Get in touch: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting YORK to 80360 or send an email»
When sparks flew across the sky
10:51am Saturday 28th April 2012 in History articles
Today, on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the York Blitz, we conclude our coverage with five more eyewitness accounts from that night when bombs rained down on the city.
JEAN Murray was nine the night the bombs fell on York. She’s not sure what woke her that night, in her bedroom in Plantation Drive. “As far as I know, the sirens never went off.” Probably it was the sound of the bombs themselves. “There were a lot of bangs.”
It was dark in her bedroom. “All the windows were blacked out.” But when Jean Smith, as she was then, went into the bathroom, she could see red light coming through the windows.
Scared, she went to wake her mum and dad, and then the whole family rushed downstairs. “There was an Anderson shelter in the garden, but we couldn’t get out to it for all the bombs,” she recalls. “So we all got under the table: mum, dad, my brother, me and the poor dog, all under the table.”
Everything was ‘crashing and banging”, she remembers – and it seemed to go on for ever. But eventually the bombs stopped falling, and dawn came. “We didn’t realise until then, but we were all covered in soot, as though we had come out of a mine.”
There was no gas or electricity, and plaster was falling from the ceiling: but at least the house was still standing.
Some ARP wardens came, and the street was evacuated. “They told us we had to get out of the area, because there were some unexploded bombs.”
The families were sent to Lidgett Grove Chapel, where they were given tea and biscuits: a rarity because of rationing. The Smiths were then billeted with a family in Manor Drive until it was safe to return to their home.
Many were less lucky than them. Among those killed was a schoolfriend of Jean’s. Muriel Ezard was, like Jean, just nine years old. She lived with her parents, James and Ellen, at 53 Chatsworth Terrace.
Jean remembers a giggly, red-haired girl, who used to laugh with her on the bus. Once Muriel gave the bus driver a silver threepenny bit, and the driver thought it was a sixpence, and gave her too much change. “I can remember her giggling about it.”
But she never saw Muriel again after that night. The Ezards, like many families, had been sheltering under the stairs in their house – which seems to have received a direct hit. The names of Muriel and her parents are now inscribed on a plaque in the Memorial Hall in Poppleton Road.
DAVID Thomas remembers little of his life before the night of the great York blitz in April, 1942. That’s not surprising as he was not quite five.
The events of that night, however, he remembers with vivid clarity. Back then David, now 74 and living in Bolton Percy, lived with his parents and younger brother Malcolm at 41 Nunthorpe Grove, one of the houses severely damaged in the raid.
“I was taken to the Anderson shelter in our back garden after the bombing had started,” he writes.
“I could see sparks flying across the sky and could hear explosions in the city and some more distant. Late on in the raid when things were less intense my father decided to go back to the house for some reason.
“Just as he was about to leave the shelter bombs fell on Nunthorpe Grove. I cannot be precise about the sound of the approaching bomb or mother apparently exclaiming, ‘We’ll all go together’ but there was a tremendous shockwave which split the roof open and all the protecting soil fell through. The bomb had exploded in our garden just behind the shelter.
“Later, dad got out of the shelter and shouted across to a neighbour emerging from a shelter next door; they agreed that that was close but were astonished to see the enormous crater which spanned several gardens and the edge of it was only 3ft from our wrecked shelter.
“When my uncle arrived my brother and I were taken out of the shelter and I just stared at our house. In the bright moonlight the tattered net curtains slowly lifted out in the still night air. The blast had demolished the windows and had caused the back wall of the pair of semi-detached houses, 39 and 41, to bulge outwards.
“Unlike 19 and 21 which took a direct hit and 23 and 25 which were so badly damaged that they were pulled down, 39 and 41 were to be partly dismantled and the back wall and roof rebuilt; this was completed in time for us to return home in October, 1942.
“In the meantime we were on the move. My uncle put my brother and I in a wheelbarrow and slowly found a way through the debris along Nunthorpe Grove and into Nunthorpe Crescent and on to our grandma’s house, 172 Bishopthorpe Road. South Bank Avenue had been blocked by a third bomb on the Nunthorpe estate.”
His parents returned to the family house and found it in chaos, Mr Thomas recalls.
“Several things were smashed to bits and other things unscathed. A Westminster chiming clock lost its glass front but worked perfectly even though it had moved across the mantelpiece. The Murphy console radio announced that York had been attacked. In the kitchen things were broken or in disarray yet a bowl of eggs didn’t even suffer a crack.
“A leg had been smashed off the gas copper and this survived with a wooden leg until the first washing machine was purchased after the war. Outside the garden shed had gone but most of the contents remained, though a bicycle was bent but was used again after some straightening. Years later dad joked that his beloved shed had last been seen flying over Tang Hall!”
Mrs Jeanne Bradley, who now lives in Clifton, was ten at the time of the raid.
“We lived at 34 Garnet Terrace, Leeman Road,” she writes. “Garnet Terrace was in three blocks and we lived in the top one which was opposite the main rail line. We were on a sort of embankment.
“When the raid started my father, mother, brother and I went to the air raid shelter at the top of the yard. At some point during the raid I went outside and looked up at what just looked like chandeliers floating down to the ground.
“When the raid finished we went back to the house and found that the kitchen window frame was just swinging like a door but the four window panes were still intact.
“Later the Salvation Army came round with porridge which tasted great.
“When we looked up towards Poppleton Road School we could see it was in two halves as the middle was gone. We had to be bussed to another school.
“We also heard that a landmine had dropped at the top of the street, but as we were on the embankment just the houses at the top of the street were gone.
“Later we were playing on the workman’s ladders which were laying on the grass.
“I unfortunately tripped over one and my foot went in between the rungs and I trod on a piece of slate which hit my left leg then cut my right leg.
“I still bear the scar from that day.”
Brian Rusling, who now lives in Boroughbridge Road, was ten at the time of the raid. He lived with his mum at 18 Linton Street, Poppleton Road, and went to Poppleton Road School – which was badly damaged.
“My father was called up in 1941, leaving only mum and me at home,” he writes. “We had a Morrison Table Shelter in the living room, which was designed to accommodate a maximum of three people.
“As things turned out, it had to serve five that night – two adults and three children (our neighbour Mrs Nalton and her two boys Teddy and Brian joined us in the shelter as the raid started) which was quite a squeeze.
“When the air raid warning sounded at 2.36am we somehow knew it was real this time after many false alarms.
“Linton Street is between Chatsworth Terrace and Amberley Street where the bombs dropped, eventually destroying 11 houses in Chatsworth Terrace and seven houses in Amberley Street. As these houses suffered terrible damage around us, we all huddled together in the shelter.
“I covered my ears and screamed in the darkness. Everybody covered their ears and screamed in the darkness! The house shook with the booms and bangs; the smell of burning, the shattering of glass and flashes of light from the blast of bombs exploding were terrifying. The ceiling came down around us, the windows shattered, the doors blew open and everything was covered in soot and brick dust – including us. When the all clear sounded at 4.46am to the relief of all we emerged unscathed.
“When we went out the following morning the devastation was unbelievable with people still buried under the rubble for many hours after. We were evacuated the following day as the house was unsafe.
“Thirty nine people died from the Poppleton Road District during the Second World War, including 23 on the night of April 29.
“There is a memorial plaque in Poppleton Road Memorial Hall, Poplar Street, with all the names of the people who died. I can remember all who perished that night including the entire Button family with their baby.”
IT wasn’t the bombs that have stuck in Irene Ashton’s mind, so much as the bullets.
Irene Elsegood, as she then was, was 13 that night. She and her family lived in Kingsway North. They tried to make a dash for the air raid shelter in their garden when the bombings began – she believes the Luftwaffe were targeting Clifton aerodrome – but were driven back by bullets.
“It was terrible!” Irene, now 83, recalls. “We couldn’t get out of the house because they were firing bullets. They [the planes] were flying very low as they came over, and you could see the tracer.
“There was an old lady next door, and I said to her, ‘Go back in, there are bullets flying about!”
Irene, her mum Hilda, and brothers Frank and Neville spent the night huddled under a concrete slab in the larder, desperately worried about Irene’s dad, also Frank, who was on fire duty that night on top of the gasworks in York.
He returned home that morning, to their great relief. “He said, ‘Where did you shelter? Not under the table?’” recalls Irene, who now lives in Clifton Moor. “We said ‘no, we went in the larder’. And he said that was the worst place we could have gone, because it was an outside wall. But we were all right.”
The people of Spalding Avenue in Clifton were less fortunate. Three members of the Helstrip family were killed at No 104; five people died at No 110 – Ruby, Yvonne and Maxwell Hyde, and Noelle and James Duncan; Florence Borley was killed at No 112; and Edith Dickinson was killed at No 103.
Mrs Ashton remembers the sound of the bombs falling on Spalding Avenue as she and her family huddled in their larder. “We could hear everything. It was awful!”
Thank you for all your stories
We had an overwhelming response from readers to our appeal for memories of the York Blitz. Unfortunately, we could not feature all of the stories. We would like to thank everyone who got in touch, however. We hope you enjoyed reading the eyewitness accounts we have carried all week.