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Part 1: 1. Approach to the Battle || 2. The thing happens || 3. The Battle of the Flames | | 4. The fight for human life
Part 2: 5. That the City might live | | 6. The Man In the Street
7. The Londoner's Home | | 8: A Borough in the Blitz.| | 9: The Front Widens
Part 3: 10: The Attack on the Arms Towns | | 11. The attack on the ports.
Part 4: 12. The Countryman's Blitz | | 13. Seaside Tip and Run | | 14. The Plan of Battle
Part 5: 15. The Front Line Troops. || 16. The Achievement of the Many.
The Attack on the Arms Towns
THE FIRST GREAT RAID outside London fell upon a city full to overflowing with the workshops and artisans of war. Coventry's population had increased fourfold in the last 25 years, and there was a severe housing shortage even before the swelling arms industries aggravated it. The arms factories and the little houses clustered round the lovely medieval Cathedral, standing on a hill with its silent spire above the humming crafts of war.
Over this small city of a quarter-million people, for eleven hours, under the bright full moon of 14th November, the Nazi bombers came and went. There were some 400 of them; and there might have been many more but for the attention which the R.A.F. had that afternoon devoted to their bases. They started great fires in the city, the greatest round the Cathedral itself. These they bombed until the Cathedral and a great part of the city lay in ruins.
Some 600 incidents were counted. It was an experience without precedent in the history of any British city-- a terrible test of the strength of the defensive machine. Inevitably there were some failures and weaknesses, as those who were themselves on the ground know best, and can best understand. But, in Coventry, Britain first learned that it was possible for the people and industries of a small target area to withstand and survive a long night's unrelieved bombardment on the very heaviest scale.
The city's essential services were for a time disorganised. (There had been 200 fires burning by 3.30 in the morning; many of the hydrants were buried under debris, and many water mains broken. Most of the fire-fighters had had to spend the night trying to relay water from the river and the canal.) There was a great rallying of civic and voluntary forces in Coventry itself; and the Region and the country quickly stood at its side. On the second day after the raid there was held the first of those emergency councils of action that became the practice in all the blitzed cities. National, regional and local functionaries met together, laid their plans, and set about the work of reconstruction in close mutual contact. Industry formed its own committee to work with the authorities. The first shock was soon over and restorative progress quickened. Here we can give but one pregnant example.
Transport was at first at a complete standstill. The Corporation Transport undertaking's garage was partly, and its offices wholly, destroyed; the tramway system unusable, almost half the buses damaged or wrecked, some big rail sidings hit, and all roads within a mile of the centre impassable.
Then the restorative forces got to work. By the second day, more than half the bus routes were being run, as near to the centre as they could get. Workers' buses ran to all factories. Other buses evacuated the homeless and brought in emergency food supplies. Damaged vehicles were replaced from outside, and in less than a week the regular services were almost normal. Railway engineers and breakdown gangs surpassed themselves. On the 15th, every line out of Coventry was blocked by bombs, and the station closed. By the evening of the 16th, the report came through : "Coventry-Birmingham and Coventry-Leamington clear. Coventry-Nuneaton passenger lines clear. Goods line to Rugby clear except for one stretch single line working."
Achievements in this spirit could be recorded for every service. Industry must go on. The world might linger in dismay over the wrecked Cathedral and in grieved admiration over the human endurance of the dazed and battered population. But it was for practical ends that the police and wardens had gone on their errands in the hail of death and the doughty women of Coventry's voluntary services taken their canteens out to the rescue men among the debris. The raid on Coventry was an act of barbarism, but it was also a calculated act of war. Its purpose had to be defeated in the shortest possible time. Attack alone was mere destruction, but attack and defence made a battle. Such fights had to be won. Lost, they would have threatened the survival of the nation and its universal cause.
Four nights later the second heavy attack fell upon Birmingham. The great midland city- one of Britain's four in the "million" class- had already suffered ten lesser raids, and nearly 400 of its citizens had lost their lives. But on 19th November came its first really big attack, with over Boo "incidents" in a night. Three nights later the enemy came again, in lesser force, but sufficient to start hundreds of fires and kill a large number of civilians, including many of the civil defence services. One of the longest raids of the whole blitz followed on 11th December, after which the city was spared intensive raiding for four months, until the following Easter, when there was a very heavy incendiary attack. The number of fires was roughly proportionate to the worst that London had to face on any single night.
The impact of many bombs on a very big city like Birmingham is not the same as on a lesser one. From first to last, Birmingham learned very thoroughly what intensive raiding is; nearly a hundred thousand of its houses suffered, and one of its central shopping areas was much damaged. Yet on the whole, as in London, one must look for the scars. To say so does not offend Birmingham, whose bomb-pride takes the form, proper to a big city, of saying not "our raids were the worst," but "of course, you see, in a place of this size, and with our resources..."
The Civil Defenders of Birmingham were a numerous and determined body, and at times they needed both their numbers and their resolution. In the last big raid there were over a thousand incidents, and the pressure was so great that services were interchanged-- first aid parties doing rescue work and rescue men treating casualties before first aid parties arrived. From one depot alone over one hundred services were called out- sixteen first aid parties, fifty ambulances, forty-two rescue squads, and many cars for "sitting cases." Eleven thousand wardens were on duty that night.
Their mortality rate was over three times as high as that of the general population- a typical index of what the civil defence services consciously faced. Of the women in the services, their colleagues spoke enthusiastically. A rescue party leader said of the girls waiting in the ambulance stations for a call: "I used to see them just sittin' there doin' their nails, and I used to say to myself, " you wait till the bombs fall, my girls, and you'll think very different" And in the middle of the blitz I went in to fetch one of 'em, and I thought now we'll see, and there they all was, just sittin' there doin' their nails."
If Birmingham, like every other big city, needed help and reinforcement to fight the actual raids, it coped with their after-effects single handed, disposing of its own homeless, and tackling its own repair work. The spirit of Joseph Chamberlain lived again to fight the Nazis. The city's well-managed gas, electricity, transport and water undertakings, his legacies, showed themselves more than a match for the considerable damage the bombs inflicted. (Once four-fifths of the city was without mains water-- but it was for a very short time.) The great corporation housing estates, again, played a crucial part in the work of rehousing the homeless, many of whom were billeted on the city's own tenants.
But not all the homeless needed the help of the corporation estates, and some had their own ideas about how to make use of them. One wintry day on the "morning after," a soldier's wife deposited four well-scrubbed children at an estates' department office, which existed to arrange billeting and rehousing. She asked if the children might stay awhile as the roof of her house had collapsed, and hurried off without waiting for advice or an answer. Hours passed. At lunch time no sign of Mother, and food was shared round by the staff. The weather got worse. At 5 p.m. still no Mother- and no murmur from the exemplary quartet. Eventually, the soldier's wife appeared, wet but in triumph. "Thank you very much, me and the children will be staying at Grannie's to-night and I've found another house to go to to-morrow. Good-night."
Birmingham is the home of medium-sized metal industries, all now adapted to war uses. Their factories and workshops are scattered among houses and behind stores higgledy-piggledy about the city. They had their A.R.P. squads, works fire brigades and (later) their Fire Guards. They had their share of bombs, too. Here is a plain tale of what happened to a group of such plants working in association on contracts for the Navy, Army and R.A.F. They are not typical, in that they suffered an altogether exceptional number of hits, but their story throws some light on the way other war factories in all parts of the country were dealing with "the bombing problem."
One works lost most of its floor space and roof by fire; tools and jobs were transferred to other buildings. The whole of the administrative offices, office-machinery and furniture was destroyed. Records had been duplicated as a precaution; second-hand furniture, typewriters and adding machines were installed and the staff back to work within three days in space cleared from an allied assembly shop. Directors, executive staff, typists, office boys all sat in one large space without partition. It made concentration harder but communication easier; it saved time, and the firm later decided not to change it "for the duration."
Another works was struck by high explosive and the roof widely damaged. A small piece of plant was out of action for a few weeks while the roof over it was repaired; its work was done elsewhere. A third works was struck by high explosive which did a good deal of local damage to the roof without interrupting production. A fire put some plant out of action and led to the adoption of a different process which turned out to be more satisfactory.
A fourth works was hit by three bombs on the same night. Production was interrupted in various sections for an average of about three weeks, some of the work being transferred elsewhere for a time. Another plant, a large tool room, was damaged by high explosive, fire, and the water used to quench it. It was hit again next night by two bombs, which did some blast damage and started a fire. Soon afterwards two more bombs and some incendiaries again destroyed roofing and started fires. This chapter of injuries stopped half the work of the plant for some weeks. The remaining men carried on for two months under the open sky till the roof was repaired, merely covering their machines with tarpaulin when it rained, and greasing their tools.
A few months after the last of its misadventures, the works in this group were able to lay plans for an expansion of 50 per cent. in their combined businesses. One director gave his view:-
"People are much less depressed provided that they can be given something really useful and constructive to do on these occasions . . . they are just burning to get on with the job and put things right. Our own men worked with a real will at salvaging their machinery and took great pride in getting it going again quickly."
Then there came Bristol, included in the arms towns because air attack on the port was negligible. Its raid of 24th November was the third great provincial attack: it was the city's first and in many ways its worst heavy raid.
Though the attacking force was not great and the attack not very long, the damage was heavy, and fires in the city's centre got out of control for a time through the failure of water. The Art Gallery was destroyed, the University's fine hall heavily damaged. The A.R.P. Control Centre had to be abandoned.
This was a grievous tale of injury to fall suddenly upon a city that only four months earlier, before the fall of France, had been reckoned a westerly haven of refuge, had become crowded with evacuees, and been reckoned safe enough for use as the B.B.C.'s main studio centre.
But Bristol had left nothing to optimism: its civil defence machine was well-drilled. It was what Bristol would expect of itself, that the shocks and losses of the first big raid should lead at once to progress based on the lessons learned, and that the shocks should be milder and the losses less with each succeeding attack. Three more heavy ones followed within a few weeks of the first, and soon after the New Year the death roll was about 600.
The raid in January took place on a bitterly cold night and produced some strange scenes. Two houses might be seen side by side, one in flames with the firemen at work on it, the other hung with long icicles where the streams of water had splashed and frozen. The brave and spirited women of the Women's Voluntary Services, taking their canteens out under the bombs with refreshment for civil defenders and anyone else needing it, had their own troubles that night.
"The firemen put the cups with dregs down and they froze. The tea froze. The hose froze. We had a choice of being frozen, burned, blown up, or drowned in tea."
These hazards of deep winter were additional to the normal ones that afflicted all who had to move about in the blitz-- hidden craters, dark lumps of debris, tangles of firemen's hose, and trailing telephone wires. Messengers, ambulance drivers, and the W.V.S. had to learn a new technique of locomotion.
One W.V.S. driver used to take her student sons out with her in turn. They lay along the bonnet of her canteen van taking soundings and calling back to her as she nosed forward.
When the real risks involved in fire attack became clear, the Civil Defenders and the people were among the quickest in all the country to tackle it at its root- the fire-bomb. The sequel was dramatically encouraging. One big attack was thoroughly defeated by this means. On a certain night incendiaries were dropped widely, in an effort to find and light an objective. They were promptly put out everywhere except in one district. A message from the enemy force was over-heard, "We have found the target," and it was the offending district, innocent of military objectives, that got the bombs.
Later, in one of the heavy raids, the police and other observers were much struck by the work of civilians in their home neighbour-hoods. The police report remarked that "there did not seem to be enough bombs to go round." In the last of the big raids, on Good Friday night, the enemy began as usual with showers of incendiaries. More than one watcher, posted high, saw the white glaring patches all over the target area grow and brighten. Within a few minutes "it was as though someone was drawing a blanket over them. The light died down and disappeared." Three hours later, the bombers were still dropping flares to try and light their target. The bombs fell heavily but blindly. It was a big attack, but damage was limited, and not a single major fire developed.
Unhappily, earlier raids had been more harmful. A great part of the centre of the city was completely burnt out, and stands dumb witness to the meaning of total air war as the Nazis taught it to the world.
The next war-industry town to be attacked was Sheffield. Ever since Henry Bessemer built his first works at Attercliffe in the eighteen-fifties, Sheffield had been one of the world's great arsenals. When the sirens sounded at 7 o'clock on 12th December, they seemed to mean no more than they had done on many another night when the raiders had crossed the city, bound elsewhere.. Normal life continued until showers of incendiaries, the thump of bombs and the bark of the guns brought home to Sheffield that the blitz had come at last.
For nine hours of the moonlit winter night the bombers droned across the city and unleashed death and damage on its crowded buildings and its untried people. As fire and destruction spread among the commercial buildings in the city centre, one basement shelter after another became uninhabitable; 2,000 people in one main street alone had to be moved through a double line of fires to safer refuges. They marched quietly and in good order behind wardens who were themselves facing their first fierce experience of active service.
All over the city scores of thousands, in and out of the civil defence services, were rising to the occasion with a similar steadiness of nerve. As the hours went by and the bombs destroyed communications and made orderly action more and more difficult, improvisations became the order of the night. Wardens, failing to make contact with control, went and set the services in movement by direct action. They allowed their posts to become refuges for the homeless and distressed, who almost crowded them out. "The women wardens, who had with difficulty been kept indoors in most cases, calmed the shaken with kind but bracing words, dressed wounds, and in one case eased the last hours of a lost baby."
The first aid parties, when their vans could not get through, walked kit in hand to their destinations, bringing relief and assurance wherever they went. Ambulance drivers, if their vehicles broke down or were blocked, carried their patients to the first aid posts.
Rescue workers, in inadequate numbers owing to a breakdown in organisation, did marvels of skill, strength and courage all night and well into the following day. The firemen, though they could not save the city centre, fought with limited water supplies to confine each fire to its own building- and succeeded, for only one blaze in all the central area spread to another building.
When morning came, it brought those scenes of desolation and mess so familiar in Britain at that time.
"From the unlimited variety of emotions and experiences which are now only remembered with difficulty, two things only stand out as being universally true: everyone was dirty, and everyone was kind. Never in all the history of smoky Sheffield have such tons of dust, soot, and foreign bodies encumbered its celebrated atmosphere; never before have her citizens displayed in unison such spontaneous and heart-felt friendliness. Not only the reserves between neighbours, and between the distressed and their helpers, but those between strangers broke down entirely; every hospitable and generous impulse was given free expression without shyness and accepted without embarrassment."
There is no space to tell how the city coped with its immediate problems:
: how, before the days of emergency meals services, the staff of the Institution at Fir Vale turned out 60,000 meals in the first twenty-four hours, continuing to stand in the breach and serve the whole city's needs for many days so that the homeless housewives of Sheffield could still carry on-- "arter all, we've soomat t'eat"
: how, when the Rest Centre organisation was broken by bomb-hits and by the general weight of the burden upon it, all sorts of willing workers made their appearance and improvised substitutes in halls and first aid posts
: how the medical and nursing staff of one first aid post turned it into a Rest Centre in a twinkling, and housed and cared for its crowded collection of bombed-out men, women and children day by day until a return to normal life was possible
: how great feats were done in record time in the restoration of water, gas, electricity, communications, transport and the clearance of roads
: how an Information Bureau was set up at the City Library which served as a many-sided link-- the first outside London-- between public needs and official activities, a standing demonstration of the vital importance of such a service, and a model of how to render it.
Three nights after the great raid of the 12th, Sheffield was attacked again- not lightly, but happily for not more than three hours, and in a limited area. The results were blended with those of the earlier raid and the city went on with the work of cleansing and restoration after both. In these and other, much lighter, attacks, about 85,000 houses were damaged.
Sheffield broke new ground in more than one direction concerned with air attack. Not the least valuable was its decision to prepare a full story of its raids.
This was to be no mere official report; it was also to pick up all the bright atoms of human action and suffering before they were buried beyond recall, and to piece them into a mosaic that would picture the rich and living truth about an air raid. The work was done with the fidelity and imagination it deserved. After the war it will add an invaluable section to the national record. Meantime this narrative has been able to draw upon it for the material of the preceding brief paragraphs.
The next great industrial city to be attacked was Manchester, which, with its neighbours Salford and Stretford, suffered three nights before Christmas a fierce incendiary attack. Shortly after dusk on 22nd December, the bright white light of flares lit the sky above the city from end to end. Soon the colour changed from white to red, as the incendiaries took hold and the clouds reflected the crimson of growing fires in the city centre and at Stretford.
On the following night, the attack was renewed with special attention to Stretford, where big fires were still burning at the end of the two nights.
Oxford Road, Deansgate, and other central arteries in Manchester and Salford were blocked by debris of fire and high explosive, and the weary Civil Defenders, making their way home from the centre of the city, met another procession coming the opposite way, the black-coated army, moving on to do its daily work in shops and offices-- many of which had vanished in heaps of ruin.
Yet, on the whole, Manchester was big enough to take the raid in its stride, without much upset or disturbance. The great northern city, with its neighbours, has long stood for a quality of freshness, breadth and humanity in political life and civic government. Manchester typifies many of the elements in British democracy to which Hitlerism is most repugnant; the city had been early to perceive the threat from Germany and to respond to the Government's call for civil defence preparations.
When the test came the wardens, rescue and casualty services were ready.
The enemy launched his high explosive towards the fires that were starting in the centre of the city; but many fell in the poorer streets, and worked havoc among the small houses. In such circumstances the work of the wardens is of especial importance, and all authorities are agreed that the working class wardens, whole-time and part-time, even those with least advantages or experience of responsible leadership, acquitted themselves with exceptional credit. Salford's well-disciplined force, which had a positive and universal rule against going to shelter or indoors at any time during a raid, put up the performance for which sound planning and thorough training had paved the way.
But fire was another matter. The first raid took place on one of the unhappy December Sundays. Manchester, like most of the rest, was caught off guard. Some of the shops and offices were well protected by roof watchers, who were able to cope with fire bombs, plentifully though they fell. Other buildings were quite empty, and the fire sentries elsewhere had to look on across the chasm of an intervening roadway, powerless and in fury, while two or three incendiaries slowly- so slowly! -burned their way through the roof and the top floor, until the whole building, gradually roared into flame and was lost.
It was the fire brigade's first raid in their own city. The auxiliary firemen and their regular comrades had not yet had an opportunity to become welded into a single well-exercised unit, and the problems of mobilisation, command and water-relay were thereby the more formidable. Wind and weather seemed actively unhelpful to the defenders. Many blocks in the middle parts of the city were burned right out or severely damaged.
All this marked no failure of heart or will on the part of the fire-fighters, but a lack of experience of what the most concentrated kind of fire raid could achieve, and of advance measures to cope with it. The events of that night were not peculiar to Manchester; and the city, true to its best traditions, was quick to learn some of the main lessons of its own and other raids.
It pioneered a new organisation of compulsory fire protection in business areas, and established a thorough scheme of compulsory fire guard work in advance of the national measures.
The Battle of the Arms Towns was brought to an end some four months later, when on four successive nights in early April, Coventry, Birmingham, Coventry again, and Bristol were attacked in turn.
One aspect of Civil Defence in these raids may be noted as typical of a vital problem that was met and solved in every target area - housing repair. In Coventry, from which our example comes, it had always been a front-line question: by the end of April 70,000 houses in that city had been damaged and their temporary loss could ill be afforded.
In the November raid, a sudden round-up of men and materials had enabled roofs and windows to be patched with no great loss of time. In April, an officer concerned with house repair thought it his duty to go round to the biggest fires and other incidents for some hours under the bombing so as to estimate the probable damage. In the morning communication would be difficult, and he meant to be away moving labour and material at once. When you were working to a schedule of days, hours were worth saving. For these houses were the arms makers' bases and could not be restored too soon.
THE ATTACK ON THE ARMS TOWNS:
Dates of main raids, estimated number of enemy planes engaged, and total civilians killed in all raids to the end of 1941:
COVENTRY - 1,236 civilians killed.
14th November 400 planes
8th April 300 planes
10th April 200 planes
BIRMINGHAM- 2,162 civilians killed.
19th November 1940 350 planes
22nd November 200 planes
3rd December 50 planes
11th December 200 planes
9th-10th April 1941 250 planes
BRISTOL (And Avonmouth)- 1,159 civilians killed.
24th November 1940 50 planes
2nd December 100 planes
6th December 50 planes
3rd and 4th January 150 planes
16th March 1941 150 planes
11th April 150 planes
SHEFFIELD 624 civilians killed
12th December plus 15th December 1940 (two nights)- 300 planes
MANCHESTER (with Salford and Stretford)- 1,005 civilians killed.
22nd and 23rd December 1940 (2 nights) 150 planes.
The Attack on the Ports
THE GERMAN ATTACKS on British seaports and dockyard towns can hardly be fitted into a single strategical pattern. In November and December, the ports took their turn with other vital centres as part of the targets in a general onslaught,which by striking at civilian communities was meant to slow down and cripple the British war machine. Then the world panorama began to change, and the German plan with it.
At first, to the Nazi leaders, and perhaps to world opinion, Britain was the single enemy, to be hit hard and often until she made terms. But when the world saw that London could withstand tremendous pressure, and to the discerning eye her victory was marked by the Nazis' abandonment of their exclusive concentration on the Capital, opinion changed. As President Roosevelt later wrote, the British defence "showed that Britain was able to hold off disaster until adequate help could come from ships, airplanes, tanks and guns from the United States;" And the help began to increase in volume. Then the Germans' problem came to be to stop it.
In 1940, between the attack on Coventry and the end of the year, there were three major attacks on Merseyside and two on Southampton. But in the whole of 1941, out of some forty night raids on particular targets other than London, only six were not on ports and this half-dozen included three attacks on Bristol, two at least of which may well have been originally conceived as part of the blockade.
At the same time the earlier ordeal of the ports was not inflicted wholly by heavy concentrated attacks. Liverpool, Portsmouth and Southampton all had a large number of lighter raids, by day and night. Liverpool was attacked 57 times and lost 520 of its citizens before its first heavy night raid on 28th November, when some 150 enemy planes attacked. Portsmouth and Southampton had even more frequent attention.
Portsmouth is accustomed to disaster. No big ship or submarine has ever gone down in war or peace without bereavement to many Portsmouth families. Their connection with the Navy is one of glory and sorrow, and the raids of 1940-41 were only an intensification of something which has long had a prominent part in the city's life.
Portsmouth is but a few minutes' flying distance from France. Up to 8th August, 1941, it was warned 792 times- nearly twice a day on the average ever since the German raiding began. And a warning in Portsmouth usually also meant an ear-splitting barrage.
The city has had four major raids besides some fifty harassing attacks. The first serious action was near the beginning of the Battle of Britain when on 24th August, 1940, seventy H.E. bombs were dropped on the city in five minutes in broad daylight and 125 people were killed. But the heaviest raid came on 10th January, 1941, when 450 bombs were dropped. Another raid of about half the weight came in March and there was a heavy attack at the end of April. In a year of air attack over 1,500 bombs were dropped. Of the city's 70,000 houses, 65,000 suffered some kind of damage, in most cases repairable.
It was in the raid of 10th January that the city's splendid Guildhall was gutted. Both the main shopping centres and many a public building besides the Guildhall were completely burnt out. It was a bad night of fires in Portsmouth. As a fireman on duty put it, "Here alas, as in many another fine town, the constant cry was for water, water, and still more water... It was eventually relayed from a distance of over three miles, measuring the round-about route made necessary by bomb damage."
Wardens and police worked closely together, earning and enjoying a full degree of public confidence. Naval tradition had one interesting effect on the civil defence services. Senior officers of these services would tell you that elderly men were of more value and were perhaps more highly regarded both individually and as a body in Portsmouth than almost anywhere else. "You get an old warden and he seems to be nothing wonderful in exercises or his routine jobs, but when bombs start, he's a sailor again."
The Navy showed itself a very good neighbour to the city in their joint ordeal. The city will not forget the gesture that, after the sudden shattering fury of the daylight raid in August, sent a substantial Naval party doubling smartly through the streets to the Guildhall to report for any service they might be required to do. The Navy's concern for the dockyard, which must come first, never prevented it making such contributions. It lent a hand with putting the town to rights after the January raid, repairing utilities, helping to feed the services, clearing the streets and demolishing buildings. Quite a large number of sailors went out in small detachments as Friendly Aid Parties just to see what you wanted done. You were standing by your front door, looking and feeling rather lost, and the Friendly Aid Party would help you to patch up your windows, or move your sick wife, or take the broken glass out of the larder. Such things were the small change of after-raid work, but they are the very stuff of memory.
Like its neighbour Portsmouth, Southampton is only a few minutes away, from the Luftwaffe's French bases and it was warned, bombed and blitzed with the frequency that was to be expected. It had fifty bombing raids up to the summer of 1941, three of them heavy night attacks. Its introduction to serious business came in three daylight attacks on 11th, 24th and 26th September, 1940. It had some 2,200 bombs in all and over half its houses had some damage.
The city's heavy night raids, on 23rd and 30th November and 1st December, inflicted an amount of senseless damage that shocked and roused a people not yet used to the new standards that the Nazis seemed intent upon setting. The Civic Centre was hit many times. The commercial centre, the long shopping street above and below Bargate, was very heavily damaged. By 1st December, only one building on its east side was left intact between the Civic Centre and Bargate. Three-quarters of the old district in the centre of the town was destroyed, largely by fire.
The A.R.P. services came with credit out of an unusually severe ordeal. In one of the raids, centralised control was made impossible, and the services had to operate each for itself, district by district, as the needs of the moment required. The machine was not intended to work in this way, but being a flexible thing planned to allow room for initiative at the bottom, it could withstand disasters that would have dislocated or paralysed a more rigid organisation.
In January, 1941, the Luftwaffe's New Year gift was an attack on Cardiff, on the second night of the month. The white buildings of the Welsh capital's Civic Centre gleam in the clear air. But the city is not far in space or spirit from the mining valleys where black dumps are always encroaching on the green hillsides and toilsome lives are lived under the shadow of daily risk of sudden catastrophe. Even the savagery of Nazi air raids does not fall with full surprise upon a people thus inured to shock and terror.
There were thirty raids on Cardiff. One at least was heavy enough to test and prove the nerve of the people and the effectiveness of their defences. To many a policeman or rescue worker, the night of 2nd January will always be the most vivid experience of his life. Its bombs and fires brought their wonted sequel of personal tragedy and physical damage. The splendid Cathedral of Llandaff suffered greatly. But neither that nor any other raid cut too deeply into the city's tissues or scared its memories too painfully.
The civil defenders and citizens themselves have a strong claim to the credit for the defeat of this raid. It began with a heavy incendiary attack, but this was one of the very earliest raids in which police, wardens and householders showed themselves able to deal thoroughly and quickly with the bombs. In consequence the fires which did spring up were never really out of hand. There were remarkably few hits on important targets, though a great many small houses near the docks suffered, and some heavy bombs were dropped at random in residential areas on the outskirts. It was one of these that fell on the Cathedral.
The Cardiff raid was in almost every aspect an example of effective defence, the more creditable and satisfactory in that here, as in the rest of South Wales, an exceptionally high fraction- indeed almost the whole- of the civil defence services were voluntary part-time workers. One small episode of the raid is worth recording because it so faithfully exhibits the spirit of the Welsh cities under bombing, and the roots of that spirit. When a rescue party set to work to see who might be buried in the debris of a demolished house, they were warned of life to be saved and guided to their mark by the notes of "God Save the King" sung at the top of his voice by a little boy of six. It turned out that he was trapped under the staircase, where he had to stay for six hours until rescued. He was singing most of the time. His rescuers asked him why. He told them-- "My father was a collier, and he always said that when the men were caught and buried underground they would keep singing and singing and they were always got out in time."
The same spirit showed itself in the other principal Welsh target, the port of Swansea, which was attacked for three nights running in the middle of February with a savage determination that perhaps gives these raids some claim to be called the opening of the air blockade proper. But the method of the attack was significant, and typical.
The whole civilian centre of the town was levelled to the ground by bomb and fire. The Luftwaffe was issuing the same direct challenge to the people of Wales as it had done and would do to the people of England and Scotland, with the same result. The machinery of defence and reconstruction worked well; though losses were suffered, the attack was defeated.
The great fires that raged in the central part of the city area put those who were sheltering there to a severe test of nerve. The record of peace-time fires in crowded places contains enough instances of wild panic to make it clear that mass good conduct on such terrible occasions cannot be taken for granted. But the people of Swansea had the personal discipline of free people at war, and in their wardens they had leadership. Though not an army, they produced when occasion demanded it the essential characteristics of a disciplined body. After waiting for hours in some large basement shelter, knowing that the next bomb might hit it and that there were fires all round them, they were nevertheless quite ready, when the menace of flame became too pressing to march out under the wardens' direction into the blazing streets and make their way quietly or with singing to some haven less threatened.
The wardens themselves took these episodes in their stride. Such a raid might tempt fainthearts, after one experience of its terrors, to find some reason for not appearing the next night, particularly if it were not strictly their turn of duty. There was no such sign of weakness. The wardens and the messenger service had the same number on duty on the third night as the first.
After the raid one immediate task was to make food available in a city with many thousands of damaged homes, a. burnt-out shopping centre and 200 food shops and stalls out of action. This was done in a few hours. Alternative food shops were arranged and the emergency food services did not fail. The striking and colourful vans of the Queen's Messenger Convoys were cheered in the streets when they arrived. Communal feeding centres were set up. Mobile canteens took hot food to the people, and sought them out in their damaged homes to give it them.
The third and last raid took place on a Friday night. The rate of Swansea's mental recovery can be measured by the fact that in the blitzed streets, still filthy with the litter of the blast, one of the most normal of all Welsh sights was seen on Sunday afternoon. Group after group of children in clean frocks and well brushed suits set off to Sunday School. The sight of them brightened the desolate suburbs. Parents took for granted, with good reason, that though churches and halls had suffered, arrangements would have been improvised so that the Sunday Schools could carry on.
After Swansea, the next really heavy raids took place three weeks later on Merseyside, where a million people cluster about the estuary through which so much of the country's trade has passed for two centuries. We shall not tell the enemy where his bombs dropped on particular nights, by mentioning individual boroughs. In their ordeal Liverpool, Bootle, Birkenhead, Wallasey and the rest learned fresh solidarity as Merseyside. Merseyside let them be in these pages.
Measured by number and weight of attacks and number of casualties, this must rank as Hitler's Target Number One outside London. To the first Merseyside raid on 28th November we have referred. The second was spread over two nights (three if some stray raiders are counted), a few days before Christmas. It was a heavy attack, with many hundreds of deaths, widespread fires, and a good deal of civilian damage.
Then, in the middle of March, came two nights of brutal raiding, bombs crashing upon houses and streets for eight hours the first night and six the second. The impact of the two raids combined, measured by the death rate they caused, was as great as that of the Coventry attack, though the damage was less concentrated. With the shining water to help them the German bombers could not fail to drop many of their missiles on the docks themselves, and if they did great damage among densely packed houses away from, as well as close to, the waterfront, as they did in all the Merseyside raids, it was no doubt their usual policy of striking at the nerve and courage of civilians and disorganising their normal life to the utmost.
The civil defence machine was by this time well tested and hardened and the services went about their work with full mastery, though the fire-fighters in places were hindered by lack of water. In these earlier raids two boroughs had 30,000 of their houses damaged-- about two in every three. The people endured their ordeal with stubborn and uncomplaining fortitude.
Six weeks later came the next, and for a long time the last, chapter : Merseyside's "May Week," the series of attacks on the docks and their neighbourhoods that marked the first seven nights of May. Only two of these raids were extremely heavy, but none was negligible. Between them they killed 1,500 people. It was estimated that more than 2,000 bombs fell on land during the week and that the brigades fought over 1,200 fires.
The policemen and firemen who guarded the docks in May were perhaps under as fierce an attack as any men in the whole course of the onslaught on Britain. High explosive and incendiaries fell in great weight upon the dock basins, the quays, the ships moored at their sides, and the store sheds hard by. There was damage; but the marvel is that it had so light an effect, and for so short a time, on the working of the port.
Policemen moved arms and ammunition to safety from blazing sheds with their own hands or put their shoulders to trucks laden with shells and forced them away from spreading flames. Firemen fought all night to check the fires on a blazing munition ship. All these men, every instant for hours on end, were consciously' staking their lives on the race they were running against time, the threat from flames and falling embers, great as it was, being less than the chance of immediate explosion at their sides if the flames moved too fast for them. Volunteers from among the dockers worked to unload special cargoes while the bombs fell, and cleared in record time some naval vessels which the Admiralty wanted to move from the danger area.
At the end of this week of desperate risk and heavy labour the docks were working: handling a reduced volume of traffic for a time, but working. As blocked roads and cratered railway tracks were reopened, and the chaotic reminders of fire and bomb cleared from the quay sides, the turnover of the port moved back towards normal. The enemy had done his worst to Merseyside for a week, and there was much to do outside the docks as well as within. Vehicles, civil and military, were mobilised from the nearer parts of Lancashire, and for days the work of clearance and repair went quickly forward. In all the Merseyside raids a total of over 150,000 houses were damaged.
Forty thousand homeless people were billeted inside the city in one week: others moved to Rest Centres and billets on the outskirts and in the nearby villages and towns. It might have been feared that sections of the dockside population would show some weakness of nerve. But every testimony agrees that there was no sign of it: they moved to their temporary outstations cheerfully and in cold blood, grateful no doubt for the prospect of some nights' peace and quiet. The police, who have had past reason to take a cool view of some of the dockside neighbourhoods, spoke in praise of the way they had stood up to their ordeal.
Some of the housing districts were affected worse than others. In one section almost every warden was homeless after the first few nights. They took their turn of sleep in shelters or Rest Centres and worked straight on, day after day, part-timers as well as whole-timers. Other services had still worse ordeals to face. Of the First Aid Party Depots, only one was left unaffected at the end of the raid. A bomb fell directly upon an Ambulance Station, killing 17 drivers at a blow. One of the divisional Control Centres had a bomb through the middle of its ceiling. Happily it did little injury: eyewitnesses said it "tore its side out on a girder and went off like a squib."
Some thousands of houses in Bootle, were roughly handled by blast and bomb-splinter, and parts of the borough looked very untidy towards the end of the raids. But the inhabitants were not to be driven into taking things too seriously. On the morning after the last raid--- no one of course then knew it was the last- an observer, picking his way through the streets, saw women at work in the habitable houses, and in a good number that did not deserve that description. They were scrubbing the steps, polishing the door handles and cleaning the remaining panes of glass, as they had done before the raids started and are no doubt doing at this day. Another observer who knows Merseyside well, summed it up for an inquirer a little time after the raids. "Of course there's no doubt," said this authority, " that if Jerry kept up continuous raids night after night on a place like Liverpool a lot of the people would disappear."
And when would they come back?
The authority smiled, "Next morning."
Next to Merseyside perhaps the most intense and continuous attack upon any provincial target fell upon Plymouth towards the end of April. In Plymouth there are normally 195,000 people living in the Navy's shadow and working in its service, whether in the dockyard or in the provision of its many needs. On this community the enemy, apart from a long tale of lesser raids, twice inflicted the most savage bombing attacks: one of two nights in March and one of five in April; in the latter 549 civilians were killed. The enemy destroyed the Guildhall, the Law Courts, the Municipal Buildings, the General Post Office, the old Guildhall, the Library and the City hospital, and completely wiped out the main shopping centres of both Plymouth and Devonport. Most of this damage was done by overwhelming fires which presented problems of water provision and of reinforcement that were almost insoluble in the conditions then and there obtaining. It would be a different story to-day.
There were defeats as well as triumphs on Plymouth's home front. But on the whole what did the enemy succeed in achieving apart from a sad tale of physical destruction? What did he do to the people of Plymouth? He drove many of them out of their homes (first and last over 50,000 houses were attendance on the five nights in April which were the climax of the attack was 300.
The wardens, who in April lost 27 dead and seriously injured, including six women, maintained their entire whole-time strength, regardless of shifts and rotas, on every night of the attack. On the last night, the part-time wardens on duty made a total remarkably close to that of the first night. These part-time Civil Defenders in all the services were householders as well as citizens. Their houses were being damaged night by night, their homes temporarily broken up, members of their family injured or worse. They had their businesses to carry on or their daily work to do. They might be on duty in one building and see another, their place of work, in flames. They might pass down a street, see their shop intact and return within an hour to find it gone. These are the hazards of civilian warfare. They did not cause the civilian services to forget the greater objective which they had volunteered to achieve.
The story of the ports now moves north to the Clyde. All the way from Glasgow Westwards through Clydebank and beyond, the banks of the river are lined with docks and shipyards. Parallel to them, and hard by on the north, is the main road from Glasgow through Clydebank to Dumbarton. Between the highway and the river is the kingdom of ships; north of the road are the tenements and houses.
It was bright moonlight on the two nights of 13th and 14th March, when the first heavy concentration of German raiders appeared over the Clyde. Incendiaries came down not in scores or hundreds but in masses, like raindrops in a storm or locusts settling upon ripe grain. The fires thus started, fed with more incendiaries and stoked with high explosives, spread and raged with tremendous fierceness. It was said that the glare above the Clyde on these nights could be seen by British airmen patrolling above an Aberdeenshire aerodrome over 100 miles away. Three nights afterwards a German bomber pilot, broadcasting on his exploits, spoke of the clearness of the night and said: "The multitude of ships in the river was tempting, but our orders were different."
If their orders were to destroy the docks and shipyards, they most conspicuously failed. If they were deliberately aiming at men, women and children in their homes, they were successful. In Glasgow and Clydebank some 40,000 houses were damaged on those two nights and the deaths in the whole area totalled over 1,100. There was ugly, brutal damage done to some of Glasgow's great tenement blocks, and a long list of casualties. But Glasgow is a great city; her share of the raid, grievous though it was, did not seem conspicuous. Nor were her civil defence services for the most part heavily taxed.
Whether by the accident of where the first fires started, or for some other reason, Clydebank was attacked with the most savage fury. It is a small town with little more than 12,000 houses; on the morning after the second raid those which were completely undamaged could literally have been counted on the fingers of the two hands. The deaths there were small in proportion to the damage. They would have been much worse but for the Anderson and surface shelters which put up a performance that astonished their occupants themselves.
That night both in Glasgow and Clydebank countless deeds were done which belong to the fighting traditions of Scotland, though they were done not by picturesque kilted figures at the charge but by drab, dungareed men and women in "tin hats." There is a fine fire-fighting story of the battle at a group of oil tanks, one of the few "military objectives" hit in the raids. Some of the men were fifty hours continuously at work, and at the end there were ninety-six high explosive bomb craters in the limited area over which they had fought. They waded through the moats round burning or threatened tanks; they climbed up the ladders and blacked out jets of burning oil gas pouring from holes in the crown of the tanks; they worked near the sides of the tanks under the blazing drips falling from above. They hosed one another as they worked to make it possible to go on. Not only did they save a good number of the threatened tanks but they extinguished some that had caught fire and been burning for as long as two day -an excellent rare feat.
Such an attack as Clydebank experienced left policemen and wardens to cope, often single-handed, with the bombed-out, the trapped, the bomb shocked, the injured, and with uncountable fire bombs. In the dry language of the official report: "in many instances wardens were cut off from all sources of authority and continued rendering valuable service on their own initiative by putting out incendiary bombs, helping the homeless and rendering first aid." The same document dismisses the work of the rescue parties with the two words "beyond praise."
The Control Centre was hit directly. "The building shook and the dust of ages came down on us. The lights went out, and we did not know whether we were going into Kingdom Come." The lights were in fact off for sixty seconds- a long time it must have seemed in the black dark after a. great bomb explosion-- but "the girls behaved with remarkable calmness. Everyone was just waiting until we got the lights going." The Control Centre continued to do fully efficient work for the rest of the night. Its ninety messenger lads, boys of sixteen to eighteen, the eyes and ears of the Control on a night when communications were badly interrupted, coolly went their rounds back and forth among the bombs and wreckage.
Sixty thousand people of Clydebank came out of their shelters or from battered homes, or gathered themselves together after their fire-bomb fighting, to find much of their burgh uninhabitable, many of its essential services interrupted, practically all its Rest Centres demolished, and its civic organisation for the time being cut to pieces. How did a population so afflicted carry on? Before the raids some professional observers had uttered gloomy forebodings about the Red Clyde. Solemn listeners to the plentiful grumblings at street corners had been duly impressed and had gone away shaking their heads. Was the Clyde whole-hearted about the war? Now, after an ordeal undreamed of (for the superstition that "they would not raid Clydeside" had been fairly widespread) the people showed the bearing of hardened warriors- a quiet, tough resolution that impressed observers, skilled and unskilled alike.
"On neither day was there any sign of panic or of a blind rush away from the devastated area in spite of the great intensity and long duration of the attacks. Besides official schemes for the homeless, there was, of course, a considerable private evacuation, but the people moving out knew what they were doing. On the Saturday morning (the second day after the raids) men were active in and about their ruined houses. Women and children were cheerful."
Was it not a Clydebank woman, as she cleaned away the broken glass and debris from her front path on the morning after the second raid, who said to her neighbour : "Well, there's one thing about these raids, they do make you forget about the war."
The docks, shipyards and industries were ready to carry on. Their men were ready- at once. Said a contemporary report : "The most vital sign of the unified defiance and determination of Clydebank has been shown by the return of the workers. On Monday of this week, the Apprentices' Committee decided to recommend all striking apprentices to get back to work, but the bombed-out apprentices had already made up their minds. They had been to the gates of Yarrow's that morning trying to get in.
The great bulk of the workers had made their way back to Clydebank from wherever they were, anxious to start. We made some enquiries as to where the workers normally resident in Clydebank intended to spend the night. Those who were preparing to stay in Clydebank had no anxieties as to where they would go. They were going up to such and such a shelter; they were sleeping in the works shelter; no, they weren't worrying about special billets in Clydebank. All they wanted was their grub, and when was the Town Hall going to open for tea? At this point the Town Hall opened and the men swarmed in to enjoy a remarkably large and appetising meal."
The feeding of Clydebank was, with Glasgow's help, quickly and comprehensively arranged. A big communal feeding centre was set up to serve many thousands of meals daily. Works canteens that had not existed in a district where the men's homes were only minutes away were quickly and effectively improvised. For the men billeted with their families outside Glasgow and Clydebank, a special transport scheme was running. Quick jobs were done in the maintenance and restoration of telephone cables and the repair of damaged water mains. As for the houses, within a few hours after the first raid, men were surveying the damage and estimating the size of the repair problem. Many hundreds were hard at work on the site within a day or two. Clydebank would carry on with its essential war work even if many of its people had to make their base elsewhere; but they were coming back to live in Clydebank just as soon as walls and a roof were there to cover them.
The second big Clydeside raid came about seven weeks later. This time it was more widely spread and the bombs fell on most of the areas round both banks of the Clyde. At Greenock the enemy succeeded in starting some big fires and bombing them hard after his fashion. He damaged many houses though very much less in proportion to the town's resources than in Clydebank. For a second time the hospitable countryside and nearby burghs absorbed a proportion of the homeless while repair work went on at top speed.
Greenock's ordeal, though not as heavy as that of Clydebank, was met in the same spirit. Many of the fires were extremely dangerous, and the fire-fighters showed outstanding gallantry and endurance in tackling them. The widespread disbelief in the probability of raiding had perhaps been responsible for the fact that the wardens' service before the raid had been a little short of its establishment. Afterwards recruiting quickened, and before long there had been an increase of over forty per cent. in spite of the fact that many of the existing service had been called up or taken into other war work. These volunteers were mostly shipyard and engineering workmen. It had not been easy to move them before they saw the bombs on their town. After that it would not have been easy to keep them out.
Here are two episodes from Clydebank in March :
When the second night of raiding began, they went up on the moorland above the town:-father, mother and baby, with blankets, food, milk for baby's bottle and a pan to warm it in. At 10 o'clock it was time for baby's bottle, and would father take it to a nearby farm and get it warmed? Father went off with milk and pan but found the farm deserted. He tried another building farther on with the same result. just as he turned back a misdirected shower of incendiaries fell all about him in the farmyard. His civilian training strong within him, he began to throw earth and manure on the bombs. Suddenly it struck him-- this was a waste of opportunity and waste of heat. He uncovered his latest bomb, poured the milk quickly into the pan, brought it to the right temperature over the bomb and took the bottle back in triumph.
A Clydebank householder in his garden, after putting out some incendiary bombs, heard the whistle of a falling bomb and at the same time the steps of a. passer-by in the street. Shouting "fly for your life, there's one coming," he rushed behind a bank and flung himself on the ground. After a terrible explosion he picked himself up and went to see what had happened to the passer-by. He found part of a body visible from the waist upwards, the rest being covered with debris. He felt for the face which was stone cold and shouted, "Are you alive, are you alive?" After a moment's silence- "by gosh, I believe I am, I thought I was deid till you spoke." It was a lad of about fourteen, unscathed except for the loss of his trousers which had been blown completely off. When he saw the damage the victim's only remark was, " ma maw will gie me a hell o' a row for wasting ma guid troosers."
In April, the air war moved to Northern Ireland. As the early months of 1941 went by, the great ship-building port of Belfast was left free from attack. Its people might be forgiven for making up their minds that their remoteness from enemy bases was a permanent safeguard. Happily for them, a raid of no great severity on 8th April came to rouse them to the peril in which they stood. When a fierce and heavy attack was loosed on them a week later, they had at least had time to take necessary precautions at home and to revise their attitude to the limited civil defence services and the shelters.
On 15th April, the night of its greatest ordeal; the city had to withstand seven hours of heavy bombardment. Streets of houses and shopping centres blazed into walls of flame in which bombs exploded with a continuous rumbling crash. Whole sections of the city, far from military objectives, were laid in ruins, and an interrupted water supply left the flames free for a time to make progress unchecked. The A.R.P. and Fire Services did their varied tasks with courage. From the less affected parts of the city volunteers came in hundreds to reinforce the heavily stricken areas. Fire-fighting reinforcements, sorely needed, crossed the sea from Great Britain. From the south, too, came help. The moment the need was realised, the volunteer firemen of the neutral state of Eire turned out and came racing through the night with their peace-time headlamps blazing, across the border to fires on a scale that none of them could previously have imagined.
For this good-neighbourly help the Government of Eire in due course made it clear, that no question of cash repayment had ever been considered, and the Northern Government, in rendering grateful thanks, made it equally clear that the help given was not to be valued in financial terms and could be repaid only in kind if ever the need arose.
When morning broke, parts of the city were a gruesome sight. The ruin-fringed roads were blocked by heaps of smoking debris and acrid-smelling craters. Water ran through the rubble, gas mains spouted fountains of flame, and where the fire-fighters were still at work every now and again a wall crashed. Through the mud, past the rubble, climbing over the wet charred wood and the twisting hoses, house- holders were making their way to Rest and Feeding Centres, or back to their ruined homes, to stand numb before the wreckage or to pick it over forlornly in search of belongings. The civil defence services, black faced, red eyed and nearly exhausted, carried on during the morning hours, getting relief when they could and staying on the job until it came.
That evening many people made their way out into the countryside for refuge. At the feeding centres 70,000 had been catered for by day, and the official Rest Centres were overflowing. Some of the refugee women and children went as far afield as Dublin, where they were welcomed both privately and publicly in the same spirit of compassion and kinship as had been shown during the raid itself. Before long Belfast's essential services had been fully restored and the number of those needing emergency food and the help of Rest Centres had shrunk to a small fraction of the first waves of the distressed.
The city's respite was not for long. On 4th and 5th May the enemy again made Belfast his target. This time the visits were a good deal shorter, and the weight of damage to houses and shops less. So were the casualties. But the fire-fighters once again had to contend with broken water mains, while in the battered streets the civil defence services and police did their work for hours under heavy bombing. Once again fire brigades from Eire came to give their help and reinforcements poured across the Irish Sea. Soon after daybreak water supplies were restored and the fires mastered.
A German pilot who had taken part in the attack, broadcasting on his exploits, said that from high above Liverpool on his homeward journey he could still see the fires in Belfast. This time he was sure they had achieved their purpose: Belfast, with its shipyards and industries, was completely destroyed! In spite of this optimistic conjecture, the Germans came again for a few hours on the following night but the attack was comparatively light, and so was the damage.
In the months that followed these attacks Belfast profited from the lessons it had learned. Volunteers for the civil defence services came forward in large numbers- tough men and women, who knew from experience exactly what they might have to face. But they knew also the measure of the threat to their city, and they had learned that it is easier to face a blitz with active work to do than to sit and wait in idleness. The auxiliary fire service was greatly strengthened in men and material, and other services were also much increased. Belfast Civil Defence became as strong in numbers as the raids of April and May proved it to be in fortitude and resolution.
One last target, Hull, remains on the list of heavily bombed ports. Its first attack came in March, but it is placed last because it was the object of heavy attacks for some time after they had stopped elsewhere, and of lesser raids for a longer period still. Hull is on the coast and also on the route from enemy bases to other targets. Not surprisingly, therefore, it had experienced forty-nine raids between the Battle of Britain and its own major blitz in May. It was also to be subjected after that to a steady series of what came to be called tip-and-run raids- one of them, in July, a heavy attack.
The big attack in May was a shattering ordeal for the civilians who endured it. The German tactics were familiar-- showers of incendiaries followed by high explosives as soon as the fires took hold. On these nights they did take hold and raged in various parts of the city, very largely destroying the centre and wreaking great damage to houses, though little to industry.
Quite apart from the normal shocks and terrors of such nights, these were difficult raids for the civil defence services because early bombs badly damaged their communications. As usual the wardens, 400 of them women, and the rescue men, more than half of them part-timers, stuck to their work without regard to shifts or rotas and came back in their full numbers on the second night despite the fact that many of their own homes had in the meantime been destroyed or damaged. (In the two nights more than 200 of the wardens were made homeless.) The firemen had fiercely exacting nights. Eleven of them were killed. Their women colleagues in the fire stations, on the word of their senior officers, "braved the blitz and turned out and did wonderful work. The coolness of the younger ones was an inspiration, even when stations had direct hits, lights were extinguished and control rooms on fire."
These May raids were followed by frequent warnings, many bombs and appreciable raids in June, July, August and September. All that the German forces left in the West after the attack on Russia could achieve was nuisance raiding, militarily insignificant, but a test of civilian nerves from which Hull was one of the principal sufferers. Many of its people were made homeless at various times and some of these, as elsewhere, were billeted in the surrounding countryside. After very heavy raids some weary families, not officially designated homeless, spent several nights in neighbouring villages for the sake of rest. At no time did their numbers reach two per cent. of the population. The remainder stayed in their own homes, if these were not damaged, unmoved by what they saw around them.
The main raids on Hull came comparatively late in the story of the blitz- nearly eight months after the painful teething troubles in the East End of London in the previous September. Time, the crystallised experiences of all parts of a bombarded country, and the enterprise of the solid community of Hull itself; had worked great changes in after-raid measures.
For instance, in the May raids twenty-four of the city's Rest Centres were damaged. But this made no difference to the working of the after-care services. On the first night forty-one Centres were open and received nearly 10,000 people; on the second night forty-six took 6,000. The homeless were fed, cared for, listened to, fussed over, and in all necessary ways mothered; all were out into billets before the evening of the following day. These centres were staffed by 1,200 W.V.S. women, working in relays and reinforced by squads drawn from the nearest towns.
There were in all 40,000 homeless people. Many took care of themselves. Twenty-four thousand were billeted from the Rest Centres, nearly all on the relative, friend or neighbour with whom they had previously made a mutual aid pact. This plan made it unnecessary for the authorities to search for billets, avoided the need of pressure or intrusion, and ensured that like would go to like. The questions and difficulties that afflict the bombed-out were dealt with at twelve special district offices, combinations of Administrative Centre and Information Centre. At each one the various official agencies who could meet the needs and answer the questions of the homeless were gathered together.
Lastly, food. In the May raids many of the public and private warehouses in the city containing bulk stocks of foods were destroyed or damaged. There was a great deal of damage to distributors' premises, and one of the city's own large emergency food stores was gutted by fire. Reserve foodstocks were rushed to the city and put into emergency dumps tor wholesalers to draw upon. Customers of the many food shops so badly damaged that they could not carry on were quickly switched to undamaged shops. Twenty-two thousand people were affected by these changes, all of them being quickly notified by letter of the new arrangements. Two big bakeries were destroyed, a loss the more serious because there is always a rise of two to three hundred per cent. in bread consumption after a big raid; but plans were ready and there was no shortage.
Meals for the homeless and for those whose domestic routine was upset by the raids were provided not only by Queen's Messenger Convoys and fleets of mobile canteens, but by many different forms of communal feeding. Hull's three big municipal kitchens provided meals to be served and eaten in thirteen British Restaurants, including four in the docks. They also cooked the food which was supplied through twenty-four cash-and-carry food offices, forty works canteens, many emergency feeding centres and the Rest Centres. In the eighteen days after the May raids 460,000 communal meals were provided, averaging more than 25,000 a day. A far cry indeed from the troubles of Thames-side in September.
Dates of main raids, estimated number of enemy planes engaged on each, and total number of civilians killed in raids to the end of 1941:
PORTSMOUTH -756 civilians killed
10th January 110 planes
10th March. 120 planes
27th April 50 planes
SOUTHAMPTON - 558 civilians killed
23rd November 60 planes.
30th Nov/1st Dec (2 nights) 200 planes.
CARDIFF - 299 civilians killed.
2nd January 125 planes.
SWANSEA -352 civilians killed.
19th, 20th and 21st February (3 nights) 250 planes.
LIVERPOOL (AND MERSEYSIDE) -4,100 civilians killed.
28th November... 150 planes
20th, 21st and 22nd December (3 nights) 500 planes
13th and 21st March 250 planes
1st-7th May (7 nights) 800 planes
PLYMOUTH - 1,073 civilians killed.
20th and 21 st March (2 nights) 250 planes.
21 st, 22nd, 23rd, 27th, 28th and 29th April (5 nights) 750 planes.
CLYDESIDE - 1,828 civilians killed.
13th and 14th March (2 nights) 460 planes.
5th 6th May (2 nights) 350 planes.
BELFAST -946 civilians killed.
15th April 100 planes.
4th and 5th May (2 nights) 110 planes.
HULL -1,055 civilians killed.
18th March 75 planes.
7th and 8th May (2 nights) 100 planes.
17th July 75 planes.
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