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Trainee RN photographer's historic pictures project

Firefighting in 1944 and how the site looks today
23 February 2021
Iconic images of World War Two bomb damaged Plymouth and Devonport have been faithfully recreated by a trainee Royal Naval photographer.

Able Seaman Gareth Smith carried out the project for his Defence Photography Course, which begins in March, at RAF Cosford in the Midlands.

Encouraged by the rich history surrounding HMNB Devonport and the barrack area of HMS Drake,  he meticulously researched where a series of 1940s pictures were taken during the war and placed them alongside what is there today.

 “I took the inspiration from working day to day around the Base and the City,” said Gareth.

 "I found I could identify some of the places and with a bit of leg work, research and looking around, certain landmarks in the background pointed me to the right place.

"Much of what was there has gone, redeveloped soon after the war, but it was amazing to get the right location, after all these years.”

This personal project really brought a sense of perspective to the catastrophic damage caused to Plymouth during the Blitz.

AB Gareth Smith

The Plymouth Blitz was a series of bombing raids launched during WW2 by the German Luftwaffe.  The Royal Dockyard at Devonport was the main target and in early 1941, five raids in particular reduced much of Plymouth to rubble.

Nearly every civic building was destroyed. More than two dozen schools suffered the same fate, as did 40 places of worship. Most were rebuilt but Charles Church was left in ruins as a memorial.

Despite this, and the high level of civilian casualties, the Dockyard continued in operation. 

Gareth added:  “This personal project really brought a sense of perspective to the catastrophic damage caused to Plymouth during the Blitz. I sought to revise important historical moments captured during WW2 in Plymouth and Devonport, comparing them to the peaceful present day.

“For a relatively small city and with the extent of the damage Plymouth took it's truly remarkable how the city rebuilt itself after the war. 1,174 people were killed and 4,448 were injured in Plymouth over the course of the war and around 30,000 people were left homeless.”


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