BECAUSE of the nature of the city's industries the people of Sheffield expected that bombing from the air would be an early and sustained war experience, though none dared to prophesy its nature, extent or toll; all that could be done was to prepare.
The story of the raids on Sheffield is really the story of the blitz nights of December 12th - 13th and 15th, 1940, when 602 people were killed and 1,571 injured, and much property destroyed and damaged.
It will probably never be known what the exact objective was of the first and more disastrous of the two raids. In their official communique the Germans claimed to have hit their targets of steel and war works, but, either by accident or design, this is the one thing they did not do. The attack was one on civilians and non-military objects.
The second raid, it is true, was confined to the East End, but little damage was done to plants on war production.
Spirit was not Broken
Both raids, therefore, were a failure from a military point of view. The civilian population, though shocked and temporarily dazed, did not lose heart, nerve, or confidence. If the object of the raids not Broken was to break their spirit this, too, failed; it left them an embittered and more determined people.
Sporadic visits to the district by German bombers which began in the middle of the previous August were recognized as reconnaissance expeditions, and after the treatment meted out to Coventry and Birmingham, the authorities—and most of the public—knew that Sheffield was scheduled for a mass raid.
It came on the night of December 12th. Conditions for bombing were perfect. There was a full moon in a cloudless sky, and a keen frost had whitened the roofs.
In spite of the great height at which the aircraft came over, the city must have been visible to their crews in considerable detail.
Interception of enemy radio beams indicated that Sheffield was the objective. The authorities were warned, and A.A. guns, police, and all branches of the Civil Defence services were ready.
The alert was sounded at 7 p.m., and within a few minutes German planes were over the city and facing a heavy barrage. Flares were followed by showers of incendiaries. An aerial bombardment that was to last for approximately nine hours had started.
The "all-clear" went at 4.17 a.m., by which time scores of fires were burning, throwing ominous glares over great areas in the city.
Six Mines by Parachute
It is estimated that 300 machines participated, and that approximately 450 H.E. bombs, in addition to six parachute mines and many thousands of incendiaries, were dropped during the raid of December 12th - 13th.
Enormous damage was done, particularly in the centre of the city and in the north-west and south-east.
Casualties, while heavy, were lighter than was feared when reports disclosed the extent of the damage.
The evening of Thursday, which is early closing day in the city, has always been a popular one for down-town entertainments.
This particular evening was no exception. Amusement houses were crowded, a dance was in progress in the Cutlers' Hall, hotels and restaurants were busy.
In view of the presence of so many people in the city it was little short of a miracle that the number of dead did not number thousands.
Fortunately there was no direct hit on the auditorium of any theatre or picture-house - these were cleared after a time on police orders - and though the Central Picture House was destroyed by fire, and had more than 400 persons in it when the blaze started, they were all got safely away to shelters.
|Homes, Not Works, Paid The Price of Nazi Raids|
|Nearly 70 Killed in Marples Hotel|
The heaviest loss of life in a single "incident" was at Marples Hotel, at the junction of High Street and Fitzalan Square. It is estimated that between 60 and 70 persons—half of whom were women—were killed. The actual number, however, will never be known, owing to the difficulties experienced in identifying the bodies.
Only 14 of the victims could be definitely named. Such personal property as identity cards, rings, watches, spectacles, handbags, and cigarette lighters, many of them badly burned and charred, helped in the identification of other bodies.
The wrecked and smouldering ruins were the subject of many wild stories for days after the raid. Here is the official account of what happened, as pieced together by the police.
The hotel—a seven storey building—received a direct hit from a heavy calibre bomb at approximately 11.44 p.m. The premises were completely destroyed, and walls or the adjoining buildings caught fire.
Before the hotel was hit, customers and staff alike had been calm throughout the evening. In fact, they had been singing popular choruses to the accompaniment of gun-fire and the dropping of bombs.
Soldiers Used Field Dressings
Windows on the ground floor were shattered when a bomb struck the premises of C. and A. Modes Ltd., on the opposite side of the street, at about 10.50 p.m. A number of people were cut by flying glass, and they went down into the cellar of the hotel, where soldiers, using field dressings, helped to bandage their wounds.
Rescue work began at about 10 o'clock the following morning.
Within two or three hours seven men had been liberated. Two of the rescued walked away and their identity has never been revealed.
The five other men rescued were: John Watson Kay, aged 46, Boma Road, Trentham. Stoke-on-Trent; Edward Riley, aged 36, Ecclesall Road, Sheffield; Ebenezer Tall, aged 42, Clarissa Street, Shoreditch; William Wallace King, Arbett Parade, Bristol; and Lionel George Ball, Knowle West, Bristol.
They told vivid stories of how they spent the night trapped in the cellars. How they could hardly breathe for smoke and dust . . . how they dug with their hands to make an air vent—how they dozed, weary and light-headed from the loss of blood.
It was calculated that over 1,000 tons of rubble were removed during the rescue operations.
Mr. Richard William Reading, a Corporation tram inspector, of Neill Road, Sheffield, who had been trying to remove trams from High Street, was in the tramways office in Fitzalan Square, when he heard a terrific explosion.
Building was Rubble Heap
"When I got outside," he said, "I saw that Marples Hotel had been hit. The building had collapsed, and where it had stood there was a heap of rubble about 15 feet high."
Mr. Thomas Wilson, of Bastock Road, Sheffield, went to the hotel to look for his wife, Edith Grace Wilson, who was employed as a barmaid. While he was watching the rescue work he saw a man staggering about on top of the wreckage, holding his head in his hands.
Wilson called the attention of the foreman in charge to the man. Surprised at what he saw, the foreman cried, "Good God, he's come out of the wreckage."
Later Wilson called down the hole from which the man had emerged, and others asked if they could get out.
Rescue work continued on the site for several weeks.
Owing to the fracturing of water mains in the centre of the city, fires got completely out of control for a time.Several large buildings not directly affected by the raid were involved, and in some cases completely destroyed by fires.Happily a change in the direction of the strong wind helped the fire-fighters, and all the outbreaks were under control soon after daylight.
The two most vivid impressions one had of Sheffield immediately after the sounding of the "All clear" were the numbers of people walking about, and the innumerable fires which completely enveloped great blocks in the centre of the city.
Escaped by a Miracle
How so many people had escaped unharmed was a miracle. All had been hustled into shelters, and had either remained in one place during the nine hours of the raid or had to move from one shelter to another as more buildings caught fire and made shelters untenable.
|The Holocaust on the Moor|
For two hours after the "All-clear" the streets in the centre of the city were crowded with people making their way home.
No public service vehicles were running and pedestrians threaded their way between blazing buildings which threatened to collapse as they passed. They had to avoid burning tramcars and dodge the firemen who were still hard at work.
Most of them must have stepped on or over unexploded or time bombs.
Apart from Fargate and one side of High Street the whole of the centre of the city seemed merged into one colossal blaze. At 4 a.m. there was not a building in Angel Street and King Street which was not demolished or on fire.
From Market Place at the top of Angel Street one could see the whole of Cockayne's shop as a mass of flames and crumbling masonry, with twisted steel girders just becoming visible in the glare.
H. L. Brown's the jewellers, and Dean and Dawson's booking agency next door had apparently been wiped out by a direct hit from a high explosive, and the tailor's shop between them and the bank on the corner of Angel Street and High Street was blazing furiously.
Further down Angel Street the whole block of property which included the Angel Hotel, Bortner's the jewellers, Bell's bread shop and the smaller shops between there and the recruiting office at the corner of Bank Street was flaming to heaven.
Fires were uncontrollable
On the other side Crossley's, the drapers, was rapidly disintegrating in an uncontrollable fire which was running through the shops and offices up to Symington and Crofts at the corner of King Street.
King Street was an inferno. Every building in it was on fire or razed to the ground. Even the great block of the Norris Deakin Buildings was in danger of complete collapse and the Mecca Hotel on the corner of Haymarket was by then almost burned out.
Opposite was one of the biggest individual fires in the city. It involved the whole of the island block of property which housed C. and A. Modes, Burtons, the tailors, and billiard saloon above, the various provisions shops in King Street, and the tailors on the corner of High Street and Haymarket.
The whole of this enormous building was blazing, with sparks and burning brands of timber being hurled high into the air as though blown by a powerful blast furnace.
The substantial stone walls of C. and A. Modes were caving in, and twisted girders were protruding through the fissures like splintered bones from a gigantic body.
The building was a shell in which every window was vividly lighted by the internal fire.
Across High Street, Marples corner was a ghastly sight.
Fantastic Steel Mass
The fire was spreading rapidly and already thick funnels of smoke were whirling out of the windows of the King's Head Hotel, above, though there was still no tell-tale glow through the shattered glass to tell of uncontrollable fire. Later the fire. which could not be checked, wrecked the whole of the interior of the hotel.
Perhaps the most frighteningly fascinating sight of all was the gigantic Satanic torch made by two tramcars at the bottom of High Street, between the inferno of C. and A. Modes and the hell of Marples corner. These vehicles were a mass of flame shooting vertically high into the air.
The Westminster Hotel had been ablaze for some time and was being reduced to rubble, and there was not much left of Staubers' and Burton's, below, but fantastically twisted steel girders.
Jones' shop, with its high-peaked frontage, had no roof, and the flames were shooting into the sky, but the front wall held firm, and through the windows and doors one had the impression of a furnace of metal, almost at white heat.
At this time Walsh's great emporium was apparently untouched. It stood a darkly sinister mass almost surrounded by fires which licked over it from the Westminster and from the property further down High Street—the Bodega and Dunn's hat shop. It was not on fire at 4.30 a.m., but soon afterwards the inevitable happened. Sparks from the Westminster, whipped by the updraught of fire-tortured air, fell through the shattered windows of the huge store and set alight the flimsy materials inside.
By a miracle Fargate escaped with scarcely a scratch—comparatively speaking. No building on either side of the road was directly hit, though one seemed to wade through waves of shattered glass as one walked towards the Town Hall.
The Town Hall, standing starkly in silhouette against the ruddy glow of the fires on the Moor, was intact.
Some windows had gone and a high explosive had fallen in the middle of Surrey Street between the Halifax Building Society building and the Town Hall.
Town Hall Escaped
The steep upward sweep of the blast had left unscathed the lower walls of the Town Hall, but from the second storey upwards, the grimy solid stone was splattered with dirt.
Pinstone Street was all there, but as one walked past the Moor Head end of St. Paul's Garden one became uncomfortably aware of a thick and viscous layer of clay and trampled earth.
A high explosive bomb had fallen in the garden and done no more damage than break a few windows in St. Paul's Parade and Pinstone Street, and liberally bedaub the road with mud.
The Moor from the Moor Head was a holocaust - no other word adequately describes it. The long straight road was one mass of flame on either side and at intervals, where there was some big store such as Atkinson's or Roberts Brothers, the brighter, bigger glow of greater individual fire could be picked out.
Half a Mile of Flames
Campbell's furniture store—half a mile of show-rooms all presumably well stocked—was still blazing furiously, though it was the first of the big fires to be started in the centre of the city.
The Empire Theatre adjoining was undamaged, but the sweet shop on the Union Street corner of the Empire Building had been razed by a high explosive.
Brook Shaw's motor showrooms on the corner of Charles Street and Union Street was on fire, and the Three Horse Shoes Hotel on the other corner of the road intersection was a complete ruin.
The Moorhead was ringed by blazing buildings and further down the Central Picture House was almost gutted, but still blazing.
Back towards the centre of the city in Barker's Pool and along Leopold Street the damage, superficially, seemed negligible.
The Regent stood apparently unharmed to any great extent, and the massive pile of the City Hall and the gaunt structure of the Grand Hotel were black in the night.
But a bomb of useful calibre had fallen neatly in the centre of one of the big emergency water tanks nestling against the War Memorial and had blown it to smithereens.
One lump of twisted steel sheeting had crashed into the wall of the Regent high up, and another had been planted down in the forecourt of the Grand Hotel.
Down towards the Cathedral the new undamaged Telephone Building gleamed white, but in Church Street the corner block of the Royal Insurance Company building was blazing and had been given up as a complete loss.
Here was a little island of horrid and depressing devastation. A bomb of very heavy calibre had scored a direct hit on the office of the Council of Social Service near to the Royal Insurance building in St. James' Street.
It was old property, and in a way all the more pitiable. The building, and those on either side and behind, had crumbled into dusty rubble.
Old Sheffield Disappears
Down Vicar Lane all the old property of the Sheffield of centuries ago was in ruins. The Church Army Home at the bottom of Vicar Lane was simply a pile of stone. When the bomb fell which demolished it, a Church Army officer in charge of a mobile canteen was outside the building replenishing the stores of his canteen. Miraculously he escaped and, with a tram conductor—another of the hundreds of modest heroes whose fame can never be sung—he dug unceasingly until he had extricated the people who had been sheltering in the cellar of the home. There was no fatality in the building. The lodging house round in Campo Lane and the shops adjoining had vanished as if by magic. To get up Campo Lane towards Townhead Street one had to clamber over a pile of bricks and stone.
The buildings seemed to have been blasted right across the road. That anyone could have come out of them alive seemed impossible.
On the corner of Hawley Street the end of the block of Corporation flats had been shattered by high explosive, and further down in West Bar a big bomb had dropped in the roadway, damaged some tram cars, burst a water main and turned the district into chaos.
Fears for A.R.P. Control
Working round along Bridge Street one noticed almost casually that the shops at the bottom of Snig Hill had mysteriously gone, that the Blue Boar Hotel was just about burned out, and that something pretty big had fallen in the congested property behind Tennants' Brewery.
The Old Town Hall—the police courts—were on fire and one wondered anxiously what had happened to the main control of the city's A.R.P. which was housed deep in the rock beneath the building. The staff was in a bomb proof hole but what of fire and suffocation?
Actually, the lights in the control had failed and the emergency lighting was in operation. The emergency ventilating plant had been put out of operation and there was serious danger that the staff would be entombed beneath the burning debris.
Then, on passing this area, one became aware of another huge fire. It was the Brightside and Carbrook central store in Exchange Street—a solid wall of flame.
Havoc came as a Shock
And so it was that when daylight dawned on that grim December morning it was found that havoc by fire and bomb had changed the appearance of the heart of Sheffield to a degree that came as a shock to the thousands of suburban residents who, having taken refuge in shelters, were aware of the more or less serious damage in their neighbourhood but did not foresee the extent of the havoc wrought until they wandered into the city next morning.
"Wandered" is the word to use, for municipal transport, along with other public services, had been brought to a halt. Every tramway route was marked with abandoned trams and buses, some intact, many with smashed windows and scorched bodies, and several completely burned out.
Private buildings suffered more than those belonging to the Municipality.
The half-million pound City Hall experienced nothing worse than the tearing up of the main steps and the damaging of the entrance hall, while the Town Hall, the Central Library and Art Gallery came through the bombardment without structural damage.
The West Bar office of the Public. Assistance Department—later the Social Welfare Department—home of the old Sheffield Board of Guardians, was demolished, and other Corporation property affected was the "old Town Hall"—the building in which the police courts were held—and Nether Edge Hospital, which was badly involved, five patients being killed and one dying from injuries.
Three voluntary hospitals were hit, without, happily, causing any loss of life.
The Jessop Hospital for Women was so severely damaged that the old part had to be vacated, while the Royal Hospital and the Royal Infirmary were also slightly affected.
One of the most striking evidences of the widespread nature of the raids was provided by the Act that, out of 154 schools, 106 were damaged, eight being completely demolished.
Extensive damage was done to Collegiate Hall of the Training College for Teachers.
Damage to Churches
Churches of all denominations were involved. The Church of England had one church destroyed, two damaged beyond repair, six badly damaged, and 27 affected in varying degrees.
By comparison the damage to the Cathedral was not serious, but most of the windows were blown out by blast from bombs which fell all around it.
The adjacent church of St. James, one of the oldest in the city, was damaged beyond repair, and the one consoling thought was that it had been condemned as redundant for some years.
The Church House (the Central Diocesan meeting place), only a few yards away from the Cathedral, was severely damaged.
But the worst blow to the Church of England community in Sheffield was the destruction by fire of St. Mark's Church, a lovely 70-year-old building.
Damage to Roman Catholic churches was confined mainly to three, one of them, St. Vincent's, being among the best known in the city. It lost stained glass windows valued at nearly £3,000.
Its girls' school, which was the original Church of St. Vincent, was destroyed. St. Wilfrid's Church, Heeley, was demolished altogether with the day schools.
St. Marie's Schools, at the corner of St. Mary's Road with Queen's Road, was gravely damaged in common with other property in that badly-hit district.
The Methodists had 61 churches damaged, and St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church was destroyed by fire.
The Central Hebrew Synagogue was destroyed.
Some of the most interesting of Sheffield's few buildings of historic value were gravely affected by the raids.
Much of the outward evidence of the city's past was preserved in a few hotels and inns.
The two oldest established, the King's Head Hotel, and the Angel Hotel, were reduced to ruins by fire.
The former, dating back to 1572, was a well-known coaching station in the old days, and had a bowling green in what later became known as Change Alley.
Link with Coach Days
The Angel Hotel dated from about 1680, though the original stone building was pulled down early in the 19th century. From here there started in 1760 the first mail coach from Sheffield to London. It was described as a "flying machine on steel springs," and a large stained glass window in the hotel commemorated the event. The "flying machine" took six days to reach London.
The Angel was the scene of the town's dinner to celebrate the victory of Waterloo.
Another hotel with a history that went up in flames was the Westminster Hotel, in High Street. It was known originally as the Childer's Arms, and was a coaching house.
Sharing the fate of these hotels were the Royal Oak, the Bodega, Devonshire Arms, Shades Vaults and Three Horse Shoes, while the Black Swan, another inn with coaching associations, was damaged.
Among the city's big stores that were wrecked by fire were those of T. B. & W. Cockayne Ltd., John Walsh Ltd., Crossley's, John Atkinson, Roberts Brothers Ltd.—all old family businesses which, starting in a small way, had grown with the city.
Their names were household words in Sheffield and many of the surrounding towns.
Cockayne's were the possessors of an arcade built in 1897, and this, and the narrow street of Hartshead to which it led, were reduced to ruins.
Modern stores destroyed were the city premises of the Brightside and Carbrook Society and the fine block of new buildings erected on the site of the old market.
Bramall Lane ground, historic home of Sheffield sport for nearly a century, was in the centre of a district which got a severe pounding.
It received its share of hits. A stretch of one of the stands was ruined by a direct hit, while bombs fell on the football pitch and on the popping creases of Yorkshire County cricket pitches.
Bombs that fell on the central part of the city and the many fires that broke out destroyed the Athenxum Club, banks, and many offices of companies and professional men.
|33,000 Houses Damaged|
Private dwelling-houses demolished and damaged (excluding those that had only broken windows), totalled 33,000.
Gas suffered most of the public services. Neepsend gas works was practically destroyed and the Effingham Road works partly destroyed. Some of the very large mains which brought coke oven gas into the city were fractured, while a number of service mains met with a similar fate. While the gas supply was restored in some districts after a few days, others were deprived of it for weeks.
The water undertaking escaped serious direct damage. Underground mains were, of course, fractured, but the supply was fully restored to all parts of the city within a few days.
In the meantime, the needs of the public were met by supplies from mobile and stationary tanks, and from standpipes.
Both the city's generating stations escaped major damage. The supply of electricity to some parts of the town was interrupted, but was speedily restored.
The transport problem was serious for several weeks after the raids. Craters—there were 200 in all in roads in the city—damaged tracks and wrecked trolley wires, kept the tram service at a standstill, and until these could be restored, the Corporation, with the aid of vehicles lent by other local authorities, maintained a really excellent bus service to all suburbs normally relying on trams.
The second mass raid lasted from 7.10 to 10.15 p.m. on Sunday, December 15th, and was confined to the East End of the city, extending from the south-east to the north-east.
As in the case of the first raid, it began with the dropping of a large number of incendiaries which caused many fires. Five parachute mines and about 100 H.E. bombs were dropped.
Dud Bomb Hit Hospital
Among several 600 lb. time bombs which failed to explode was one that fell in the Royal Hospital.
One of the curios of the raid was a piece of shrapnel weighing several cwt. (part of a 600 lb. bomb) that was blown a distance of half a mile.
The devastated parts of the city were visited by the King and Queen, and by Princess Royal and Lord Harewood.
Two hundred police officers were imported from the West Riding, Bradford, and Leeds.
Members of the Home Guard assisted in patrol and picket duties until such time as the demolition squads had rendered streets and areas safe for reopening.
While it is not possible to refer in detail to the fine work done by all ranks and branches of the A.R.P. and fire services—many were killed and injured while following their duties—special mention must be made of the Social Welfare Department, upon whom fell the responsibility of feeding, housing and clothing the 23,000 people who were rendered homeless.
This side of the after-raid work comes into prominence because the carefully-prepared schemes for housing and feeding the bombed-out were lost when the Control Office of the department was hit, and because many pre-selected centres were out of action.
By requisitioning all kinds of premises—schools, church halls, working men's clubs, and picture houses—and by magnificent work on the part of the department's staffs and hundreds of voluntary workers, there was no delay or hitch in this gigantic improvisation of a complete communal system.
The blitz produced many stirring instances of bravery and devotion to duty.
Among the awards were six George Medals. The recipients were: Charles Taylor, gas-valve man, 5, Greave Street, Walkley; Leslie Crofts, air raid warden, 22, Coleridge Road, Attercliffe; Leslie Harold Currie, animal A.R.P. warden, 100, Hemper Lane, Greenhill; Police-constable Samuel Radford, 2, Rolleston Road, Firth Park. Sergt. H. Henry Scott-Williams, of Torquay; and Corporal A. G. Wisbey, of Bishop's Stortford. The two last-named were members of the staff of the R.A.S.C. Training Unit stationed in the city.
Awarded the O.B.E.
The O.B.E. (Civil Division) was awarded to Mr. Frank Williams, of 58, Longstone Crescent, Frecheville, the M.B.E. (Civil Division)to Mr. A. P. Prentice, of 77, Highcliffe Road, High Storrs, and the B.E.M. to Mr. Dennis Bingham, of 48, Idsworth Road, Sheffield, and Sergt. W. L. Eldridge, of South Lambeth (R.A.S.C. Training Unit).
Three members of the Sheffield A.R.P. Ambulance Service who drove ambulances while bombs were falling were commended in the London Gazette. They were
Mrs. Susan Florence Harris, of 123, Union Road, Nether Edge; Miss Joan Brenda Sykes, of 71, Dykes Hall Road, Hillsborough; and Mr. Frederick Oliver Ravenhill, of 53, Norfolk Road, Park.
Others commended for brave conduct were:
Mr. Eric Allsop, 84, Machon Bank Road, Nether Edge; Miss Edith Annie Elliss, 344, Springvale Road; Miss Winifred Rose Giddins, Glen Road, Nether Edge; Mrs. Kathleen Barber Grayson, Brook Hall, Totley; Mr. Percy Heptonstall, 4, Neil Road, Hunter's Bar; Mr. Robert John Webster Rodgers, 81, Aston Street; Mr. Joseph William Simnet, 52, Musgrave Crescent, Longley Estate; Mr. William Townsend, 127, Sutherland Road; Miss Phyllis Wilkins Warner, 43, Selborne Road, Crosspool; Miss Marjorie Woods, 46, Swan Street, Attercliffe.
|A Main Shopping Centre in Ruins|
|This was a popular City cinema.||Soldiers help to clear away the debris.|
|A Direct Hit … Tramcars Wrecked|
|Extensive damage was done to city roads, and the above picture shows a bomb crater and wrecked tramcar. Below you see what happened to an Intake tram when a bomb fell near.|
|This goldfish proved that it could“Take It!”|
|Teddy came through.||This baby was born under the bed.||Portrait survived.|