Sheffield Blitz: Through the eyes of an 11-year-old

A Sheffielder who lost his home, his father and brother in the Sheffield Blitz has told his story of the terrible night that changed his family forever.

Saturday, 12th December 2015, 7:12 am
Harry Kenny, taken about a year after he survived the bombing of his family home

Harry Kenny was just 11 years old when a German landmine exploded outside his house in Musgrave Crescent, Shirecliffe.

Harry, who died in 2007, told his story to his grandsons Jon and Luke in 1990 or 91, who recorded him on tape.

Harry's dad Sylvester Kenny, who dieed in th Blitz, with Walter, Harry's younger brother, standing in the back yard of 119 Musgrave Crescent. Walter suffered minor injuries

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His daughter-in-law, Julia Kenny, a retired primary school teacher, has often used the recording of Harry’s Story in schools with Y6 pupils.

In the tape, Harry tells how most of the family were in their home on the night of the raid because their Anderson shelter was unfinished. They were joined by two elderly women who lived next door and were frightened by the bomb blasts.

“The guns started firing straightaway and bombs were dropping and we knew then that this was no ordinary raid. It was our turn to be blitzed.”

They had heard the German propaganda radio broadcast by the notorious Lord Haw Haw, boasting: “Sheffield, we haven’t forgotten you.”

Harry’s father, Sylvester, aged 47, was in the back garden firewatching, his sister Edith, aged 18, was sheltering under the table with Harry and the old ladies.

Brother Vin, aged 16, was asleep on the sofa after a shift at a steelworks.

His mum Alice, aged 44, was cooking supper on the fire for an older son, Tom aged 23, who was working a 2-10 shift at a steelworks.

Younger sons Billy, 14, and Walt, eight, were also in the house while Joe, aged 20, was at the cinema.

Harry described the moment that the landmine exploded outside while he was sheltering under the kitchen table.

Just before that, he and his father had been watching the Germans dropping flares to light up their targets.

Harry said: “I went inside and I went under the kitchen table and then the next minute it was a big red, green and yellow flash and I saw the back door come off its hinges.

“It was going to hit me in the face when it all smashed up into little bits of wood and the next second it was buried under bricks and mortar.

“The house was absolutely flat. I got out straightaway. It was 10.45 when we got bombed.

“I got my sister out. I was only a little lad but I was just lifting all these big bricks up and throwing them around.”

He was surrounded by a scene of devastation with flames leaping 200 feet into the air from their cul-de-sac.

Harry, who was unhurt, also managed to get the two neighbours out but he and his sister couldn’t reach anybody else and thought they must be dead.

A policeman arrived and helped them to safety and they were taken to the Northern General Hospital (then the City General) in an ambulance driven by a teenage girl.

Harry said: “We went into the casualty. I hadn’t got a mark on me. When we were sat there, the doctors were operating on just tables at the front of us and I saw a soldier come in with his head blown off.

“There were people with arms and legs blown off coming in.”

They were moved to stay the night with a group of other casualties in the old Fir Vale workhouse but got out through a window and walked to their grandad’s house.

Elder brother Tom arrived after them, having got home from work to see the entire street flattened. He thought everyone had died.

Harry and Tom then set off to tour the city hospitals and morgues to discover what had happened to the rest of their family.

Their first find was grim: Harry had to identify the body of Billy, whose bones were shattered.

Vin, who had been asleep, was buried deep in the rubble. He was knocked unconscious but was otherwise unhurt and luckily came round just as the search for further bodies was about to be abandoned by the ARP warden.

Walt suffered two black eyes and a shoulder injury.

Their father’s body wasn’t discovered for a week. Harry said that he was unmarked but all his clothes were blown off and the blast had burst his lungs.

His mother spent 13 months in hospital and the family had an anxious time waiting to see if she would recover.

Alice was blinded by the explosion and glass had lacerated the back of her head and body. She was so badly injured that doctors waited 13 months to tell her she had lost her husband and son.

Hospital staff had to waive the usual rules about children visiting to reassure Alice that her younger children had survived.

The family had to be moved to a new home in Southey Green. Harry described how their only furniture was a donated barber’s chair and a damaged settee, plus some candles.

Sadly, the family suffered another loss in 1944 when Edith, who never recovered from that night, died as a result of illness caused by the ordeal.

Thanks to Harry’s son Steve Kenny for allowing us to tell his late dad’s story.

Go to The Star website, to hear Harry’s recording.