Sheffield Blitz: 75 fascinating facts
On the 75th anniversary, 75 things you might not know about the Sheffield Blitz
1 The two air raids that devastated Sheffield were on Thursday, December 12 and Sunday December 15, 1940. Blitzkrieg means Lightning War
2 The London Blitz started in September 1940 and Hitler’s intention was to sap the morale of the nation. In November Coventry was severely damaged and bombing then followed in Southampton, Birmingham and Bristol.
3 Sheffield had an early taste of what was to follow on August 18, 1940, when a device dropped on Blackbrook Road, then another 11 days later on Sheaf Street.
4 When the Blitz started in London, Sheffield people thought it inevitable that Sheffield would suffer, not least because it was thought the Germans would want to hit the East End munitions factories.
5 Prime target was the River Don Works, which manufactured crankshafts and other vital components for Spitfire and Hurricanes.
6 In the first raid on Sheffield, Heinkel 111s started at dropping flares and explosives. The bombing lasted nine hours and around 300 aircraft took part.
7 Bombs made screaming noise as they got nearer the ground.
8 Targets of the raid were East End factories, but in reality, worst hit was the city centre along with Sharrow, Nether Edge, Heeley, Pitsmoor, Broomhill, Millhouses, Meersbrook, and Woodseats.
9 There was speculation after the raid that the Luftwaffe pilots mistook The Moor for Attercliffe Road.
10 The toll of death and injuries was appalling. There were around 600 dead, 500 seriously injured, and 3,000 houses and shops damaged beyond repair. Altogether, around 82,000 properties were damaged.
11 There were hundreds of unexploded bombs, and even today, some may remain undetected.
12 Damage to gas and water mains was extensive. Firemen often had no access to water to put out blazes and there was a fear of further gas explosions.
13 People who lived on Ecclesall Road were victims of surplus bombs and incendiaries.
14 At the City General Hospital the top brass had tin hats but nurses frequently had to make do with enamel bowls tied on their heads with straps made of bandages. Because of the naval blockade, there was already a
shortage of some dressings and packing for wounds. They reverted to collecting sphagnum moss from the moors above Sheffield which they sterilised and then used in some operations.
15 Many schools across the city were damaged but classrooms were quickly organised in people’s homes.
16 Seventy-two barrage balloons were organised from Norton Aerodrome. They were tethered to discourage low-flying enemy aircraft.
17 There were many attempts to fool enemy aircraft. In woods at Eckington, and also on outlying moors, there was equipment to create flashes and sparks to mimic trams and make pilots believe it was the city centre.
18 Anderson Air Raid Shelters were often cold and damp, with fetid air and little ventilation. They were also prone to flooding because the bases were below ground level. But people made the best of them with interior decoration.
19 A Heinkel 111 aircraft shot down earlier in the year was put on show at Bramall Lane. People paid to see it with all profits going to what was called The Sheffield Spitfire Fund.
20 Food and goods generally were in short supply and anyone caught stealing was punished severely. A Sheffield boy got six strokes of the birch for thieving.
21 On view daily at Barkers Pool was a Messerschmitt 109 enemy fighter that had been brought down by the RAF in the Battle of Britain. Admission was 6d with proceeds to The War Fund.
22 Blackout instructions included advice on how to use a torch. It was supposed to be covered with two thick pieces of paper and had to be pointed down at all times.
23 One of the most popular shows in Sheffield during what was called the Phoney War (because nothing was happening) was Ivor Novello in The Dancing Years. Novello was later jailed for cheating on his petrol coupon ration.
24 Most popular shows on the Home Service the week before the raid were the Billy Cotton Band Show, In Town Tonight and Mantovani.
25 Before the city was bombed, Sheffield people were giving homes to dogs caught up in London bombings.
26 To augment the Air Raid Warden service, pensioners were recruited as light spotters.
27 There was a shortage of lads to work as errand boys because they could earn more doing other things, or were needed for war work. Traders started recruiting girls, but they had to teach them to whistle.
28 People who didn’t observe the blackout were punished. A Sheffield woman was fined £3 even though she said she had blacked out the house before going to the pictures, but she left the light on for her cat. Then the cat had moved the curtains.
29 As winter approached, shops started to close at 5pm so that staff could get home before the blackout. On the day of the first raid it was half day closing.
30 Towards Christmas, the Ministry of Food’s Lord Woolton said people could have an extra 4oz of sugar and an extra 2oz of tea on their rations.
31 The Star gave away 10/6 for handy wartime hints. One tip was “If you must rush to your shelter pick up the enamel wash bowl from the sink and put it on your head until you get there. It will serve as a tin hat, especially if you put a small cushion inside.”
32 The Lyceum Theatre was to put on Mother Goose as the Christmas pantomime but costumes were destroyed in the raid. It went ahead nevertheless and there was even a matinee on Christmas Day. The Star reported: “They were all merry and bright. It takes more than an air raid or two to get these pantomime troupers down.”
33 High Storrs School became home for 500 immediately after the raid. The school kitchen was also mobilised to feed them.
34 Bandleader Henry Hall didn’t broadcast his weekly programme on the Home Service the week after the raid. In the confusion all the band’s music and instrument were left in Sheffield, where they had performed a concert.
35 Even though they had not been trained to do it, Home Guard personnel were put on point duty to try to keep the city’s traffic moving.
36 On Christmas Eve, 1940, The Star wished all its readers “A siren-less Christmas and bomb-proof New Year.”
37 Advice on achieving a blackout included putting up wooden shutters, pulling down thick blinds, arranging screens in front of doors, closing double sets of curtains and pinning sheets of cardboard to small windows.
38 British Summer Time was extended to allow workers to get home when it was still light.
39 Sheffield was the major arsenal for Britain. In a book called ARP Prof J B S Haldane said “There is half a square mile of Sheffield which is more vital for the production of munitions than any other part of Britain”.
40 Sheffielders braced themselves for air attack from the moment war was declared. People couldn’t understand why Sheffield was not hit sooner.
41 On the night of the first attack, there was a full moon and a crisp frost. But there was also a ground fog in Attercliffe which was instrumental in keeping the East End largely clear of major damage.
42 Sirens for the first raid went off at 7pm but there was no great rush to the shelters because people had got into habit of ignoring them.
43 The raid started with fire bombs at Norton Lees Abbeydale, Woodseats and Park Hill.
44 Most places evacuated by 8pm but some people had to be evacuated again when buildings on top of the basements they were sheltering in were on fire.
45 A pregnant woman who went into labour couldn’t be reached by ambulance, so neighbours pushed her to a nursing home in a wheelbarrow.
46 Post Office telephone staff stayed on duty relaying reports and occasionally going up to the top floor of the main exchange to witness the severity of the
47 The Moor was described as a “river of flame” at the height on the attack but remarkably the nearby Town Hall was largely unscathed, except for windows blown in.
48 The All Clear from the first raid sounded at 4.17am
49 As well as buildings ablaze, the streets were choked with debris and overturned trams. There were also wrecked buses and cars; street lamps melted, and overhead power lines were down. There was also an all-pervading cover of dust.
50 Boys became part of an Official Messenger Service that was 270 strong. They were mainly from the Scouts, Boys Brigade and Church Lads Brigade.
51 Air Raid wardens worked almost as auxiliary police, doing far more than what was intended for them. Originally they were to make reports and send for help but more often than not they stepped into the breach themselves.
52 There was a three-day gap between the raids. Friday was fine but cold; on Saturday there waqs drizzle, but on Sunday it was a sunny day with a west wind.
53 Before the raids, Sheffield developed a “Come Right In” scheme, in which two families would agree that if one of their homes was bombed the two families would live together in the one that was left.
54 The sirens warning of the Sunday raid went off at 6.50pm and the bombers started their run in Arbourthorne with Prince of Wales Road “lit up with fire bombs.”
55 Sheffield’s Central Library in Surrey Street was designated as the main information gathering and distribution point.
56 Some Sheffield children were evacuated in 1939 and many went to either Newark or Melton Mowbray. Some inner city children were sent to the outskirts, including Hackenthorpe. But they soon came home because “nothing was happening”.
57 The worst single loss of life during the raids was at the Marples Hotel in Fitzalan Square. Seventy people perished.
58 On Christmas Day 1940, 1,000 homeless people had a Christmas lunch at the City Hall which was prepared by volunteers.
59 There were lots of slogans urging people to save or grow food. They included “Save Kitchen Scraps to Feed the Hens” and “Dig for Victory – Grow Your Own Vegetables.”
60 Anderson shelters were delivered throughout Sheffield. They were named after Sir John Anderson, who invented them and consisted of 14 galvanised corrugated steel panels bolted together. They were six feet high, 4.5 feet wide and 6.5 feet long. They were partially buried into the ground and also had an earth cover.
61 Anderson shelters were free if you earned less than £5 a week. Those earning above had to buy them for £7.
62 On the Wybourn estate a 14-year-old boy was spotted helping to put out fires wearing a gramophone horn as a tin hat.
63 Sheffield Council’s Social Services Department became fairy godmother to a bride who lost her trousseau when the shop supplying it was bombed. An appeal for a new trousseau was successful and the council arranged a wedding breakfast at a local café. They even arranged “billets” for the guests. She married a soldier.
64 People who took homeless people into their homes were paid an allowance of five shillings a week for adults and two shillings for children.
65 A young woman spent weeks persuading her mother to buy her some new shoes for going to dances at the City Hall. During one of the raids the ballroom at the hall was damaged and she was later found crying, having crawled down Fargate to York Street. With devastation all around her she was upset because she had lost a shoe.
66 Yorkshire soldiers were reported to have pledged to avenge Hitler’s raids on the city. “He made a bad mistake bombing Sheffield,” they said.
67 Shops, banks and businesses that had been bombed out often found temporary accommodation nearby or elsewhere. Many set up shop in Telegraph House on High Street, and the Midland Bank was one of several busineses that moved to the Cutlers’ Hall.
68 The postal service was in disarray because so many homes and business had been bombed. Displaced people and traders were able to collect their mail from the General Post Office in the city centre.
69 Shops with bombed-out premises in Sheffield said people could go to their branches elsewhere. Willson’s on The Moor had a shop in Chesterfield and told Christmas shoppers that if they got a bus to the Chesterfield shop they would have their fares refunded.
70 Shops spared the bombings tried to make the best of Christmas. One of the biggest attractions was the Father Christmas grotto at the Brightside and Carbrook Co-op in Castle Gate.
71 There were rumours that the King and Queen might visit Sheffield to talk to the homeless, the bereaved, and the heroes. They did, but not until the New Year.
72 German aircraft taking part in the Sheffield raids took off from captured airfields in Belgium.
73 Schoolchildren had to practise wearing gas masks and sometimes had to have them on in class for a short period. They soon found that when you put them on the rubber seal made a rude noise.
74 People were assured that gas masks would protect them from toxic gas because they had a filter of blue asbestos.
75 In a Christmas message to the people of Sheffield, Lord Mayor Luther Milner wrote in The Star: “To those who have suffered bereavement we express our deepest sympathy. To the injured will you allow us to wish you a speedy return to good health. To those who have lost your homes, we sincerely trust that in their temporary accommodation they have found understanding friends. To those who during the air raid and since have worked with untiring energy and gallantry may we convey our warmest thanks. We beg of you then to join with us in a firm resolve to carry on and to play your part until victory is achieved. Good luck and God Bless You.”