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Page last updated at 15:10 GMT, Thursday, 15 October 2009 16:10 UK
Recording memories of the blitz
Denis Price
By Denis Price
Local writer and historian

A project which records people's memories of the World War Two blitz has started in Hull.

Run by the city council's library service, it aims to record people's first hand accounts of the aerial bombings.

The first session was held in east Hull, near to where the last raid of the war claimed many lives.

'When elephants fight it is the grass that suffers.'

Unexploded bomb
A Luftwaffe bomb stands on the side of Preston Road.

It's an intriguing quotation but how is it connected to the Second World War blitz on Hull?

The Hull City Libraries Service has the answer. With lottery funding the service has begun a project of "researching and exploring stories of conflict, hope and survival."

This entails videoing and recording the experiences of civilians of all ages who are prepared to volunteer their stories from the city's darkest days, for the education and benefit of generations to come.

Held in the Ings Road Library and Community Centre, Project Manager Isaac Acheampong and his colleague Sue allowed me to join the first group of 14 volunteers and share in their reminiscing of childhood and teenage years spent in a city under siege, prompted by copies of newspapers of the period although many had brought along their own photographs and mementos.

In the relaxed and informal atmosphere encouraged by the organisers, I watched and listened as this group of strangers soon dropped their natural reserve when in recounting stories of the blitz, many realised that their experiences had unknowingly been shared with others around the table.

One experience, where several had overlapping tales to tell, was the last devastating attack on the city and Great Britain by a piloted aircraft on the 17th of March 1945, only weeks before the end of the war in Europe.

The attack, on and around the Savoy cinema on Holderness Road, killed 12 civilians and wounded 22 more; the last British casualties to be killed in this manner.

The whole attack had been seen by Maurice and Hilary Figg who, as teenagers on their way to the cinema, had heard the aircraft and quickly sheltered under the nearby iron railway bridge, watching as cannon fire raked along Holderness Road.

Another member of the group told of how he was either pulled or jumped into the cinema foyer as people screamed and struggled to seek shelter.

All commented on how lucky they were and the shock of the attack which came "out of the blue" at a time when hostilities were almost over.

Plaque
The plaque on the wall commemorating the attack.

The owners of the former cinema site, which is now a large store, have erected a plaque on the external wall of the store as a memorial to those who lost their lives on that terrible March evening.

With memories now flooding back everyone had a story to tell. The group fell silent as one gent explained how as a small boy the impact of events of the 17th March 1941 had changed his life forever.

Steeling ourselves for yet another story of wartime tragedy, we listened solemnly and intently as he told us it was the day treacle was put on ration; along with jam and marmalade, and it was his birthday. The ration was eight ounces per person, per month. As I struggled to decimalise the amount, he told me not to bother as "it wouldn't make it any bigger".

A poignant story relating to a photograph brought by Denis Grout was no doubt typical of the time. It showed three little girls, all Denis's cousins, neatly dressed to have their photo taken.

Following a landmine explosion in Nornabell Street where the girls lived, Denis's father had raced to the scene to find the house destroyed with only Mavis surviving, he also found the photograph among the rubble. In the turmoil typical of the time Denis's family lost touch with the little girl only to be re-united recently.

Another member commented on the disruption caused to education. Her's had begun by part-time attendance at the bomb damaged Estcourt Street School until the 18th July 1941, when it was badly bombed again causing a move to Flinton Grove School.

Following the bombing of this school, another move was necessary to the damaged Charterhouse School, which the pupils all had to set about cleaning to prepare it for occupancy. In spite of it all she emphasised how well the pupils had done: "and all down to good teachers and dedicated pupils".

Bernard Hutchinson of Hessle Road recalled how the cellars under the fish houses were used as shelters during the bombing, very smelly but very safe with a wonderful spirit of camaraderie as people sang with the thud of bombs in their ears and the steady crump of the anti-aircraft batteries responding from the now Costello Playing Field.

Oblivious to the cameras and sound equipment recording their memories, well worn themes were explored with strongest feelings exposed over the Government's directed enforced anonymity of the city known only throughout the war as "a North East Coast Town."

Group talking
The group gather to share their memories.

Another popular topic was how and why James Reckitt Avenue became the most frequently bombed thoroughfare in the city, was it as one member suggested, the fault of the East Park boating lake? His theory was that the enemy believed it was a dock and therefore surrounded by legitimate industrial targets.

One former inhabitant of Preston Road told of a relative working in a factory on the corner of Ryehill Grove.

During a raid in May 1942, a 500kg bomb had been dropped on the premises, causing much damage.

Unknown to the workers who returned and carried on, a second similar bomb had hit the premises and failed to explode and lay buried in the foundations. It remained there for 32 weeks before being found by accident and subsequently disarmed.

As a vivid reminder of how real was the threat of sudden unexpected death, the event was commemorated by erecting the bomb and an inscription on the site of the former factory at the corner corner of Preston Road and Ryehill Grove.

With organisers Isaac and Sue gently guiding the session to its close, I felt that the willing group had more than achieved its purpose in exploring Hull people's experiences of conflict, hope and survival.

The project had also brought together former strangers, now wrapped in earnest conversation through common adversity, an achievement in itself.




SEE ALSO
Going underground in Holderness
07 Oct 09 |  History
Marching up the Minster's tower
07 Sep 09 |  History

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