To mark the 75th anniversary of the Sheffield Blitz, a new musical documentary is being staged which tells the story of how Sheffield coped with the devastation caused by Hitler’s bombs. Writer and director Alan Powell explains…
The story of German air raids which wreaked havoc across Sheffield on two fateful nights in December 1940 is etched on the memories of all those who lived through the horror of losing their loved ones and their homes.
Seventy-five years later, new generations want to know what happened when the reality of war arrived on the city’s doorstep.
With the passage of time it is difficult to imagine how people simply got on with their lives. From the outbreak of war the year before, Sheffield was braced for an attack. With so many munitions factories in the East End manufacturing vital components for the war effort, it was never a question of if, only a question of when.
But the real story of the Sheffield Blitz is about the heroism of local people whose indomitable spirit shone through despite the hardships. People from all walks of life rallied together to overcome the difficulties of living in a city devastated by war.
And that is the story being told in Blitzed!, a new musical documentary which charts life in the city from the autumn of 1940 to Christmas of the same year.
To tell the story of the Sheffield Blitz it is important to look at the build-up in the preceding months and to look at what life was like for the men, women and children as they lived through what was dubbed the Phoney War.
It was only when there were reports of bombings in London and other cities like Southampton and Coventry that Sheffield people realised it was only a matter of time. To illustrate what life was like, the documentary dramatizes some of those aspects ranging from the effects of rationing on family life to gas mask practice in schools.
The production has a number of sketches which looks at families as they try to cope with shortages and blackout along with the sometimes comic adventures of friends and children.
When the narrative reaches December 12, there is a dramatic re-enactment of bombing of the city centre, and that is followed by a sequence of film and stills of the actual raid taken from the archives of The Star.
Interspersed with the action are songs of the period which capture the spirit of the age. Light entertainment, whether live or on the Home Service wireless, attempted to lighten the mood, and if only for an hour or so, takes minds off the dreadful events enfolding around Europe.
Blitzed! also looks at the aftermath of the raids detailing how people coped when thousands of people were made homeless. It was then that the true determination of people from all walks of life to keep calm and carry on was demonstrated.
There was no doubt that it would take years for any form of normal life to return to the city, but although collectively backs were against a wall, the city continued to function and people “just got on with it”.
The team behind the show have been researching for many months and as well as facts and figures from the many books written about the subject, they collected stories from people who remembered where they were and what it was like.
Sadly, there are fewer and fewer people in the city who remember those dreadful nights directly, which is why it is so important to document them.
The statistics around the Blitz tell only half the story. What the Blitzed! team tried to do was tell the tales of ordinary people along with their hopes and fears.
As they researched the show, the team, found that what was sometimes overlooked was the aftermath of the December 12 and 15 raids, so the production takes the story up to December 24 as people tried to make the best of another wartime Christmas.
In this issue of Retro, to commemorate the 75th anniversary, there are 75 things you might not know about the Sheffield Blitz. They are all taken from the research undertaken for the Blitzed! production.
Blitzed! Will be performed by Dronfield Musical Theatre Group from Wednesday to Saturday, October 21 to 23 at Dronfield Civic Hall. Performances start at 7.30 and there is a matinee at 2.30 on the Saturday. For tickets call 01246 416364.