The Blitz

Bristol - The Blitz (1)

World War I

Before starting on the blitz of World War II, it should be remembered that although Bristol didn't suffer any material damage in WWI a lot of Bristolians gave their lives in the fighting. Roughly 55,000 men from around Bristol enlisted of which about 7,000 died. More than 3,000 of those that enlisted were Clifton College Old Boys. These, between them, won 5 VCs (Victoria Crosses), 180 DSOs (Distinguished Service Orders) and 300 MCs (Military Crosses). Of these Old Boys 580 died. 137 men who had been to Bristol University also died, these gained 1 VC, 2 DSOs, 42 MCs and a DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross).

The most famous of the Clifton College Old Boys was Douglas Haig (1861 - 1928). He became the Commander-in-Chief of the British army in France and planned the Somme offensive of 1916. He was created an Earl in 1919 and retired as a Field Marshall.

347,045 horses and mules passed through the re-mount depot at Shirehampton, of which 317,165 came from overseas. Planes were being produced at Filton, whilst over factories in and around Bristol were providing the military with motor cycles, explosives, boots, uniforms, chocolate, tobacco and mustard gas.

The Clifton Chronicle of January 1916 reported the wedding of Miss Mary Hunford Jones and Captain F. Birkett of the Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment at Christchurch, Clifton.

"The Bride's dress was of khaki honeycomb cloth trimmed with skink, nigger brown velvet hat trimmed with silk and veil to match and she carried a shower bouquet white carnations and lilies tied with the colours of The Queen's Regiment. The bridesmaids wore French gray cashmere.

The groom, who was educated at Monkton Combe School, joined his battalion in France in December 1914 and was slightly wounded in the arm. He rejoined and was dangerously wounded in both legs in May 1916, brought home and made a slow recovery."

A little known fact was that Avonmouth became the centre of the British chemical warfare manufacturing during 1917. The plant there made 20 tons of dichlorethyl sulphide - mustard gas - a day. In December 1918, the plant Medical Officer reported that in the six months it was operational, there were 1,400 illnesses reported by its 1,100 workers - all attributable to their work. There were 160 accidents and over 1,000 burns. Three people died because of the accidents and another four died as a result of their illnesses. These included blisters, gastritis, bronchopneumonia, mental problems and problems with eyesight. There were thirty resident patients in the factory hospital tended by a doctor and eight nurses. The gas produced by the plant didn't arrive in France until September 1918, two months before the Armistice.

World War II

At 11am 3rd September 1939 war was declared against Germany. It was obvious that bombers would be able to reach every part of the United Kingdom and air raid shelters were built. On 19th June 1940 a lone bomber attacked the Bristol Aircraft works at Filton. Whittocks End was bombed on 3rd July, but the only casualties were a pig, five ducks, two rabbits and a hay rick. This was just a warning of what was to come.

On 22nd - 23rd August more than 400 bombs fell in and around Filton, the main target was the aircraft factory which was very badly damaged. On the morning of 25th September 1940, 300 bombs were dropped, 160 of them hit the aircraft factory, 6 of these unfortunately hit the air raid shelters there. Hundreds were killed or injured. Eight enemy aircraft were shot down. On 27th September ninety planes attacked the city but were driven off by the RAF, seven enemy planes were shot down on this occasion.

On 2nd November more than 5,000 incendaries and 10,000 high explosive bombs fell on the city. More than 200 people died and 700 were injured. 10,000 houses were damaged or destroyed, as were many historic buildings. Hitler claimed that Bristol had been totally destroyed, later on in the month it very nearly was.

The worst raid was on the night of Sunday, 24th November 1940. The raid started with pathfinder flares illuminating the city at 6.50pm. In a single night the city had changed forever. The Lord Mayor, Alderman Thomas Underwood, was to write in 1942, that that night "The City of Churches had in one night become the city of ruins". Much of the area around Wine and Castle Streets, in fact the whole of the area which is now Castle Green, was reduced to a mass of rubble. The damage wasn't confined to this area though, bombs fell on College Green, Park Street, Queen's Road, Redcliffe Street, Thomas Street and Victoria Street.

Many historic buildings were lost forever. St. Peter's Hospital, the Dutch House, the city museum, the art gallery, much of the university, Prince's Theatre, Upper Arcade, three Norman churches, seven newer churches, eight schools, and many alms-houses, cinemas and factories all disappeared, along with 10,000 houses.

St Peter's Hospital

St. Peter's Hospital ~ 25th June 1936

Originally built around 1402 it was renovated in 1612. In 1695 it was the Bristol Mint before becoming a hospital for the poor. Destroyed, Sunday, 24th November 1940.

For a history of this wonderful old building please see 1650 Onwards

Bristol Brisge - 1902

Bristol Bridge ~ 1902

Everything to the right of the bridge was destroyed during World War II.

Bristol Bridge in the 1930's

Bristol Bridge in the 1930's

Castle Green area at the end of the war

The same general area at the end of the war.
Bristol Bridge is just off the right of the picture.

The Dutch House - 1902

The Dutch House ~ 1902

This 17th century building used to stand on the corner of Wine and High Streets.
Destroyed, Sunday, 24th November 1940.

On 3rd January 1941, 10,000 incendaries fell on the city, the next night another 7,000 fell on the docks at Avonmouth. On 16th January an eleven hour raid caused more destruction to Bristol and Avonmouth.

On 11th and 12th April, in the Good Friday Raids, 150 bombers once more attacked the city. The centre of Bristol suffered even more damage, as did Knowle, Hotwells and Filton. In this raid 180 people died and 381 were injured. 6,500 anti aircraft shells were fired in the defence of the city. 25th April 1941 saw the last major raid on Bristol. Brislington, Knowle and Bedminster were all hit. Sixteen people were killed and 28 injured. Another 1,200 houses were damaged.

Altogether there were 78 air raids on the city. A total of 1,299 people were killed and 3,305 injured.

When I was growing up in Knowle in the 1960's we used to play in the old bomb craters, not realising what they were - or what they meant.

The Fishponds Local History Society website must contain the definitive guide to the air raids on Bristol.
Tom Fletcher has written of growing up in wartime Bristol at his site Civvy Street in WWII

12 miles away, Bath also suffered. See the Bath Blitz Memorial Project

Blitz - Page 2

This page created 1st December 2000, last modified 2nd February 2008

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