On this day in Yorkshire 1941

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Blitzed Hull Shopkeepers’ Dogged Determination to Carry On

It was with derisive intent that Napoleon described us as a nation of shopkeepers. But this war has shown how a shopkeeper without qualifying for the George Medal may be still listed among the heroes of a blitz by his dogged determination to absorb all the disaster Hitler can rain on him, and go on trading.

Here in Hull, for example, the big shopkeepers have displayed almost startling originality in the manner of their perseverance.

One firm hopes soon to reopen in a city museum. Another, blitzed in this war as in the last, is already trading again in a building which once held Turkish Baths.

Yet another tried, though in vain, to take over the art gallery! A fourth example of this spirit was thought so impressive. I was told, that it was brought to the notice of the Prime Minister.

In Hull, as in other blitzed towns, a strange situation confronted the retail trade on “the morning after.”

As recently revealed, a number of the city’s big departmental stores were destroyed. Imagine what this meant to the assistants, many hundreds of whom turned up for work as usual and found the old familiar places in ruins.

“It felt as if my life had been cut off short.” was how one man put it to me, a man who for years had worked one of the stores.

Imagine, too, what it meant to the owners of those stores. The Lord Mayor (Mr. S. H. Smith) summed it up for me, telling of one case.

“He arrived in the morning to find the great monument to life’s industry reduced to ashes in a single night. He might reasonably have accepted the situation and gone into retirement. Instead, he set to work straight away to start all over again.

As soon as his plans were made, he wrote describing them to the National Chamber of Trade, of which he is an official. His letter was, I understand, sent to the Prime Minister—and rightly so”

I went into one new store, opened in a back street where the firm had some store rooms. This bare building has been transformed into busy, attractive departments, with makeshift counters and fittings. From this centre the new store has spread sideways along the block, taking in an old butcher’s shop, an auctioneer’s showroom, and small warehouse. A wet fish shop and a public house, still doing business, have got themselves mixed up in the new lay-out.

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