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Bombs over Beeston
Bomb-damaged Flaxton Terrace
A bomb-damaged Flaxton Terrace in Beeston

Were you, or members of your family, witness to German bombing raids on Beeston during the war?

A Leeds academic, Dr Tom Herron, is trying to find out what really happened in South Leeds during the dark days of the 1940s.

Tom lectures in English at Leeds Met University. He is discussing Tony Harrison's poem Shrapnel, with a group of post-graduate students.

Many of the students in the class and the poet Tony Harrison come from Leeds.

In the poem, about a German bombing raid on Leeds during World War II, Tony Harrison remembers sheltering in his cellar as a raid was in progress over Beeston.

He says that all the bombs in that raid fell in a nearby park rather than on the houses thereby saving the lives of local residents.

Tom is trying to find out whether this claim is true, or a myth that has grown up around a wartime raid.

"There are two questions: Did any bombs actually land in the park? And if so did the bomber work to a 'better, deeper instinct' as the poem says? Apparently there are some indentations in Cross Flatts park, but we would love to hear from local people about any raid."

The conflict finished in 1945 so any eye-witness would have to be around 70 years old to have a direct memory of the events.

The poet Tony Harrison is 71, he grew up in Tempest Road, Beeston and went to Cross Flatts county primary school. If you are too young to have been there yourself, maybe your mum or Dad spoke about it. Was this story of bombs landing in the park in Beeston around when you were growing up?

The Leeds digital picture archive, Leodis, has a picture of a ruined, bombed house identified as 34 Flaxton Terrace - it is thought to be the aftermath of a raid during March 15 1941. Flaxton Terrace is only a few hundred yards from the park.

Tom says: "Beeston as an area has a strong identity did this story about the bombs being deliberately dropped in the park circulate among the people in the area? I've found a lack of information in the press of the time, was news of the raids suppressed at the time?"

"If bombs did land in park was it an act of heroism by a bomber, or was a simple near-miss given a different motive by people on the ground?"

"If some important things did happen that were not officially recorded then maybe there are local people that have a repository of stories that have never been told."

Do you remember the raids, or have heard your family speak about them? Contact the BBC Leeds website - email: leeds@bbc.co.uk

What you say:

I was 12 years old on the night of the raid. We lived on Marley Terrace and our cellar had a steel reinforced beam in the ceiling and a hole in the wall so we could escape next door if the main door was blocked. This is where me and my mum (my dad was on Home Guard duty) went when the air raid sirens went off that night. The anti-aircraft guns had been firing for some time when I decided to go up to the kitchen to make us a cup of tea, as I reached the kitchen I heard a rush of air followed by a huge explosion, I flew back down the stairs to my Mum. We stayed there until the all clear was sounded.

The following morning I went to find out what had happened as I knew the bomb must have fallen nearby. I went across Beeston Road to Cross Flatts Park and saw that the bomb had fallen in Parkfield Avenue alongside the park. It had dropped in the front garden of a house facing the park. I also remember seeing the craters in the tennis courts.
Raymond Hopkinson

I am now well into my 70s and in the war lived in the Cross Flatts, Beeston and after the raid "us lads" went to the park and collected shrapnel from the exploded bombs which had made a mess of the tennis courts. As young lads we thought it was great.

I remember as a young boy during WW2 a certain air raid on Beeston when we all spent the night in the shelter, the following morning when my father, who at the time served in the Leeds City Police, came home to tell us that most of the bombs had fallen on Cross Flatts Park, and I remember going to view one of the craters which was just inside the park boundary across from the last street which was one of the Parkfield streets.
Peter Moore (75)

I remember as a kid in the early 70s going with a friend and his granddad through Middleton Woods nearer to Dewsbury Road. There were big craters overgrown with fern and bushes and my friends granddad told us that this is where some bombs fell during the war when Cross Flatts Park was bombed. After that we always called that area the bomb craters.
'Aus Diver'

It is more than half a century since I lived in Beeston but I remember the night when bombs fell on Cross Flatts park... I agree with your correspondent who thought it was Friday because my brother and I were not at school the next day and thought of going to look at the damage. Our parents vetoed the expedition telling us not to be nosey-parkers and keep away.

There were many air raid alarms that winter but, fortunately for Leeds, the planes seemed to be passing over on their way to Manchester or Liverpool. Our house, and I believe many others with a cellar, had the stairwell reinforced with a short steel joist and, the idea was the the family sat on the cellar stairs. But the stone stairs were cold, the prospect generally uninviting and as that night was the only one that I can recall any bombs dropping we usually sat and played cards or dominoes in the living room until the 'All clear' sounded - and then went to bed.

On this night the story was that a paint retailer's premises, somewhere near to Schofields in the city centre, caught fire and offered a beacon to one or two of the German planes whose crews, for whatever reason decided to drop their bombs on what looked like factories. They did hit one, a clothing factory in Holbeck and may have done a bit of damage on the marshalling yard at Copley Hill, but they also dropped a couple of sticks on Cross Flatts park. I believe that there was moonlight and the presumption was that the bomb aimer had taken the flat black tarmac surface of the tennis courts for the roof of a factory building. Two of the bomb craters on the courts overlapped so it looked as if two sticks of bombs had been dropped (I think that bombs were usually dropped in sticks of four).

As secretary of the Cross Flatts Park tennis cub I think that I can speak for all the members at the time that we were a bit upset. There were eight or 12 courts but most of them were at least temporally out of action.

The bomb on Flaxton Terrace was probably one of another stick as a bomb fell at the top of Rowland Road, only a couple of hundred yards from Flaxton Terrace, killing two air raid wardens.

There was an anti-aircraft battery about 400 yards the other side of Dewsbury Road from the park although I never thought the guns were very big. We could hear the clatter of shrapnel from the shells they fired occasionally but I doubt any windows were blown out. My wife (who lived in Middleton) and I think that there may have been a barrage balloon unit on Miggy Clearings but we are not sure.

I went to work for Moorhouses in January 1942 and immediately became a firewatcher, about one night in 11 I think. No mention was ever made of bombs, incendiary or otherwise on the factory at any other.

The laboratory I worked in was almost underneath the sugar store and I think that a flow of liquefied sugar, not really a technical possibility anyway, would not have gone unnoticed.
John Green (ex Woodview Road, Leeds 11)

Yes, bombs did fall in Beeston in 1941. My auntie, at that time, lived in 9 Waverley Mount. A bomb dropped in the next street and wiped out some stables and two horses. The horses died in the stables and the damaged houses were flattened and cleared. Some people had to be dug out but nobody was killed. One of the families made homeless was re-housed at Middleton.

The street where the bomb hit was Waverley Grove. On the Leodis site a picture from 1965 shows a blank wall next to number that was where the damage occurred. Mr and Mrs Fairclough lived at No. 9. Before, during and after the war they were friends of my Auntie, they died before the 1970s. My Auntie died in 1998 aged 97.
Christine Golton

I have just read the article and it certainly rings a bell regarding the bombings. My mother certainly remembers the bombings and has told me about them falling along the park. I also heard the story of some incendiary bombs hitting the Moorhouse jam factory and molten sugar running along the road but I don't know how true that is.

My mum lived then on Dawson Road which overlooks the park and also tells stories of when the big anti-aircraft guns were fired, the windows blew out.
John Salt

I remember my mam and grandparents telling me about the night the bombs dropped. They lived on Harlech Avenue, in the end house facing onto Cross Flatts Park.

The bombs dropped down the full length of the park. It blew out all their house windows and was a frightening experience. Although they were in the cellar, the noise was deafening.
Ruth Bradley

I have recently carried out family research on the stories I heard as a boy, to prove whether they were true or not. I have got to the point where my uncle (mother's brother) was one of the people injured in Leeds during air raids. He was a fireman when the brigade was called out.

The fire engine was in front of the town hall when a bomb went off and blew the engine on to its side. Uncle Clarence was trapped by his arm under the engine which had to be amputated. My problem is I cant find any record of this. He later learnt to use his left arm and became a superb artist.
Michael Bell

Yes I do remember the bomb(s) being dropped on Cross Flatts Park during WW2. At home we used to take shelter during an air raid, by sitting on a rug on the top of our cellar steps which were immediately under the staircase leading up to the bedrooms.

As a child, I do not remember the actual date of this particular air raid, but suspect it was either a Friday or Saturday night. This is because I well remember opening our front door the following morning and seeing the wide cobbled street covered in soil, stones and grass sods. My mother plus my father (who worked nights as an engineer on war work) took me into the park that morning to look at the huge crater the bomb had left. In my minds eye, it seemed to me to be around 25 feet in diameter. In the bottom of the some 10 feet deep crater was a man in a blue boiler suit, looking for who knows what.
John Booth

On Middleton Clearing were Barrage Balloons with a basket underneath, in the basket was placed two soldiers who were given Binoculars and a radio I'm led to believe. The balloons were then winched up as high as they would go. The soldiers job was to fire watch, and report enemy aircraft. They also communicated with the guns beneath. It was them who spotted the fire in Holbeck, and alerted the relative organisations that were needed to deal with it.

Dad's theory after quite a while was this. As the enemy planes flew over on their mission, no bombs would be dropped, but our gun battery would open fire, the planes above would think, right got your position, and according to family if bombs were dropped it was as the planes were going back home, they saved a bomb or two from their target for the night to get gun batteries later.
Jean Booth, nee McCulloch



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