94-year-old Blitz survivor on the night Sheffield came under attack

A 94-year-old Sheffield man who survived the Blitz has spoken of his memories of the night the city came under attack.

Thursday, 12th December 2019, 6:00 am
Damage in the city

Kenneth Foster, aged 94, was a 14-year-old telegram boy on the night of December 12, 1940, attending night school on Queen Street in Sheffield city centre.

He and another teenager, Albert Land, left the school around 9pm to search for a shelter, but found the one at the Post Office closed.

Kenneth said the pair took temporary cover in a deserted tram on High Street near C&A, but eventually found safer harbour in a still open transport workers’ bunker on Pond Hill.

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The King's Head Hotel on Sheffield High Street during the Blitz.

“It was one horrible night,” he said.

“When we were looking for a shelter we didn’t realise it was the Blitz. We could see the anti-aircraft guns at Shirecliffe and Manor Lane. But nothing was really happening.

“At the shelter, we just sat there all night listening to the noise outside. People kept shouting about not getting downhearted but we were just hoping we weren’t going to get hit.”

“At 4 ‘o’ clock we came out and made our way home.”

Kenneth Foster and wife Alma

Between December 12 and 15, 660 people were killed in the city, while 1,500 were injured and 40,000 made homeless.

However, despite targetting Sheffield’s industrial heart in the Lower Don Valley, the four day long raid failed to stop the city’s steelworks from operating.

Large parts of the city centre were decimated, however, including the area where Kenneth first sought shelter in the deserted tram.

Several famous photos of the night show trams and buildings ablaze on High Street, near to where a 500lb bomb made a direct hit on the Marples Hotel shortly before midnight, causing scores of deaths.

Sheffield High Street, from the corner of Haymarket, during the Blitz.

Later in the war, Kenneth joined up and served in the Navy, taking part in the transport of Norwegians back to their home country as the war was coming to a close in 1945.

In 2017, he was awarded the Norwegian Medal of Honour for helping sink two U-boats and free several Norwegian towns from the Germans.

At the time he told the BBC he was initially quite fearful of going to sea as he wasn’t a very good sailor.

He said: “You had to get used to it - a ship which, we used to say, would roll on wet grass it was so unstable.

"But there was no point in being frightened of anything else because this was what you'd volunteered for."

Kenneth’s wife, Alma, aged 90, also survived a bomb attack during the war where she grew up in Whitley Bay.

The couple went on to have two daughters and settled in Wiltshire in 1975 after Kenneth got a job with the War Pensions Office in the south east of England.

“It is amazing to think we both survived something like that and went on to live into our 90s,” said Kenneth.

“The anniversary of the Sheffield Blitz this year takes place on the day of the general election and I think it is something that people should remember.”