Raid #1 (11 Aug. 1940)

According to Air Raid Precaution [A.R.P] Warden’s report, the first bomb to fall in York as one of the 11 targeted raids (a chance bomb fell a week or so earlier), did so at 10.12pm. It is thought that the unidentified Luftwaffe bomber that dropped the bombs was intended for a raid on Sheffield.

Rather ironically the first bomb exploded close to the WW1 ‘Cross of Sacrifice’ in York Cemetery.

The first raid bomb fell next to the WW1 ‘Cross of Sacrifice’ in York Cemetery, since repaired. Image: Wing-Commander Newbould.

In the culture of the time, censorship meant little or no direct mention of specific locations of air raids appeared in the local press. The A.R.P. archives however record:

“At approximately 22.12 hours a bomb fell in the York Cemetery (Park Section) on soft ground adjacent to a tarmac path and 10 yards from the nearest of the graves. A crater approximately 12 feet wide and 6 feet deep was made and much superficial damage done to surrounding house property. A further bomb fell in the Kensall Rise area … [damaging] the water service … and a crater was located by the Police and several bomb fragments recovered. Superficial damage was again caused to house property. Two slight casualties were reported from this incident, who were injured by flying glass. The bomb is estimated at approximately 112 lbs [50Kgs]”

The high explosive bomb in the cemetery created a 12ft wide crater and damage to surrounding graves. Shrapnel damage can still be seen on headstones close to the cross.

80 properties in nearby Cemetery Road also had their windows blown out, rooftiles dislodged, and chimneys toppled, with some receiving “quite extensive damage to roofs, window frames, doors, ceilings and walls”. Further bombs during that raid fell nearby in Edgware Road, Heslington Road, and an unexploded bomb in the River Foss near the Castle Museum, which the Royal Engineers later “estimated to be sunk about 30 feet in the river bed and … not a danger”. [Is it still there?!]

There were two minor casualties who were treated as ‘out patients’ and one serious casualty requiring hospital treatment. 

Location of the unexploded bomb that fell in the River Foss during the first raid. Image: Raids Over York.

The total volume of damage to property in the streets and nearby was:

Type of damageNo. of Houses
Extensive damage to roofs etc: 24 houses24
Minor roof repairs45
Damage to glass153

In addition to the high-explosive bombs falling to the south-east of the city centre, one more high explosive bomb was to be dropped during the raid: near Wetherby Road on the far side of Acomb. The A.R.P. report records: “At 22.15 hours a bomb fell in a field between Wetherby Road and Grange Lane, Acomb. Damage was caused to windows, doors and slates of surrounding house property and a small piece of shrapnel fell through the roof of No: 14 Felbrook Avenue … about a quarter of a mile from where the bomb fell. … No casualties were reported.”

Kensal Rise: site of the second bomb of the raid. Image: Wing-Commander Newbould

Despite the destruction caused in the road, this first raid was comparatively light to what York was to suffer in some of its forthcoming raids, and when compared to other major UK targets for the Luftwaffe.

An interview conducted for Raids Over York with Ken Cooke highlights that despite the damage caused by the first raid on York during the war, outside the immediate locations of the bombs, many people in York were unaware of the destruction until the next morning.

Explore York Libraries and Archives: ‘Experiencing the first air raid on York’ /// Daniel Saunders – Interviewer; Jack Rizzo- VFX Artist

At the time of the first raid, Ken was a worker at the Rowntree’s chocolate factory on Haxby Road. (He later was to serve as a soldier in the war, including seeing action in the Normandy Campaign).

Workers inside one of Rowntree’s air-raid shelters during a practice drill. Cocoa Works magazine (Easter 1939)

The A.R.P. reports also offer insight into the confusion caused by the raid, and how it affected the efficiency of the military and civil guard to deal with the damage. The ARP records refer to a Motor Cycle Despatch Rider being instructed to make a reconnaissance of the area believed to be affected form the raid due to a “lack of telephone information and the absence of reports”. But “unfortunately [the Rider] had an accident with a vehicle that had been left on the highway with lights extinguished and was put out of action. A second Despatch Rider was instructed to do the work”.

Even when information was gathered an hour after the bombs had fallen, those in charge who went to the scene of the damage – noticeably the City’s “Controller, A.R.P. Officer and City Engineer”, it “was impossible to deal with the houses during the hours of darkness” due ‘the blackout’ required to prevent the Luftwaffe identifying urban areas and targets when flying over.

The A.R.P. report also touches on another aspect of the attack and how it affected York locals, in what must be recalled was their first contact with a bombing raid on their city. While those who were bombed out near the Cemetery are described as maintaining a “very high standard” of morale, and “[t]here was no kind of panic”, by the morning of the 13th August, “the Police took steps to exclude sightseers form the area and this was welcomed by the people who had been affected by the raids”.

A page from the A.R.P. Report of the first raid on York. Image: Wing-Commander Newbould.

A sense of what the wider population of York made of the experience of this first raid is caught in the actions of George Hildred, a 14-year old Fitter’s Apprentice with L.&.N.E.R., and his family, living then at 90 Rose Street, between Wigginton Road and Haxby Road.

During the bombing raid, George and his siblings sought refuge under the stairs whilst his parents stayed in the living room. In the confusion of the bombing, George managed to slip away from his home, and ran to the city centre to offer his help to the Fire Service. After this experience, he volunteered as a messenger with the Auxiliary Fire Service (A.F.S.) – their nearest station for George was the one adjoining the former York Rugby League ground on Wigginton Road.

George, circled, with his brothers, sisters and mother behind 90 Rose Street, York (left), and George in his Sea Cadet uniform (right), 31st January 1942. IMAGES:

It gives insight into a sense of panic, arrangements for adults and children in this case in seeking shelter, but also a bit of the chaos too – how a boy could venture out alone in the danger. It also shows a civic sense of pride, or possibly more adventure among some people, wanting to get involved and to assist.

Thanks to Wing-Commander Newbould for making available his detailed archive research to the Raids Over York project team; to Jacqui and Ian Scales for the information and images relating to George Hildred.

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