The Blitz

Bristol - The Blitz (2)

Keith Hallett emailed me with these memories of the Blitz :-

"I sure remember going to bed in my "Siren Suit". We all slept in the cellar. Bristol Council offered to reinforce the cellar at 29 Midland Road. If Dad allowed them to place a SHELTER HERE sign outside the shop, he agreed and they came in and erected steel posts which held steel I beams, to hold up a corrugated steel ceiling in the cellar. The idea was that if the shop was hit this steel shelter would protect the occupants. If you go by the shop sometime you may still see under the right side shop window a steel plate with ventilation holes that was placed by the council to provide escape from the shelter.

My Dad and Uncle built two tier bunks all around the cellar for us to sleep, and a wide stairway was constructed for quick access just inside the shop door. When the air-raid siren sounded we might have about 25 to 30 people down in the cellar until the all-clear. My Aunt & Uncle's home was damaged at Filton, so they moved in with us. Then other friends lost their home. Dad welcomed them in, so we had 3 families - 10 people living above the shop for quite some time during the Blitz.

In the cellar we felt pretty safe from incendiary bombs, but if the Jerry's started dropping their heavies, we ran to a big warehouse situated behind 29 Midland Road with the entrance around the corner on Waterloo Rd. This company built a bunker covered with sandbags about 20ft high, and considered pretty safe. This is where the Siren-Suit came in handy, we were already bundled up warm enough to run outside and around the corner to the bunker.

I remember really being afraid of the Blitz when we had to do this maneuver. The distinctive sound of the Jerry bombers overhead, the sound of bombs exploding in the area, our mobile guns firing back as the searchlights tried to pick out a Jerry, just a frightening experience for a little chap age 6 or running for his life, along with his parents. One of the things the Jerry's did that really scared us was dropping the parachute flares, they floated slowly down and lit everything up like daylight. We felt much more vulnerable when our homes were illuminated like this.

Bombs burst water and gas mains. When the water was on we filled the bath tub, and every available bucket. Leaking gas caused many a home to explode. Later on during the war I remember water pipes being laid in the gutter along Midland Road and elsewhere in Bristol, to make them easily accessible in the event of a bomb hit.

I'm sure you have heard about the heroism of Mr. George Jones, he was employed by the Bristol Gas Company and lived at Folly Lane, not far from my Grandparents who lived at 13 Alfred St. and Queen Victoria St.

One of the first major raids on Bristol was in November 1940 and incendiary bombs landed on top of the large gas storage tanks at the corner of Days Road and Folly Lane - St. Philips. George climbed to the top, some 70ft high and kicked the incendiary bombs off. During the raid he again climbed up to seal off holes in the tank sustained by flying shrapnel. These acts of heroism earned George Jones the George Medal. This part of Bristol was home to so many families who owed their lives to this man. I am proud to say I knew him personally."

Mr Hallett also sent me these pictures of Bristol during the blitz :-

Bristol ablaze after a bomb raid

Bristol ablaze after a bomb raid

The King in Wine Street

The King visits bomb torn Bristol
Wine Street

Bryan Bignell, who provided the photographs on the St. George pages, provided this account of the the Blitz.

On page one on the blitz you mention the worst raid which happened on the night of Sunday 24th November 1940. Me and my parents were attending the evening service held as usual in the Evangel Mission, King street, about half a mile up the road from our home. The service was interrupted by a Air raid warden coming in and shouting for everyone to get in the shelter nearby as the raid was getting more intense. I clearly remember the preacher who was a Mr. Everson, saying he was surprised by the lack of faith the congregation had as they all moved towards the door.

However my father had to report for duty at Air Balloon school where he  was based as a warden, so he and my mother and me ran back home. Considering my mother was pregnant with my sister Janet (Philip Budd's wife) [Philip Budd provided information about Len "Uke" Thomas], it was quite a risk to take.

I will never forget as we ran down past the Kingsway cinema towards the brow of the hill by the Rodney pub from where you can see a good view of the city, how much it was like a huge firework display as literally hundreds of German flares were floating down illuminating the city. While we were on the way home a bomb landed on the junction of the Kingsway and the main road not far from the chapel which we had just left, but we were to far away by then for it to effect us.

Dad told us to keep in as close to the wall as possible and as soon as we arrived home saw a safely to our Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden, while he went of with his tin hat on to put out the incendiary bombs etc. We were in the shelter all night on that occasion so there was no school on the Monday.

The Blitz was a period between September 1940 and May 1941 when the German air raids were a nightly event sometimes they lasted most of the night. There were also quite a few during the daytime and one in particular affected us as a family. One of the main targets for the bombers were airfields and Aircraft manufacturing plants of which Bristol had one of the largest at Filton, and my father worked there as foreman in the Toolroom. He also was one of the companies team of Air Raid wardens whose job it was to patrol the site during air raids, to put out incendiaries (fire bombs) before they could set buildings alight. The rest of his mates from the Toolroom went to two air raid shelters allotted to that department, half in each.

The Air raid in question was on Monday 25th September 1940 it was a big one by German standards, and they lost many planes shot down by our fighters or guns. The raid was totally directed at Filton and there was much damage; although he was outside, and not in the shelter my father was unhurt physically. When he returned home much later than usual, he broke down in tears and wept for quite a while.... one of the shelters in which half of the men in the Toolroom were situated, received a direct hit from a German bomb and everyone was killed. He was late home because he had been recovering the bodies of his friends from the debris.. .it was the only time I ever saw my father weep.

I was attending school at Summerhill on the day in question, because the raid was in the afternoon we had to go the school air raid shelter. Our teacher was one of the school wardens and was outside on patrol with his steel helmet on, which was lucky for him because he was hit on the head by a piece of Shrapnel (bits of exploded anti-aircraft shells). I and several of my mates did see some of the air fights between our fighters and the Germans, as the view of the sky over Filton was good from Summerhill.

My mother had gone down to town to do some shopping and was in Jones' department store when the raid started. She, like everyone else had to go to the shelter, and while she was there someone said she had heard that the works at Filton were being heavily bombed. Mum always said afterwards that it was probably one of the worst moments of her life, and she prayed.

I remember that we went down to Paignton in Devon for a few days break and the first night we were there they had an Air Raid, and everyone rushed to the Bomb Shelters except us (because we had grown so used to it). We didn't get much time on the beach because all the promenade was fortified with barbed wire, but they removed a special section for 1 hour in the morning and again in the afternoon so that people could go on the beach for a quick swim.

In the article above Bryan mentions the Anderson Shelter. These were devised by Sir John Anderson and by September 1940, 2,300,000 had been distributed. They were extremely tough and the basic corrugated steel construction was still in use for defensive works when I was in the army in the 1990's.

Anderson Shelter

Two civilians emerge unscathed from a battered Anderson shelter.
Image from the Home Sweet Home Front website
More about these shelters can be found at the these sites.

The corrugated steel construction being used 50 years later
Me in Denmark, around 1990

A family friend, Marge Hodgeson, remembers that the authorities built a heavily reinforced air raid shelter in her parents garden. The shelter was meant not only for her family but the neighbours as well. She remembers that when the house was demolished after the war it took a couple of men with sledgehammers just over a day to complete the work but that they had to call in a crane with a demolition ball for the shelter, even then it took them three days to remove it.

Mr Hallett also reminded me that much of the rubble from the bombings in Bristol ended up in New York. It was used as ballast in ships returning to America during the war.

Plaque in New York

Plaque in New York

The plaque reads :-

BRISTOL BASIN BENEATH THIS EAST RIVER DRIVE OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK LIE STONES, BRICKS AND RUBBLE FROM THE BOMBED CITY OF BRISTOL IN ENGLAND... BROUGHT HERE IN BALLAST FROM OVERSEAS, THESE FRAGMENTS THAT ONCE WERE HOMES SHALL TESTIFY WHILE MEN LOVE FREEDOM TO THE RESOLUTION AND FORTITUDE OF THE PEOPLE OF BRITAIN, THEY SAW THEIR HOMES STRUCK DOWN WITHOUT WARNING.... IT WAS NOT THEIR HOMES BUT THEIR VALOR THAT KEPT THEM FREE........

And broad-based under all
Is planted England's oaken-hearted mood,
As rich in fortitude
As e'er went worldward from the island-wall.

ERECTED BY THE
ENGLISH-SPEAKING UNION OF THE UNITED STATES
1942

I believe the Bristol born film actor Cary Grant was present at the dedication ceremony of this memorial.

POWs

On my Bristol Help pages, a lady named Irene asked about the POW camp in Ashton Gate. In February 2008, I was delighted to get an email from Kathleen Woodward who said...

I lived in Bower Road, Ashton from 1937 until 1956 and well remember the number of POW and Polish camps in the district. The Polish camp was near Ashton Drive - my friend and I used to walk by it on the way to Pit Ponds where we fished for tadpoles. The Germans were often seen in the neighbourhood walking around in their distinctive POW uniforms. Some of the neighbours befriended them which caused a lot of bad feeling, as they were encouraged to try and sell small wooden toys they had made in the camp. I remember one time two of them leaned on our front gate looking at my little sister playing and my mother rushed out and took her into the house. I recall towards the end of the war the German speakers in my class at school were taken to a hall in Bedminster to entertain German prisoners by singing German carols , and taking around refreshments. I still remember being surprised while we were singing "O Tannenbaum" a group of them joined hands and started singing rather loudly what I later realised was the Red Flag.

Americans had been stationed in the Bond Houses in Winterstoke Road, Ashton Gate, and when they had gone back the buildings were used to house POWs.

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 1

This page created 6th December 2000, last modified 2nd February 2008


GoStats stats counter