Cat no. 1292

Captain Rowsell's Norwich

Running time8:14 Colour Silent 1945 Norwich, Norfolk

An American airman films wartime Norwich in colour.


AmateurArchive AliveMilitaryWartime

A record of Norwich during World War II, filmed by an American USAAF pilot, Captain Rowsell. It combines tourist shots with film of his colleagues and of his future wife, as well as a record of Norwich during the war.

1) Policemen pose for the camera outside the Bethel Street Police Station. Most of the Station is obscured by sandbags.

2) Shots of a section of the City Wall precede a sequence showing bomb damage in Norwich. The first scenes are of an unknown factory. There is a church in the background and a chimney smoking. There are also ruined houses filmed around the St. Benedicts/ Barn Road area. Another large, several storied ruined building follows. This is the remains of Howlett and White's Shoe Factory on Colegate.

3) The next sequence is devoted to Norwich street scenes. The first part of this is shot from opposite Curls Department Store, on Orford Place, looking towards White Lion Street and Castle Meadow. This scene shows army vehicles and buses travelling through the town as well as motor cars. The building of the Liver Society is in the background. Also visible is the Bell Hotel. The City Hall is filmed across the market. Street scenes show people going about their everyday business on Guildhall Hill. A traffic policeman directs traffic.

4) A shot of Miss Peggy Armes, the future Mrs. Rowsell, precedes a shot of Nelson's statue. There are shots taken of Captain Rowsell's USAAF and RAF colleagues. The second man featured wearing the flying helmet is Captain Rowsell.

5) The next sequence is a typical tourist film of the Cathedral and The Close. The west window is filmed from the inside of the Cathedral. The plaque identifying the remains of the monastic infirmary is filmed along with general shots around the Cathedral and The Close, including the Erpingham Gate. These scenes also show the ARP public shelter.

6) A train arrives at Thorpe Station, Norwich. It contains several servicemen who wave from the windows. There are a number of shots from around the station.

7) Experimental sequence, shot through an orange filter. This shows a chapel and a long shot of some buildings.

8) A few brief shots of Cow Tower and the River Wensum are followed by fire-fighters on an exercise on the roof of the Boys Brigade Building on Bull Close Road.

9) A long sequence is shot in the Farrow Road Cemetery, Norwich. This shows the chapel of rest and the memorial flower beds. In a moving scene Captain Rowsell films a long row of graves from the Baedeker raids in 1942. This continues into an unused trench, now overgrown, suggesting that the City authorities were expecting more casualties that never came. The grass has not grown over the graves. There are floral tributes on bare earth. Captain Rowsell picks two examples of how families died together. The first is a stone memorial erected. This reads In loving memory of my dear wife Hilda May Lockwood and children Beryl, Kathleen, Jack, Reginald, Margaret Winifred. In their death they were not divided. April 27th 1942. Another example shows the individual white wooden crosses erected by the graves. These commemorate Ernest John Burton, (aged 56 years), Clara Burton, (aged 53 years), John Ernest Frank Burton, (aged 18 years) and Sybil Burton (aged 13 years).

10) The next sequence shows Miss Armes leaving for her wedding with her parents from their home, 144 Bull Close Road. The next shot is of their neighbours, Mr. George Bush and family, also on Bull Close Road. After a shot of a barrage balloon flying over Norwich, the film ends with shots of more ruined houses.

Background Information:

Captain Rowsell and Norwich. This film is an important historical record. His position allowed Captain Rowsell access to many areas that would have been denied a civilian at the time. These are also some of the few shots that exist showing Norwich after the Baedeker Raids of 27th to 30th April, 1942. Film and photographs showing evidence of bomb damage were usually censored by the Ministry of Information. He also filmed the graves of the victims in the Farrow Road Cemetery. This shows clearly that the victims were buried in mass graves, something people felt uncomfortable about. Captain Rowsell came from Salt Lake City, Utah. He was an enlisted man, although older than most; he was in his thirties at the beginning of the war. He first came to the area at the beginning of America's entry into the war, flying daylight raids. After a spell in north Africa, he returned towards the end of the war. He flew 36 missions, an unusually high number. He met and married a local woman, Peggy Armes, who features in two or three shots in his film. One shows her leaving for her wedding in St. Andrews Church with her parents. The film records some of his military colleagues, from the RAF as well as from the American Armed Services. Captain Rowsell is the second of these wearing the flying helmet. He shot other films during his stay in Britain. He died in February 1994.

Norwich and the Blitz. Raid 28/29. 27/28 and 29/30 April 1942. (Monday and Wednesday nights.) First alert 23.21 hours. Second alert 21.13 hours.It was on these nights in April that Norwich received its heaviest raids of the war. These were named the 'Baedeker Raids' because Norwich appeared in 'Baedeker's British Isles' as a place of historic interest and it was bombed for this reason. Norwich people called them 'The Blitz.'

The cold facts of the great assault on Norwich were as follows: On the Monday night the raid lasted two hours when 185 high explosive bombs weighing over 50 tons were dropped, killing 162 people and injuring 600 - a light casualty list considering the tonnage of bombs dropped - and some 84 people were dug out of the mountains of rubble alive.After one night's respite on the Tuesday the weary citizens had to endure another night of terror on the Wednesday. Once again flares were dropped and the raid that followed developed on similar lines to that of Monday. This raid lasted almost an hour and a quarter during which time 112 high explosive bombs were dropped weighing 45 tons, killing 69 people and injuring 89. In this raid a much higher proportion of incendiaries was used and many of the bombs fell on areas of the City already devastated during Monday's raid. (J. Banger, Norwich At War. Poppyland Publishing, 1989.)

In Norwich, there were 1,500 alerts during the war. 330 people were killed; 1,200 were injured. 2,000 houses were totally destroyed and 30,000 were damaged by enemy action.

The Lockwood Family. Mr. Lockwood was a ARP warden and was out on duty during the raids of April 27/28 and 29/30 1942. His family wife and three children were in the Anderson shelter which took a direct hit. The fate of the Lockwood family touched many people in Norwich. The grave of Mrs. Lockwood and her three month old daughter are featured in another film in the Archive, filmed by Charles Scott. See Cat 6209
Norwich, Norfolk, 1947-1949 - 'It Happened in Norwich: 1947-1949'

Howlett And Whites. The Howlett and Whites factory on Colegate was built in 1868. At that time it was the largest shoe factory in Britain. There is no record of this factory being hit during an air raid. This may have been destroyed as the result of a fire.

Featured People:

Captain Rowsell; Miss Peggy Armes (later Mrs. Rowsell); Mr. and Mrs Armes; Mr. George Bush and family

Featured Organisations:


Featured Buildings:

Norwich Cathedral; Norwich City Hall ; Guildhall ; Cow Tower; Howlett and Whites Shoe Factory (remains of), Norwich; Thorpe Station; 144 Bull Close Road; Boys Brigade Headquarters, Bull Close Road; Bethel Street Police Station, Norwich

Captain Rowsell

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