Sheffield Blitz memorial walk at design stage as city marks anniversary

Designs are to be drawn up for a lasting memorial trail remembering the Sheffield Blitz in which German bombs destroyed large parts of the city 78 years ago.

The first phase of the trail, which will consist of high-quality commemorative plaques, was set to open this month to coincide with the 78th anniversary of the attacks, however delays have meant the trail is only just reaching design stage.

Rescue of trapped people from under the Marples Hotel, Sheffield

Rescue of trapped people from under the Marples Hotel, Sheffield

Currently, designers Glassball are in talks with Sheffield City Council to finalise plans for the trail, which has been supported by The Star and been backed with more than £80,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The team have now also revealed plans of producing a mobile phone app, which will give a guided tour of the 12 most important locations connected with the Blitz, including where the original Marples Hotel stood in Fitzalan Square and the City Hall, which still bears shrapnel scars.

Each spot will be narrated from those who witnessed the devastation, and will include the names of victims.

Author Neil Anderson began campaigning for the guided walk eight years ago, following the release of his book Sheffield’s Date With Hitler.

The Marples Hotel bombsite will be the centrepiece of the Sheffield Blitz Memorial Trail

The Marples Hotel bombsite will be the centrepiece of the Sheffield Blitz Memorial Trail

He thought the city was not doing enough to commemorate the Blitz, and teamed up with project manager Richard Godley and heritage interpreter Bill Bevan to submit the successful Heritage Lottery Fund bid, which brought in £81,300.

Bill said: “We are hoping to have something in place by summer next year. The commemorative plaques will be installed in Fitzalan Square and we have held discussions with the artists. We have to wait for Sheffield City council to agree with the designs so we can move forward.

“It hasn’t been designed yet, but we are looking for ideas.”

The Luftwaffe raids on Thursday December 12 and Sunday December 15 1940 at the height of the Second World War, killed and injured thousands, and left nearly a 10th of the city’s population homeless.

Watsons Walk following Sheffield Blitz, taken 13 December 1940.

Watsons Walk following Sheffield Blitz, taken 13 December 1940.

Sheffield was a major arsenal for Britain during the war, so was an ideal target for the German air force, including places such as River Don Works which manufactured crankshafts and other vital components for Spitfire and Hurricanes.

Bombers had been seen over the city as early as August, when a device was dropped on Blackbrook Road, then another 11 days later on Sheaf Street.

However, the December attacks – codenamed ‘Crucible’ by the Germans – were the worst bombings to hit the city.

The first of the two major bombings took place on a cold, moonlit night making conditions perfect for the Luftwaffe to see the buildings covered with a light dusting of snow.

Sheffield blitz Wicker Tram Blown in Half December 13 1940

Sheffield blitz Wicker Tram Blown in Half December 13 1940

In Attercliffe there was a ground fog which helped keep the East End factories largely clear of major damage.

Unfortunately those living in the city centre and surrounding areas such as Sharrow, Nether Edge, Heeley, Broomhill, and Woodseats were not so fortunate.

Shops had already started to close by 5pm meaning many residents could get home and prepare for the blackout.

But when the air raid siren sounded two hours later, some did not rush to their Anderson Shelters as they had got into the habit of ignoring them.

The seven-storey Marples Hotel, on the corner of Flat Street and High Street, received a direct hit on December 12 from a 500kg bomb, which left around 70 people dead, and many unaccounted for.

This was the largest single loss of life during the Sheffield Blitz.

Angel Street Sheffield Blitz

Angel Street Sheffield Blitz

The Moor was also devastated during the attack, with one eyewitness describing the street as looking like a ‘tunnel of fire’, but the nearby Town Hall remained largely unscathed other than having its windows blown in.

The all-clear was sounded at 4.17am, leaving buildings ablaze, overturned trams and cars on the streets, melted street lamps, and overhead power lines down.

Sheffield was not hit again until three days later, on a sunny December 15 at 6.50pm, when bombers started their run in Arbourthorne with Prince of Wales Road ‘lit up’ with fire bombs.

Many steelworks received hits, including Hadfields, Brown Bayleys and Steel, Peech and Tozer Ltd, although the damage was not serious enough to affect production.

The second night saw high-explosive bombs replaced with incendiaries, which caused numerous fire across the city.

This raid was slightly smaller than the first, ending just hours later at 10.15pm.

Around 660 people were killed during the attacks, and 1,500 people injured.

In total, 78,000 homes across the city received damage and six George medals were awarded to citizens for their bravery during the air raids.

Joan Toy, aged 80, of Woodhouse, was three at the time of the Sheffield Blitz, but has vivid memories of the bombings that devastated the city.

At the time, her father was in the Royal Navy, serving on HMS Prince of Wales leaving her mother to look after Joan, her sister Naomi and brother David, who was known as a ‘blitz baby’ as he was born during the war.

She said: “It was a bad time for us with father in the Navy. We were living with my grandparents in Pitsmoor at the time, I think probably as some company for my mother.

“When the air raid siren sounded we used to go down to our cellar. It was like party time for me at that age, our next-door neighbours had knocked a hole through the wall.

“We were put in our siren suits that children would wear, they were navy suits with a hood, used to keep us warm.

“Whisky was passed round to help people deal with the shock. I remember my grandmother saying ‘well it won’t harm her’, and she forced me to drink it. I can’t bear to drink it to this day and can’t stand the smell. When I do smell it it takes me back to the raid days.

“I remember our house shaking when a doodlebug came down around 300 metres from the house. They came down with a high-pitched whistle. There was a constant awareness of air raids, but I can’t remember anyone being afraid.

“After the bombings people seemed to get back on with their lives. We were very fortunate to have the cellar, it was far more comfortable than a shelter.”

A year later, Winston Churchill ordered the Royal Navy battleship HMS Prince of Wales, along with battlecruiser HMS Repulse and four destroyers HMS Electra, Express, Encounter and Jupiter, to the Far East. Unfortunately, Joan’s father never returned.

Beth Orwin, 67, grew up in Grenoside, hearing stories from her parents and grandparents who lived through the Sheffield Blitz.

“My Grandpa was in a reserved occupation and had built an Anderson shelter in the garden which around three or four houses shared. On the night of the Blitz he was busy getting a neighbour into the shelter and she was elderly and needed help.

“A bomb dropped nearby and the blast blew him down and into the shelter.

“I think his injuries were superficial, he’d hurt his leg and an air warden patched him up but it took the roof off the shelter.

Her mother, Eileen Dunn, was around 15 at the time working at Robert Brothers, a family-owned store on the Moor.

Beth added: “Mum said after the bombings there were no trams or buses so she walked from Handsworth to the Moor only to see Robert Brothers flattened. She said the city was unrecognisable but people rallied and just got on with things.”

Her mother later went on to work at Hadfield Steelworks, riveting the wings on aircraft ready for war. It was here she met Beth’s father Harry, who, at 18 joined the Royal Navy.

The pair wrote to each other during the war, later marrying on Christmas Eve 1944.

A war memorial was erected at City Road Cemetery, where 134 Blitz victims were buried in a communal grave.

Wadsley-born historian Ron Clayton said: “This memorial to some of the dead killed in the Sheffield Blitz and interred in City Road – previously known as Intake – Cemetery has always struck me as being very stark and somewhat forlorn especially in ‘the bleak mid winter’.

“I seem to recollect the original dates were incorrect but have been corrected and some of the nameplates were stolen a few years ago. What a horrendous Christmas that was for Sheffield folk with a second smaller air raid coming on the December 15 1940. Lest we forget.”

A survivor rescued from The Marples Hotel

A survivor rescued from The Marples Hotel