The 20th of March 2021 marks 80 years since the bombing of the Marine Biological Association (MBA) during the Plymouth Blitz in 1941.

Today we’re sharing stories from the day from our Director, Willie Wilson, and staff member Rob Camp, whose great uncle was a warden in the city during the Blitz.

The MBA was partly destroyed by fire.

Stanley Wells Kemp FRS was Director of the MBA from 1936 to 1945. At the time, the Director and his family resided at the building. On the evening of the 20th of March the alert was sounded, and it quickly became apparent that an attack was taking place as hundreds of incendiaries were dropped on the city. As Dr Kemp and the fire guards searched the building, a familiar whine was heard and a bomb struck right outside of the Director’s kitchen window, and another close to the front door.

Current MBA Director Professor Willie Wilson receives Stanley Kemp’s “lucky” coast splattered with molten lead from Stanley’s valiant attempts to save the burning laboratory.

As the building was searched a large fire was found in the back bedroom of the Director’s house. But Dr Kemp was determined to save the laboratory – and insisted that the fire-fighting efforts were focused on preventing the fire from passing the doorway between his office and the main laboratory, rather than on saving his personal belongings.

Read the account of the evening from Mr D. P. Wilson, who was with Dr Kemp through the night, on page 232-234 of his obituary here:

Fire precautions were provided by the Civil Defence Force.
Guidance on how to protect your home and business was also provided.

One of our members of staff, Rob Camp (Instrumentation and Data Technician for the Continuous Plankton Recorder Survey), shares memories of his Uncle “Bert” (John Albert Edward Camp), who was a warden at post 1B3 in Plymouth.

John Albert Edward Camp (top left)

Bert served in World War I but due to a hernia was unable to serve in World War II, so instead joined the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) as a warden, driver and medic. He later moved to the Civil Defence Force (CDF) where he covered situations arising from nuclear attacks in the Cold War. Bert’s World War II ARP uniform was rebadged with the insignia of the CDF.  

Rob remembers Uncle Bert as quite a character and his house a museum of ephemera, as he would never throw anything useful or interesting away – luckily this means Rob has a great collection of documents from Bert’s days in the ARP and CDF, as well as his uniform, helmet and sand bucket - used for putting out incendiary bombs.  Unluckily it meant that when cleaning out his house after he passed, a few incendiary bombs (inactive) were found buried under the garden path between the house and the air raid shelter in his back garden! 

MBA staff member Rob Camp in his Uncle Bert’s World War II uniform.

Listen to our Director, Professor Willie Wilson, tell the story of the bombing of the MBA here:

Mar 17, 2021 By loiflo