in the Blue Boar Hotel, in Kendall Road, which was run by her father and is now called the New Town Tavern.

Mrs Day said: “My brother and sister said ‘No, we’re not being evacuated’.

“I went to St Helena School but there was no-one else in my class, so I had to join the youngsters at a primary school.

“The pub we were in had a big cellar which was reinforced, and with two bunk beds, which we would go to when the sirens rang out.

“The big butchers opposite us had a bell outside, which they would ring if the bombers were coming.”

Joan Watson, 83, said watching the unveiling of the stone brought memories of her childhood in Colchester rushing back.

She was seven when the bombs struck, and living in West Street with her parents.

When fire and destruction came to Colchester on that horrific morning, she was sat in class with her fellow students.

“I was a pupil at St John’s Green School,” said Mrs Watson, who now lives in Langenhoe.

“We knew when the siren went off we were to go into the air raid shelters in the playground.

“But this time there was no warning. By that time we were used to the sound of bombers, but this was different. We did as we were told and dived under our desks, which were heavy and wooden - but didn’t feel like much protection.

“After they landed, parents were rushing to the school, terrified it had been hit.”

“When I walked home there was rubble everywhere.

“Firefighters were spraying the rubble and it gave off a strong, damp smell.

“Every time I smell something like wet plaster I vividly remember that morning.”

“It was awful.”

John Simpson, 83, was buried alive in rubble when the bomb landed yards away from his house in Wellington Street. He said: “I was at home in bed at the time, feeling poorly. I was unwell, it was Monday morning and I didn’t want to go to school.

“I heard a noise so loud, it was like it was cutting the chimneys off the roofs.

“My mother, who was around 23 or 24 at the time, was outside when she saw the bomber.

“It was so low, it almost hit the Jumbo water tower. I remember the windows getting blown out, the ceiling was blown on top of me.

“Somehow I suffered no injury - just the shock to the system.

“I remember a little further down Wellington Street a bomb went completely through the side of a house, out the other side and bounced across the road.

“It went into a house across the street before exploding and the resident there was killed.

“It is definitely nostalgic to meet so many people who were in Colchester that day. I will never forget it.”

About 275 houses in Colchester were damaged as the four 250kg bombs decimated the densely populated residential area to the north of Colchester’s Garrison.

A remarkable rescue effort followed, with workers quickly digging survivors from the mounds of debris and rubble.

Some pubs and shops remained open to help with the effort. Gas, water and electricity men were highly praised for restoring all services.

Colchester’s High Steward Sir Bob Russell came up with the idea of a memorial and organised the commemorative service which was attended by a number of dignitaries including Deputy Lieutenant Nicholas Charrington and Colchester mayor Gerard Oxford.

Sir Bob said: “What became known as the Chapel Street Air Raid is now mostly forgotten, hopefully this will serve as a reminder of this important event in Colchester’s history.”

The granite stone was donated by the Hunnaball Family funeral group which installed it in partnership with Anglian Water and Balfour Beatty, who did the work voluntarily.