Star Retro: Children of the Sheffield Blitz

Sheffield Blitz December 1940'Sorting household salvage
Sheffield Blitz December 1940'Sorting household salvage
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These childhood memories of the Sheffield Blitz were recounted by Nora Nelhams (nee Laming) to her daughter, Angela Chambers.

When war broke out in September 1939 I was eight years old, almost nine. My most vivid memories of the war years were the nights of the Sheffield Blitz on Thursday 12th and Sunday 15th December, 1940. I was only a little girl and me and my brother Arthur were asked to go to my auntie Nell’s, who lived in Cemetery Road, to fetch the Christmas presents that mum had bought from Auntie Nell’s club. We didn’t have many presents but mum always made sure that the younger ones had something.

So after school we went on a tram car from Prince of Wales Road (which cost us a halfpenny) and got off at the terminus at Fitzalan Square.

As we got off the car we went across the actual square where there were lots of shops. My brother was very keen on cars and trains at that time.

I was keen on dolls but I never got a look in sometimes because we always had to look at the boy’s things. Arthur took me across the road to look in the window of the Wilson and Gumpit toy shop.

We stayed a few minutes then we went round the corner past the Marples pub (where we could hear singing and people enjoying themselves). We continued on to the High Street outside Walsh’s shop, which was all decorated and illuminated with all Christmas things.

There again my brother had to look while we were waiting for the bus to go to my auntie’s. We were standing waiting in the queue then Arthur went and looked in the window and I looked across from the bus stop and saw all the bright different-coloured toys and a big yacht in the background. It was lovely.

The bus came so of course we got on until we reached our stop on Washington Road.

When we got to my auntie’s she gave us a drink and a few biscuits. We told her that we couldn’t stop long because mum wanted us to get home before it was dark.

When we’d finished our drink and biscuits Auntie Nell sent us on our way.

Arthur carried the parcel and I was given some of my cousin’s old shoes to dress up in. So we set off home, both of us carrying a parcel.

We got on the bus going to Southey Green and we went as far as Exchange Street in Sheffield which was in the centre near the old market hall.

When we got off the bus there was a broken-down bus at the stop and Arthur was so interested and he couldn’t resist having a look.

I was tired so I sat on the sand bags which were placed around the edge of the buildings as protection from flying glass during any air raids.

It was approximately 6.12pm. While I was sitting there the air raid sirens went. Arthur turned round and we looked at each other because we didn’t know what to do.

Mum had always said that if ever we were out in a raid we had to go home by the Manor where the guns were and we would be safer that way. There would always be somebody around to meet us and get us home. So my brother just looked at me and said: “Look, there’s a Darnall/Intake car there shall we run for it?” We ran like mad across the road – I can’t even remember looking but we went across to the island in the middle of the road where the (tram) car stopped.

The conductor was very good. He said to us: “Are you on your own?” We said: “Yes we’ve been for t’Christmas presents” so he said: “Right well, sit just inside t’door an’ I can keep an eye on yer,” which he did. We told him we wanted to get home to our mum and he said “If you stay there you’ll be OK”.

As we got through the Wicker the police and air raid wardens came and told us we had to get out and go into the shelter.

After a short while the tram driver said: “We’re going to go further, are you coming you kids?” and we said “Yes please”. So off we went with him on the next part of the journey.

We got as far as Attercliffe Road at Salmon Pastures where once again we had to get out of the tram and go into an air raid shelter as it was getting a bit heavy overhead.

We always remember that because it was opposite the big firm where Carters Little Liver Pills were made and we always used to laugh about that.

We stayed in the shelter for a while and then the driver and the conductor came to us and said: “Do you kids want to go home because we are going to risk it”. My brother said: “Yes, we’d rather get home to mum.” So off we went again.

I dropped half of the shoes from my parcel outside the shelter and they wouldn’t let me go back for them.

These were later seen in the photos of the Blitz in The Star newspaper. The shelter had been hit and they wondered who the shoes belonged to.

At a later date my mum let them know that the shoes were mine and not belonging to anybody in the shelter.

So on we went again up Staniforth Road as far as Darnall where there used to be toilets on the island in the middle of the road. The driver got out and said that he was going to the toilets and then he was going to risk it home because he lived at Ravencarr Road.

We said we’d get off at the stop before at Beaumont Road because it was near Bowden and Homeshead wood.

We had originally planned to go home through the woods if the tram had not gone any further than Darnall (even though I was frightened of the dark woods) but Arthur said that we would go on the tram to Beaumont Road with them and we said “thank you” and off the driver went.

When we got off the tram we were grabbed by two ARP men and shouted at because he said: “Where’ve you kids been, yer mum’s going mad about yer”. We told him what had happened and of course he whisked us off and sent us home to Desmond Crescent.

When we got home mum shoved us under the table in front of the piano but later on we had to go in the shelter because the raid got so heavy.

Of course we were frightened and didn’t really realise what was happening until the next morning. Mum told us what had happened and we found out that all the shops near where the tram went had all been bombed.

The car that we were on had stopped outside the front of the shops so that the passengers could go into a shelter opposite the Peagram stores and the other stores and Wilkinson’s fish shop.

A lot of people were killed in the shelter so we were very lucky to be alive and we were always grateful because the driver and conductor on that day were also killed. We were upset for a while but mum explained and we sort of got over it.

The next day when we got up mum said that we would have to go and let Auntie Nell know that we were alright. Mum couldn’t go because the younger children had to be looked after.

So once again my brother and I made the trip into town. There were no tram cars running or anything like that but we managed to get a lift on the back of a lorry into town and then went through to the square where we’d been the night before.

Of course everything was bombed or knocked down. It was very frightening because things were burning but my brother kept hold of my hand and kept pulling me to go with him wherever we had to go to get to Auntie Nell’s.

We went down to Norfolk Street and we didn’t realise that there was a building just burning at the side as we passed but we were careful. We got half way up and some officers (can’t remember what they were whether ARP or police) came and told us off because we didn’t realise we’d gone where there was an unexploded bomb.

There’d been a rope round it but whether it had been burnt or not we never saw it so they made us go back again.

So we had to go a long way round to get back to my aunties and as we went down the Moor that too was all bombed and we had to be careful.

We finally made it to Auntie Nell’s and she was so pleased she just hugged us and hugged us because she’d thought that we had been stranded in the centre of town. We didn’t stay long because we didn’t know how we were going to get home.

I can’t really remember how we did it, but eventually we did get back home to mum and there we stayed.

On Sunday night we had another bombing raid. We were frightened and got repercussions really from the Thursday.

The Sunday night bombings were incendiaries and my father who was in the air force managed to get home to us in time. Dad came home without leave (AWOL) because he had not received his usual letters from mum. A friend had told him about the Sheffield Blitz and he was worried so decided to make his way home.

He arrived home just as all the incendiaries were dropping into the streets near our house and dad went to help to put them out. My friend’s mum, Mrs Shooter had been killed on the Thursday night in the Marples hotel in Fitzalan Square.

Dad went to help the family as some incendiaries had gone through their house roof and he told us all about it when he came home. They had to go in and throw all the mattresses out of the windows so that the house didn’t catch fire. The following day, dad was taken back to camp by the Military Police. It was a horrible time and when we saw that Sheffield was all afire and we saw it again on Sunday we thought that we were really lucky children to be alive. We never forgot it and I don’t think we ever will.