Remembering the terror of Second World War air raids on York 80 years on

From London to Sheffield, and Hull to Coventry, the devastating consequences of German bombing raids during the Second World War left an indelible impression on the nation’s history.

A crater in Westminster Road.
A crater in Westminster Road.

As many as 43,000 civilians were killed and another 139,000 were wounded during the Blitz, as Adolf Hitler ordered repeated waves of air strikes in an attempt to bomb Britain into submission.

Today (August 11), a new heritage project is being launched in a Yorkshire city which faced more than two years of bombing raids.

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Marking the date the first bomb dropped in York – hitting the cemetery in 1940 – the Raids Over York initiative will look at how residents and authorities prepared for and coped with the bombing.

Duncan Marks from the York Civic Trust

There were 10 individual targeted raids on York, between that first bomb on August 11 1940 and the last raid on September 24, 1942.

While the largest and most deadly of these was the Baedeker Raid, which took place on April 28-29, 1942 and killed 79, bombs fell far beyond the city centre throughout the campaign, causing chaos and terror across York’s suburbs.

The project will use the 80th anniversaries of the raids over the next two years, to relive details of each one in ‘real time’ on its social media channels. And with eyewitness accounts, as well as archive material from sources including The Yorkshire Post, there is a wealth of information available.

Local historian Nick Beilby has been involved in the project.

Men clean up the ruins left by a bombing in York

He said: “People have contacted us with their knowledge of concrete air-raid shelters in Heworth, bomb craters in Clifton Backies, dispersal pens on Clifton Moor, which was then known as RAF Clifton, and scarring from shrapnel damage to properties across the city.”

He said personal reminiscences have been collected and the project emphasises how the war affected a “lost generation” of York’s children and young adults.

Their memories give a fascinating insight into events, including the delight of an Acomb schoolboy who turned a street corner to discover Poppleton Road School had been bombed overnight and his summer holidays had come early.

Another story highlights a young mother who went into labour during a raid before arriving at a local Methodist Chapel shelter with her new-born baby.

The Raids Over York project has involved organisations such as the York Civic Trust, the University of York, the Explore York library service, Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society and the York Oral History Society.

Duncan Marks, who is a member of the York Civic Trust, said the experiences during the Second World War was a “city-wide story” which affected all sections of society.

He said: “We hope the project encourages people to get out and about and explore forgotten Second World War heritage.

“During the Covid-19 lockdown period, people have found great comfort in better discovering their local environment, including its heritage, and we hope they will engage with the stories of the 10 raids as they are celebrated over the next two years.”

The Raids Over York project will run for the next two years with a varied programme of events.

Organisers will be holding walking trails, introducing commemorative plaques and staging public exhibitions.

The city’s Second World War heritage will also be marked through an interactive digital map which will show the location of bomb craters, shelters and sites which have been associated with people’s memories of the raids.

The digital map is expected to be rolled out later in the year.

Information on upcoming events, people’s recollections and other events which will be staged is available on the project’s official website at www.raidsoveryork.co.uk.

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