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‘I could hear the planes turning back towards us’
11:55am Wednesday 25th April 2012 in History articles
All week, we are bringing you eyewitness accounts of the York Blitz of April 29, 1942, which left the city devastated. Today, TOM MARSHALL, KENNETH MELLOR and STAN WYNN tell their stories.
Tom will never forget running for the communal air raid shelters between the bottom of Queen Anne’s Road and the river on the night of the blitz.
He was 14, and living with his parents, two sisters and twin brother, Robert, in North Parade.
It must have been the sirens that woke them, he thinks. Then there was a loud explosion – presumably from a bomb that landed in Queen Anne’s Road. They felt the impact in their house on North Parade. Glass from the windows blew in, and shards were left stuck in the piano on the facing wall.
“That’s when we ran for it,” Mr Marshall says. He’ll never forget that terrifying dash for safety. The shelters were several hundred yards away, at the bottom of the street and then down towards the river.
“We were running. It was like a zig-zag,” he says. “It was really frightening. I think I was too scared to look up. But I remember the flares hanging like chandeliers in the sky. It was almost like daylight.”
As they got nearer to the shelter, they could hear the droning of the enemy aircraft overhead.
“And then we could hear them turning in the sky and coming down towards us. It was as if they had seen us.”
The family reached the shelters just in time, before three bombs landed right next door. The roof of the shelter lifted up then dropped back down again under the impact of the blast, Tom recalls. “The edge of the crater was just a stride away.”
His father hadn’t come into the shelter – he’d taken the family dog on to the municipal golf course behind. Tom, his mum, and his brother and sisters, were so panicked by the juddering impact of the bombs which landed nearby that they left the shelter themselves and ran down to the riverside.
They sheltered under a hedge. “And we just stayed there until it quietened down. We are all in a bit of a daze.”
The next morning, Mr Marshall – now 74 and living in Dunnington – remembers going to see the rubble of a house in Queen Anne’s Road that had been destroyed by a bomb. He remembers seeing someone standing in the rubble. Three people had died there that night – 56-year-old Helen Mort, 17-year-old Francis Mort, and Leslie Munn, aged 25.
Kenneth Mellor was not quite six at the time of the raid. He is now in his seventies and living in Cherry Wood Crescent in Fulford. Back then, the family lived in Campbell Avenue. His father was employed on war work at the carriage works, and was also an ARP warden.
“On the night of the raid, my parents woke me when the sirens started,” he writes.
“By the time we got downstairs we could hear the bombs dropping.
“My dad said it was too late to get to the Anderson shelter, which was at the bottom of the garden, so we all got under the table in the dining room.
“We heard the whistle of a falling bomb, a sound I will never forget.
“They used to say that if you heard the bomb coming it would not hit you, but I did not know that then.
“I thought it was coming straight at us.
“There was an almighty bang, and then a big crash upstairs, but we were unhurt. My dad decided to make a dash to the shelter. As we ran down the garden, I looked up and saw searchlights and streams of coloured lights crossing the sky.
“I now know that they would have been tracer bullets. When the bombing eased, my dad went off to do his warden duties and left mother and me in the shelter.
“The next morning we discovered that the bomb had fallen about 200 yards away in a field behind Collingwood Avenue (which runs parallel to Campbell Avenue).
“A lot of earth and debris that it had thrown up had fallen through the roof of our house.
“We could not get up the stairs because they were totally blocked by debris. Later we found that the bed I had been sleeping in was also covered in debris.
“Later that day, we kids in the avenue sneaked round to look at the bomb crater (despite being told to keep away).
“We were also pleased to hear that we were getting extra holidays because Mr Hitler had scored a direct hit on our school, Poppleton Road Junior School.
“I was sent off to stay with my aunt in Manchester for a few weeks until our house and the school were repaired.”
IN 1942, Stan Wynn was 15 and worked at Anderson’s, the men’s outfitters in Coney Street.
He remembers the morning after the raid – walking from his home in Rose Street, next to Rowntree’s factory, and along Coney Street, taking in the destruction wrought by the bombs, which struck the Guildhall and St Martin Le Grand Church.
“It was all a bit of a mess,” says Stan, 85, who now lives at New Earswick.
But it was business as usual as he went to work, further down Coney Street.
During the raid, Stan says he didn’t even take cover.
“It was pretty serious, but we never worried too much. It was early in the war and just one of those things.
“It was a bit scary but we just accepted it. We were brought up as a generation that didn’t worry too much.”