Do you have a relative who helped protect York from the Luftwaffe during WW2? Can you help recognise someone in long-forgotten photographs? If so, we’d love to hear from you!
As the Raids Over York project has highlighted in its coverage of the first six – soon to be seventh (this coming Saturday) – bombing raids on York during WW2, the role of the Civil Defence force was hugely important. It was also incredibly dangerous; nearly 7,000 Civil Defence workers were killed in Britain during the war, including in York.
In total, 2,554 ordinary people risked their lives as Air Raid Wardens, medical orderlies, and firewatchers in York as part of the civil defence of their city; finishing their daytime jobs and duties, then donning their Civil Defence service helmets or grabbing their medical kits and heading out on Civil Defence duty, often until the early hours and regardless of how bad the weather was.
The names of many of York’s Civil Defence forces are sadly now lost to us (although as families we may know of stories of individual relatives who volunteered.) Fortunately, Explore York’s Archive Team have located a small number of group photographs of Civil Defence volunteers.
You can really get a feel for the individual characters in the photographs. (Please save the images and open to zoom in on the individual sitters!) You can see that many have their day or work clothes on underneath their uniforms – different ties, blouses etc; some have smart shoes on, others army-style boots.
A few of the photos detail the names of the people in them, which is great as it allows us to put a face to a name – some of whom are mentioned in the official A.R.P. reports of the raids.
But two of the photos – both photos in this post – give only a few or no names. It’s a bit of a long shot, but as we know how popular genealogy is these days, and how good people’s historical and internet research skills are – let alone the sheer quality of local history knowledge out there! – we would really like to hear from you if you know or can recognise any of the people in the photos?
Do you know any of the volunteers in the photos?
Are any of them a family descendant?
Are you the young lad sitting in front of one of the groups?
Do you recognise where the photos were taken?
If so, please contact the Raids Over York team using the reply section below, emailing RaidsOverYork@outlook.com, or via our social media channels.
We’re delighted that Roger & Jo A. have contacted Raids Over York to let us know about the fabulous WW2 air-raid shelter that they have in their own garden … and in their neighbour’s garden too!
Yes, as far as we know, this is the only remaining example of a traditional-brick shelter that was shared by two neighbours by straddling their garden boundary. (But do tell us if you know otherwise!)
The shelter, which is off Rawcliffe Lane, is halfway down the pair of parallel private gardens, and set away from the building (a pair of semis-).
As seen in the image below, by the fence which connects with the shelter plum in its middle rear point, it is a very evenly shared shelter!
The image below is the ‘front elevation,’ with a passage seen running behind the tree trunk that connects across the two gardens and forms the front part of the shelter.
There is an opening from the passageway to the shelter. It is centred and would have afforded ample accommodation for two families within.
The shelter has what is becoming understood as of a typical York-pedigree: with a 6 inch/ 150mm concrete slab roof and brick walls that are two courses 9 inches/ c.220mm thick.
The passageway with its entrance to
As the shelter’s inner sanctum was sat central and off the passageway, it would have been well protected from blast damage by the supporting outer passage wall which doubled-up as a shielding barrier. It therefore would have offered greater protection than the other brick shelters we have seen in York. It is not known, however, if this is the reason for its unique, shared-use design.
Indeed, it isn’t known why this shelter was built as a shared shelter for presumably two neighbouring families. Possibly it was more economic and cost-effective in terms of materials and labour to build shared shelters like this than two individual ones? Or maybe it was because the Rawcliffe Lane homes were relatively newly built by the time of the war, and, with large, long gardens and no brick boundary walls between them, it permitted the building of this type of shelter without too much need for damaging or demolishing the owners’ property? (Especially when compared to the traditional York terrace properties with their modest brick-back yards.)
Such material considerations do not take into account the human drive to stick together in times of adversity. Perhaps the shared shelter was welcomed by the two families as a means of keeping up spirits between them, and to share company and a cup of tea during the many nights of false air-raid alarms … and of course the handful of alarms that were genuine.
During one of York’s raids, the tiles of these semis- were blown off. The then owners, Mr & Mrs Blades, must surely have been grateful for their robust shelter on that occasion at least, and no doubt reassured by the family of the other semi- being safe and alongside them in the shelter.
Such communal spirit for this shelter continues to this day. Roger & Jo A. and their neighbours, Alison & Graham R. continue to share the shelter as a garden storage.
What a great find for Raids Over York!
With thanks to Roger & Jo A. for the information and images.
We’re delighted to receive news of another retained air-raid shelter in the city.
This shelter is on Stamford Road East in the Leeman Raid area – the only one we know to have survived in this area.
During the war, there were a number of bombs that fell in and around this area, largely due to its close proximity to the railway freight yards. So having a sturdy brick shelter would have been a smart move.
It is a double-skinned brick built shelter, with a six inch-thick (150mm) reinforced concrete slab roof. It is of a type that we are discovering was quite common and, unless we find out otherwise, rather unique to the city. A ‘York Shelter’ – perhaps?
We’re particularly pleased that Chris M. has also given us our first ‘#ShelterSelfie’; thanks, Chris!
[ Think you might have an air-raid shelter in your garden or back yard? Do send us a photo … and a #ShelterSelfie! ]
The early hours of this morning marks the anniversary of the sixth air raid on York during World War II.
A lone bomber dropped 250 incendiary bombs across the city and another followed a couple of hours later dropping high explosive bombs and causing destruction in The Groves district of the city. It tragically also led to a fatality and numerous casualties.
There were, however, also remarkable “lucky escapes” – including two air raid wardens who survived in their observation shelter despite a 50kg bomb exploding a few metres away.
Read the full story of the sixth raid here. It includes an additional focus on York’s brick and concrete roofed air-raid shelters. Have you one in your backyard or garden? Then send us a photo!
This evening marks the anniversary of the fifth air raid on York during World War II.
It was the first raid to use incendiary bombs in such a deliberate way and scale. It came about following recent attempts to ‘torch’ other British towns and cities – the most infamous being Coventry, which was severely damaged on 14 November 1940.
York fortunately escaped such a fate on the cold evening of 2 January 1941, but the fear of having incendiary bombs dropped on the city must have been palpable, especially as it was said at the time via the Press that the use of incendiary bombs and flares were a prelude and acted as illuminating markers for Nazi bombers to return in a subsequent waves of a raid to drop high explosive bombs.
While Raids Over York focuses on the 10 targeted and deliberate raids on the city by the Luftwaffe, there were other incidences of bombs being accidentally dropped or “dumped” on or near the city by German bombers eager to lighten their load when either returning home or being chased by R.A.F. planes.
One such incident over the Osbaldwick predates the 10 raids completely, occurring on the 7th August 1940. As such, it technically makes it the first bomb of the war to fall in the city region. Tragically, it also caused the first York casualties of the war.
According to the reports of the 7th Anti-Aircraft Division, a solo Luftwaffe plane was responsible for the night raid and dropping of three anti-personnel bombs over Osbaldwick.
The weather that night was heavy rain with thick cloud at 5,000ft, and some lighter cloud at 15,000ft. The bomber plane flew over the Bridlington area at 23.10, then turned north over Filey before being detected over Pickering at 23.22.
At 23:47 the bomber entered the York sector, dropping to 5,000ft, before dropping “3 anti-personnel bombs with flat trajectory” over Osbaldwick at 23.52. Two bombs fell harmlessly in fields nearby [probably where the new Derwenthorpe development now stands], but one bomb fell in the middle of Osbaldwick Lane, near the then vicarage.
One woman, described in the Anti-Aircraft Report as “Mrs. Battie”, but later identified in the Hull Daily Mail as “Mrs Abbot”, was killed outright while out walking with her sister, who was also injured. A further man was injured was lying in his bed, as bomb shrapnel – or “splinters” as the reports call it – caused damage to buildings in a radius of 100 yards.
The “Mrs Abbot” was Jean Abbott (nee Colley), who died aged only 20 in the bombing. She had recently married to a soldier and had recently moved to ‘Braeside’, Osbaldwick, only 30-yards away from where the bomb that killed her struck. At the time of her wedding she was a ‘chocolate works packer’, no doubt at one of the city’s chocolate factories, and was living with her parents at 146 Tang Hall Lane. [It is understood that an image of the bomb damage to Osbaldwick Lane was published in the Yorkshire Evening Press on the 8th August 1940, but this image and article has not been found to date]
The incident was reported in the press the following day, but no particular details could be given for national security reasons, as it was assumed that Nazi German agents would be able to use particular details to feed back to Germany as confirmation of their intended targets being hit (or not) and that this would only hone the enemy’s ability to conduct more accurate raids in the future. All the same, the write-up in the North-Eastern Gazette is dismissive of the casualties, and it is hard not to read a misogynistic sentiment in the phrasing of it. [It is unclear if the mention of (Nazi propaganda) leaflets being dropped refers to this raid, possibly, or another.]
Today, traces of the bomb that fell on Osbaldwick Lane have been lost partially to post-war development of buildings that stood at the time of the bombing, but also new development since it. ‘The vicarage’ that is referred to in the A.R.P. report was demolished in in the 1970s and a new housing estate stands in its place (suitably called Vicarage Gardens).
Was it an accidental dumping of bombs? Probably not, but it was unlikely this was the target. (Or if it was, it would more likely have been The Derwent Valley Light Railway junction and depot to the immediate north-east of Osbaldwick Lane). The German bomber was last seen over Filey at 01:00 heading eastwards.
A letter from Councillor W. Bunch, the city’s Chief Air Warden, written the following day, underlies that lessons were still being learnt over best practice when dealing with bombing incidents in the city.
Bunch’s letter touches on a lack of established “Mutual Support” between City of York Council and North Riding would need to be reconsidered, as it had resulted in the casualties having not been removed for the scene of the bombing and dispatched for medical attention for “over an hour”, which was too long.
Bunch goes on to say that such a problem was a result of the City’s outer suburbs and villages being in the East, West, and North Riding areas, but the City of York being responsible in terms of many other amenity provisions, including housing.
And yet, further tragedy…
Sadly Mrs Abbott was not the only casualty of the 7 August 1940 bombing. Henry Hawley, a 26-year old motor van driver and part-time Air-Raid Warden, of 18 Plummer Avenue, was shot dead in Tang Hall Lane at 23.55 (ie. a few minutes after the bomb that killed Jean Abbott).
But it wasn’t machine gun fire from the Luftwaffe bomber that killed Hawley; it was an R.A.F. Sergeant firing his revolver.
How did this come about? From a report by the City’s Chief Warden and a subsequent trial, that featured in the Northern Echo, the sequence of events that led to the tragedy can be understood.
Hawley was on duty in Tang Hall Lane, and warning drivers there to put out their headlights due to the nearby bombing occurring. The R.A.F. Sergeant was also in the lane, probably concerned by the bombing nearby and a need to aid wardens in their work.
As a car, believed to be a taxi, approached with headlamps lit, Hawley, together with others, attempted to stop the driver and warn him of danger arising from having lit headlamps during a bombing raid. But as the car did not stop, the R.A.F. Sergeant drew his revolver, “saying ‘I’ll make him stop’. He fired a shot, presumably at the car tyres,” but Hawley was struck by the bullet in the shoulder. He was taken to County Hospital, but later died of his injuries.
At a subsequent inquiry held five days later it was established that Flight-Sergeant Patrick Murphy of the R.A.F, then on leave in Yorkshire, believed that he had the right to use firearms when he considered it called for, and irregardless of whether it was for a civilian situation or if he was technically on leave; “I have the authority of an airman in uniform” he argued.
It demonstrates a level of ambiguity that was occurring in the early stages of the war on the Home Front, when military and civilian codes were often blurred and, in the case of Murphy, a clear resentment form military personnel at the thought of having to answer to civilian authorities and members of the public during and after bombing raids.
Murphy had seen action in the First World War with the Tank Corps and had been with the R.A.F for 12 years by the time of the incident, meaning that he was in his forties, at least.
The Coroner considered:
“Air raid wardens are taught that their job is to remain cool, calm and collected in order to prevent that panic taking place. I have no doubt that is what all those good citizens who were undertaking that duty were performing on that night. …The morale of the ordinary man in the street was extremely sound. The object [of the bombing] was to cause panic and the only person who seemed to have panicked on this occasion was the Flight-Sergeant in uniform who was provided with a weapon. He lost his head and did one thing likely to cause panic, started shooting”.
[Northern Echo, 13 August 1940]
Despite no further action being taken against Murphy, the stinging, public rebuke from the coroner, especially the reference to this military man panicking and ‘losing his head’ whilst civilians did not, must have been greatly shameful to him.
Raids Over York is delighted to launch its website.
In the coming months and years … in fact for the duration of the 80th anniversaries of the 10 individual raids on York that will fall between 11 August 2020 and 24 September 2022, much more content will be added to this website and promoted through our social media channels and those of our partners.
We especially look forward to being able to announce exciting anniversary events and activities for members of the public to get involved with. Our intention was to start with a bang – if you’ll excuse the pun – for the first raid, but the Covid-19 restrictions have prevented us from doing so. Nevertheless, with nine more anniversaries to come, we will prevail!
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