Remembering Sheffield’s days of devastation

High Street during the Sheffield Blitz
High Street during the Sheffield Blitz
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THEY were unquestionably the most devastating nights in Sheffield’s history.

The city’s Blitz left some 693 people dead, 3,000 homes destroyed and a tenth of the population homeless.

Huge swathes of the city centre, Attercliffe, Pitsmoor, Millhouses, Walkley, Wybourn and Tinsley were all turned to burning rubble as waves of German bombers pounded the city on December 12 and 15 1940.

Now a new book charts the recollections of those who lived through it.

Forgotten Memories From A Forgotten Blitz by city author Neil Anderson records the thoughts of everyone from a fireman dealing with the blazes to a woman who found herself stranded in The Moor as the bombs started to drop.

Here, The Star provides three exclusive extracts...

DOUG Lightning, 94, is thought to be the last surviving fireman on duty during the Blitz. He was just 22-years-old and one of only 68 fully trained firemen in the city. He was based at Division Street station.

Now a great grandfather of 15, he lives in Woodhouse.

“The noise of the bombs was deafening.

“I was scared most of the time and kept thinking: ‘This cannot be for real’. There was the constant misery of being wet through; the heat scorching you and the pain of cut hands from broken glass everywhere coupled with constant hunger and thirst.

“I was down around Lady’s Bridge and Snig Hill dealing with some flats which were burning. Inspector Outram, who was third in command, said: ‘Lightning, I’m leaving you in charge, I’m off’. There were other areas to deal with. I sprayed water onto the roof of some flats in Snig Hill for some three quarters of an hour and then, on seeing the fire was out, came down. I was knackered.

“I instructed men to tackle the nearby Black Swan pub as it was burning from the top. This was due to incendiary bombs burning downwards and I was worried the fire would spread to the buildings at the rear of the old Town Hall.

“By concentrating our limited resources for several hours, we did stop these fires from spreading - it was a very small success.

“I was told there was a dead fireman in a shop doorway. It seemed a piece of shrapnel had hit him under the chin and come out of the top of his steel helmet. I took the helmet which had an AFS number stencilled under the rim and put it on one of the nearby fire machines. Later the police came with a lorry to collect dead bodies so I told them where he was and that I’d report it.

“By this time there was some daylight and people were starting to come into town, picking their way through the rubble. Some were gob-smacked when they got to the top of Angel Street and saw the carnage on High Street. It had been a long and terrible night. To be truthful, there were very few fires put out.”

BETTY Hudson worked as a landgirl during the war. She was sat watching a film in The Hippodrome cinema, in Cambridge Street, when an attendant announced the air raid warning.

Today, the 93-year-old great grandma of five lives in Millhouses.

“While we were watching the film there were two warnings. The picture stopped and someone came on the stage and said: ‘If anyone would like to go they should.’

“The incendiaries had already started falling by the time we left.

“We walked onto The Moor. It was full of fire engines, pipes all over the floor and water. All the buildings were ablaze. My husband’s parents lived in Edmund Road so we made our way there, dashing in doorways as we heard bombs whistling down. We got there eventually and everyone was in the shelter.

“We hadn’t been in there long when there was a bang on the door and a boy jumped in. He’d come home and his house was gone. He’d no idea what had happened to his parents. I’ve never seen anyone that terrified in my life.

“When things had quietened down we came out the shelter. I began walking home towards Totley. Later we decided to come back into town. We got as far as Beauchief and you couldn’t get any further. There were loads of unexploded bombs.

“My father was a police war reserve and he said there were dead bodies all over Millhouses Park. Every time we saw someone we knew they’d cling onto us and say: ‘Thank god you’re safe, thank god you’re here’. It was very emotional.”

JOYCE Spurr, 92, was working in Central Library when the air raid sirens went off. As such she spent the first night of the Blitz in the theatre under the complex. When she emerged the next morning, a huge unexploded bomb sat just yards from the entrance.

Later she was posted to Egypt to work as a wireless operator before returning to South Yorkshire and becoming a librarian once more. She now lives off Ecclesall Road.

“I was working in the reference library as a junior assistant, when the alarm sounded.

“We led the public down to the Library Theatre, which was sandbagged as an official shelter. It was absolutely full but people still kept coming in. There were frightening crashes and bangs and the building shook. The sky outside was red from fires of the burning buildings.

“During the evening, some people came in covered in dust and debris. They had come from the evening classes in the College of Art in Arundel Street. It had received a direct hit from a shell and was completely demolished.

“When I saw The Moor, I was appalled. It was a blazing inferno with the black skeletons of trams silhouetted against the flames. There were lumps of debris and cables hanging down. It made such a vivid impression on me that has remained with me for the rest of my life.

“I remember wondering if I’d have any parents and any house when I got home. Fortunately they’d not been hit.

“My parents were of course, relieved to see me, but I knew I had to be back at work by 8am, so I only had two hours rest on the settee before walking back to the library.

“By then it had become a gigantic information bureau - I was very impressed about how well organised they were. Representatives of different parts of the Town Hall sat at desks dealing with problems of people who had been bombed out.

“But it could be quite distressing - an acquaintance of mine came in while I had the job of directing everyone. He said: “My wife and son have just been killed - the house got a direct hit’.

“I do remember how in control everybody seem to be. I only remember one woman who was moaning and crying and wasn’t in control. Somebody said, ‘I’ve got some brandy, I’ll give her a tot’.”

Forgotten Memories From A Forgotten Blitz by Neil Anderson is published by ACM Retro and is available from The Star shop tomorrow. Costs £12.95.