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Sheffield Blitz: 70 years on from the devastating bombs

Sheffield women remember the Blitz

By December 1940, Britain had been at war with Germany for more than a year.

The country had seen the defeat of the British Expeditionary Force and its evacuation at Dunkirk.

But Germany's planned invasion, codenamed Operation Sealion, had been thwarted by the hard-fought victory of the RAF in the Battle of Britain.

Hitler then changed tactics and ordered a series of bombing raids on major British cities, in what would become known as the Blitz.

The Blitz (from Blitzkrieg meaning lightning war) began in London in September 1940. Coventry and Birmingham were hit in November.

The Marples Hotel in Sheffield
The Marples Hotel in Sheffield which was bombed 12 December 1940

In December it was Sheffield's turn.

The air raid sirens sounded just after 1900 on 12 December.

The first wave of bombs fell on Norton and Gleadless, heralding the hundreds of further explosives and incendiaries that would fall on the city.

It is thought the bombers lost their way and ended up pounding the city centre instead of the industrial area of Attercliffe.

More than 70 people were killed when the Marples Hotel on High Street sustained a direct hit. It was the biggest single loss of life in the city in the Blitz. To find out more click here: The Marples Tragedy

Here are some of the memories you have shared with BBC Sheffield about what happened in those frightening and devastating raids.

You can share your memories of the Sheffield Blitz, by getting in touch by email south.yorkshire@bbc.co.uk

Christine Johnson

My mum, Mabel Mills, told me a few stories of how she survived the blitz. Her first husband died of pneumonia when my sister was only 5 years old and she had to go through the blitz with Barbara (my sister) on her own. She lived on the Manor Estate on a hill and told me that a buzz bomb shot through the house across the road, went straight through the upstairs and left a hole where the bedrooms should have been - but the roof was in tact. Luckily the family were in the shelter so survived.

When the siren when off for the air raid one night, my mum was knitting by the fire. She threw the knitting down and grabbed Barbara and threw herself and Barbara into the air raid shelter. She must have been scared stiff. When the all clear sounded, with relief, she went back into the house and looked for her knitting. After searching, she went to make the fire and there in the ashes was her knitting.

Simple tales but what a brave woman my mum was to go through such traumatic experiences all by herself with no help. It made her the strong woman that she was. My sister and I were very sad when she passed away last year at the age of 97.

Elizabeth Wilkinson

I was a 14 year old school girl and remember the night of 12/13 December 1940 very vividly. We spent the night in an Anderson shelter in the garden. We thought we heard buildings falling all night only to discover next day that was true.

My father was not in the shelter with us but was on firewatching patrol in the road where I lived. After the all clear in the early morning we returned to our home to discover many of the ceilings had come down. We found it very difficult to get into the house.

I was a schoolgirl at the time travelling by tram across the city. After the Blitz we were not allowed to travel for some time and our education continued in houses with teachers travelling to homes of certain pupils to endeavour to continue our education. We had an English class in the sitting room of my home for approx 10 people.

Bill Ronksley

From 1939 until 1941 I was employed by the L&NER as a messenger at the very large Bridgehouses Goods Depot. Seeing I was living in Stannington I was able to observe the Thursday night raid of Sheffield from a distance. However, in the nearby Wood Lane there was a battery of very large anti-aircraft guns. When they fired the village seemed to shake and the noise was enormous.

Although Stannington escaped major damage, a farm near to the Sportsman Inn was heavily damaged by a land mine. Fortunately a land mine, which would most probably have parachuted into the middle of the village, exploded in mid-air thereby resulting in minor damage to property and the breaking of numerous windows.

Immediately following the all clear just before dawn on the Friday morning I walked from my home in Stannington to work. On my way I was joined by a number of other people, including two of my cousins who had walked from Dungworth. We passed a number of damaged buildings, some of which were still on fire. One such building was the Blanchard's clothing shop on Infirmary Road.

The Bridgehouses Goods Depot was badly damaged by a very large bomb which had dropped in the middle of the depot. Additionally, there was a considerable amount of fire damage caused by incendiary bombs.

The rail track between Bridgehouses and the Sheffield Victoria Station suffered direct hits by a number of small bombs and a very large bomb which went through the main Wicker Arch leaving a very large hole. Unfortunately, a senior shunter, who was walking along this stretch of track on his way to work during the height of the raid was hit by shrapnel and lost an arm.

The bomb hole in the main Wicker Arch impeded train movements for a long time. The problem was resolved by filling the hole with concrete which can be seen to this day when walking beneath the arch.

Vibration from the bomb which, fortunately, did not explode, was responsible for the parapets on both sides becoming dislodged and falling into the street below. The two narrow street walkways under the arch were bricked up at either side and were available for use as air raid shelters by passers by. There is a disused railway tunnel between the Bridgehouses Goods Depot and the Wicker Goods Depot which goes beneath Spital Hill. During the War it was not required for rail traffic movements and during the night hours large numbers of local residents used the tunnel as an air raid shelter.

A number of my colleagues and myself decided to have a look at the damage in the City Centre. We were appalled at what we saw. The Wicker Picture Palace was badly damaged, there numerous destroyed trams from the Wicker to the top of High Street, and there was a very large bomb hole in the middle of the Wicker immediately outside the main office of Samuel Osborn`s Factory. Miraculously the Office, which is now used by SADDACCA, was hardly damaged.

At Ladies Bridge there were a large number of fire hydrant pipes stretching from the river to the beyond the City Centre where the Fire Brigade and the Auxiliary Fire Service were fighting the numerous fires. The beautiful Brightside and Carbrook Co-operative Society City Centre Shop, which was situated on the site of the Castle Market, was destroyed by a direct hit.

In front of the post war Co-operative shop in Snig Hill there was a fire engine which had suffered a direct hit and the bodies of a number of dead firemen were still there beside it. John Walsh's shop in High Street, which had been hit by at least one incendiary bomb, was largely undamaged but a fire was just beginning to take hold. Many at the time maintained that had there been fire wardens during the raid the building would have been saved. Our last visit was to the Moor which seemed to be a tunnel of fire from top to bottom.

Fire crews were doing everything possible and risking their lives in courageous struggles to save buildings from destruction.

Neil Woolhouse

I was aged 3 years 9 months when the German Blitz hit Sheffield but I still remember it so vividly.

We lived on Penistone Road just over the River Don bridge from the Sheffield Wednesday ground and, at the sound of the warning siren, my mum quickly dressed me in a siren suit and we all went next door to the Perrys' house who had a better cellar than ours. However I can recall Mr Perry going down first with his shotgun to kill the rats!

The noise outside must have been horrific with the German planes flying over and more so when a bomb dropped on the steel factory directly opposite on the other side of Penistone Road. Our house escaped with only broken windows from the blast but frightening nevertheless.

I cannot recall my own emotions at the time but my mum and dad must have been horrified and very afraid for our lives.

Doreen Kellett

My parents lived in Pitsmoor, close to the steel works. My mum was on fire watch when the Co-Op on Scott Road was hit, and was busy with a stirrup pump whilst my grandad, a First World War veteran, was in the yard hurling abuse and bricks up at the planes.

She also talked about the night she awoke in bed to see a man climbing past the window. Barrage balloons had been put up to impede low flying aircraft and one had caught on the chimney, he was untangling it.

There was also an unexploded bomb next to All Saints Church, which had a very tall spire. Fortunately it was defused. Had it gone off, the whole area would have been obliterated.

I was born in 1942 and have no memories of the war, other than the Anderson shelter in the yard being removed, but I grew up surrounded by the consequences. Bombsites were adventure playgrounds for children. The bottom of Danville Street off Grimesthorpe Road had been badly hit and lots of houses reduced to rubble, craters and piles of bricks. As the grass grew, we made dens, rode our bikes, played hide and seek and in winter, sledged down the treacherous paths.

The bottom of Smith's Field on Petre Street had also been bombed, and the main attractions there were the sets of front steps and scattered cutlery from the works. Ideal for playing shops or house, with jam jars of weeds, especially rosebay willowherb, for decoration.

One of my enduring memories was of shopping on the Moor and crossing a huge crater via a plank bridge with a sacking roof to get to what I think was Robert Bros.

I went to the Grange Grammar School across the city and the bus stop back to Petre Street was outside the bombed site of Marples. It was still a bombsite in 1960 when I left, as were most of those in Pitsmoor.

Martin Lumb

My mother lived through the Blitz and still has vivid memories of it. She was working as a waitress at the Bodega restaurant on High Street and it was from the verandah of this building that she had seen the FA Cup paraded through Sheffield in 1935. It was only doors away from the Marples hotel.

The Bodega was hit by bombs and she was forced to hide under a table. When eventually they were told they could leave she emerged to find the whole of High Street an inferno with trams on fire, buildings collapsing and piles of rubble everywhere.

She walked down King Street scrambling over mountains of rubble. A friend commented that she thought it was the end of the world. She continued to walk up Duke street and City Road to Intake ignoring repeated demands to get into an air raid shelter.

Mum is always keen to look her best and as she tells the story the main thing she was concerned about was that her brand new coat had to be left behind in the restaurant and she had to borrow an old coat for warmth.

When she eventually returned home Dad was busy painting the kitchen oblivious to the devastation in the centre of Sheffield. He had heard bombs but thought they were further away. After 2 hours sleep she walked all the way to Grimesthorpe and back making sure that the rest of her family were OK.

Lillian Haywood:

I was doing my homework at home in Heeley when the siren went. It was cold in the cellar. It was a very bright moonlit night if I remember right. It was about full moon at the time. The sky was so clear but the noise and the smell which developed was terrible: the sound of the ack-ack fire, the sound of the machine gun fire from the planes and as bombs dropped nearby there was the sound of shattered glass and doors banging because doors were being blown off. Pictures and shelves on walls were falling down. Soot came down and there was the smell of soot and burning. It was horrendous.

Harlan Senior:

At the time of the Blitz I was 10 years old and lived with my parents at 122 Upper Hanover St.

My Dad was a very resourceful man and a highly qualified electrician, and our Anderson Shelter was well installed and comfortably fitted out with bunks, electricity and other comforts so we were well prepared when the sirens were sounded on that fateful night.

Instruction manual
The government issued instructions of what to do in case of an air raid

It was during the early part of the evening the bombs were dropping, thudding and exploding, when our next door neighbours, two maiden ladies who had a severely ill, bedfast mother and could not be moved, came out of their back door and called "Mr Senior your house is on fire!!!"

So Dad quickly opened the shelter door and rushed into the house to discover an incendiary bomb lodged in the house roof. He quickly climbed into the loft kicked the burning bomb through the bedroom ceiling, put out the flames in the roof and clambered down to tackle the bomb which had set the bed on fire.

He put it out with the sand we had on the landing then turned his attention to the burning bed, extinguishing this as best he could. When he was satisfied all was safe he went back into the area under the roof and made sure anything burning was put out.

Only then was he satisfied that he could return to us in the shelter, which he did with the news our home was safe but with a gaping hole in the roof, which we had for many months - it being war time there was neither the manpower nor materials to have it repaired.

The Sheffield Blitz left irremovable memories of that terrible night but the one memory I will always remember was when my Dad became one of the many unsung heroes and prevented us from being amongst the many left homeless in the wake of enemy action.

Ann Wardley formerly of Sheffield now in Fenelon Falls Ontario Canada:

I was 2 years old when World War II began.

Overnight giant wasteful craters in the ground appeared all along the centre of the city and the main shopping thoroughfare, where before the war had stood a wide range of thriving shops, cafes and other businesses.

Along the main roads I saw burned out distorted double-decker electric tram-cars, their twisted strong metal lines and tangled over head wires looked like some demented melted sculpture that children's nightmares were made of.

Alan Headford:

Newpaper cutting
Warnings to stay away from bomb sites were published in local papers

I was about seven years old when I saw a flying bomb over Sheffield town centre. At the time I lived with my grandmother, my father was away at war. It was about 8.30PM and I looked up and saw the flying bomb. There were flames coming out of the back and it made a droning sound. Suddenly the flames went out, the noise stopped the bomb then started to descend. I was led to believe it blew up over Beighton.

Mick Coates:

My mother was in the picture house in Barker's Pool on one night of the Blitz. She told me of water everywhere and bits of tram all over the place even on top of roofs. She walked home to Walkley in the morning having spent the night in the basement of the cinema.

Lol Binney:

I was born in 1940 and while staying at my grandmother's house in Woodhouse, we were standing on the back door overlooking fields. Overhead the sky was full of searchlights and the drone of planes, when my grandma pointed skywards at a flickering flame coming from the rear of what appeared to be a plane . She said "Look at that poor soul, one of our lads with his plane on fire". At that moment the sound stopped and the flames went out. The plane nosedived over what must have been Attercliffe and exploded with a terrible noise. It was a doodlebug or V1 or V2. I was scooped up and rushed into the shelter which was in the communal yard along with all the occupants of adjoining houses. Frightening times.

If you have memories to share of the Sheffield Blitz, please get in touch south.yorkshire@bbc.co.uk

Sheffield Blitz, December 1940
30 Mar 10 |  History
Your stories of Sheffield's Blitz
17 Nov 10 |  History


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