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The days when York burned
11:03am Monday 7th May 2012 in History articles
Members of the Civil Defence Force in York in the 1940s. Four members of the York Civil Defence were killed during the city’s Baedeker Raid
Peter Theaker was ten years old when the Second World War broke out. He lived with his family in The Groves area of York.
In the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the York Blitz, we carried in this newspaper many eyewitness accounts of the events of that night.
But York was bombed several times during the course of the war, says Mr Theaker, 83, a former signwriter, now retired, who lives in Clifton.
That air raid of April 29, 1942, was by far the worst. But he remembers several others too. When the Germans first flew over, they dropped only leaflets. It was later that the bombs came.… “When we went to bed at night we never knew whether we would be safe in the morning. I remember one occasion in the winter and snow was on the ground and the night was clear.
“I looked out of the window and saw flares falling from the sky. The siren went, next I heard bombs dropping.
“Mother grabbed my coat and put it on me over my night clothes and we dashed out to the shelter (in the churchyard next door).
“The snow was deep, it went over my shoes and up my legs. The first bomb was dropped in Osbaldwick.
“We boys went next morning looking for shrapnel, which we used to collect as souvenirs from the raids.
“Later they bombed The Groves with incendiary bombs and high explosives. I had been to the pictures when the siren sounded, the picture used to stop and it was announced on the screen we could either stop or go to the nearest shelter.
“I decided to go home. I saw the fires as I got nearer home. I went to see my uncle in Brownlow Street to see if they were all right, and many houses had been damaged.
“My uncle helped the owner of the shop in the street. His house and shop had been hit with a bomb, the owner had been coming to the front door when the bomb hit.
“The door hit him and the house was damaged, and when my uncle found him he was seriously hurt.
“He tried to do what he could, but he later died.
“We used to watch our planes fly out on raids from all the stations around York.
“They used to fly at different heights, they used to fly off in phases, there was a long, constant drone of engines.
“Sometimes when there were air raids at Hull you could see the fires in the sky and shadows of the houses.
“On another occasion when the bombers of ours were flying around waiting for the order to fly off, one got into trouble and crashed on houses in South Bank, causing a lot of damage.
“One Sunday afternoon, my friend and I decided to paint York Minster so we sat in the middle of the road in Eldon Street.
“We had started to draw when we saw a German plane flying low over the Minster.
“A few minutes later we heard an explosion, we learned later they had bombed the Rowntree Warehouses on the riverside between Lendal Bridge and Ouse Bridge.
“Going back to the big raid on York, in the blitz. I remember that we didn’t have any defence at York apart from the few planes at Rawcliffe Air Base. The planes weren’t fighter planes.
“Next day they started to roll in with barrage balloons and anti-aircraft guns. I remember they put the balloons on the playing fields in Wigginton Road and situated the guns in various places.
“On one occasion one of the balloons got loose, the other guns were in various places round York.
“I was in the Air Training Corps 110 squadron based at Peasholme Green. It was a public house.
“We had week camps at Linton Airfield at the time when the Canadian airmen were stationed there.
“We used to go in the armoury and load the guns with shells. The best time we had was watching the Lancasters being bombed up, then wait for them to take off and see them come back safely.”
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