The 1940 bombing of Leicester - Recollections
Oswald Mann was born in 1916 at Hartlepool, County Durham. He was
the son of John Oswald Mann (1881) who was a sea-going marine
engineer and lived at 6 Elm Grove, West Hartlepool. Albert's grandfather John Thomas Mann (1862)
was also a
marine engineer working in the Hartlepool shipyards.
Before enlisting in the RAF, Albert had married Nuneaton born Violet (Binty) Elise Bint (1917) at Islington, London in early 1940 and settled at Humberstone Drive, Leicester. During October of that same year he began his pilot's training.
It must have been a very worrying time for Albert. Within a month of beginning pilot's training, his Leicestershire home with Violet and baby Geoff was in danger. Here is an account of the bombing and some local residents' recollections:
Violet and Geoff in 1940
The area was badly bombed during the Second World War with bombs falling across the area between the Old Horse and the city center on the night of the 19th November 1940. Amongst the High Explosive Bombs and Incendiaries dropped on the area during that night, it was recorded that one of the Luftwaffe's largest of bombs was dropped on Grove Road (the 1000 kg Parachute Mine), causing extensive damage to adjacent streets.
12 soldiers of the Royal Army Pay Corps were amongst some of the fatal casualties of that night. These soldiers were billeted in the Highfields area of Leicester and their deaths bring the total of fatalities on the night 120.
This was the city's largest of at least 8 recorded enemy raids between September 1940 - July 1942, where 122 people died in total and 284 recorded as seriously injured. It is still possible to trace the paths of the bombs by looking at the areas of post-1950s building that have gone on in the area.
The worst night of bombing took place on November 19 1940 when several buildings at the corner of Highfield Street and Tichborne Street were destroyed and 41 people killed. The sites are now occupied by a community hall and a garage. This night is often referred to as Leicester's Blitz. On the same night a number of bombs fell on Sparkenhoe Street destroying homes, the local Post Office and the Methodist Church on the corner of Saxby Street and killing two people. Amongst those killed on that night were members of the Royal Army Pay Corps who were billeted in the area.
Fragments of the bomb which destroyed the Methodist Church also damaged St Peter's Church, passing through the West window, bouncing several times before becoming embedded in the high altar
Wartime memories of the Leicester Blitz - 19/20 November 1940.
If William “Jock” Joiner tells me once, he tells me a dozen times. “Don’t make me out to be some hero, son,” he urges, stopping his story to extract yet another promise that his part will not be over-played. “I’m not a publicity seeker,” he says. “Don’t overdo it. I just want to tell you what I saw and help you to get it right.”
He has no need to worry. The bare facts of what happened on November 19, 1940, are powerful enough without any embellishment.
It was the night that would become known as Leicester’s Blitz. By the time the air-raid sirens stopped, 108 men, women and children lay dead and dying and a swathe of the city had been pulverised to ash and rubble.
Jock, one of the last surviving witnesses to the horror, was buried alive by a bomb blast that killed three of his friends.
“The Germans caught us with our trousers down,” says Jock, then a 24-year-old detective constable with Leicester City police. “We took a hell of a beating.
“A lot of people got killed that night. I still don’t know how I got away from it.”
The onslaught began when Luftwaffe pathfinders reached the city shortly after 7.30pm. Flying low, they dropped oil bombs and hundreds of small incendiaries to light up the city for the heavy-duty explosives soon to come.
Jock and his pal Detective Constable Brian Hawkes were sent up on to the flat roof of Charles Street police station on fire watch as the hailstorm of incendiaries came tumbling out of the darkness.
Everything the canisters touched exploded into flame. “We were surrounded by the buggers,” recalls the 92-year-old, who now lives in Anstey. “My shoes were burning from kicking them off the roof into the street.
“Fires were raging everywhere. Lulham’s factory, in Northampton Street, went up in flames and Freeman Hardy and Willis’s big warehouse, on the corner of Rutland Street, took a direct hit.
“We had nothing to fire back. The only gun was an ack-ack on Victoria Park. We were on that bloody roof two-and-a-half hours.”
No sooner had the pair flopped into the canteen for a break than they were being sent back out.
“Inspector Poole came in and said, ‘You, you, you and you’, pointing to me, Brian Hawkes, Len Norman and George Trump, ‘I want you to go up to Highfields. It’s taking a right hammering,’” says Jock.
Of the four, only he would come out alive.
Their job, he explains, was to set up an incident post for the ARP wardens and firefighters to report to. They had not long set up their blue police lantern when it was smashed to smithereens by a shell.
He and George were sent back to the station for another.
Highfields was being beaten senseless. Buildings blazed, ceilings lay on floors and window frames flapped in sagging walls.
Huge holes had been gouged out of roads and the night air was filled with thousands of burning embers.
Wherever they settled, something else started to burn.
“It was pretty hairy,” remembers Jock. “We couldn’t get down Sparkenhoe Street. A gas main had been hit. It was gushing fire.
“You should have seen it,” he says. “The whole place was lit up like Piccadilly Circus. You could almost wave at the bomber pilots.”
They eventually set up a second incident post near the first.
“We helped to fetch the dead and injured out of houses in Saxby Street.
“You could hear the whistles of the bombs coming down,” remembers Jock.
“I counted the whistles and I counted the bangs. If you had six whistles and five bangs, it meant you had an unexploded bomb to take into account.”
A shard of molten shrapnel smashed into one man’s gas mask case. He instinctively put his hand up to his chest and it took his finger off.
“We took such a hammering. There was a bus in Sparkenhoe Street full of doctors and medical supplies. That bugger went up in front of us.
“It was a long time ago,” he says quietly. “It was 66 years ago this month. It seems like bloody yesterday.”
No one knows quite why Leicester came under such a brutal, sustained attack.
Jock believes it might have been a classic case of mistaken identity.
“I think the Germans thought we were Coventry,” he says. “That’s what I’ve heard over the years. I’m not saying that’s right, but it makes sense.”
The first high explosive bomb was dropped on the city just after 8pm. Reports record it hitting a pair of semi-detached houses in Holmfield Avenue.
Shortly afterwards, a large bomb crashed through the town hall roof. It failed to go off but smashed through several floors before ending up in the basement.
The raid was at its most intense between 9.30pm and 10.45pm and Highfields was the worst hit.
High-calibre bombs landing on the corner of Highfield Street and Tichbourne Street killed 41 and injured many more.
Several houses were flattened in Frank Street, according to reports, and a crater 40 feet across and 20 feet deep was made in Grove Road, near Vulcan Road.
A parachute mine just missed a railway line near the corner of Tollemache Avenue and Sudeley Avenue.
More than 400 houses in this area suffered blast damage, but every Anderson shelter remained intact.
Less fortunate were the poor souls in a shelter under Grieves’s factory, in Southampton Street. Five were killed and 14 injured when a shell smashed into the building.
The moment Jock and his mates were hit survives as a few frozen frames in his memory.
“All I remember is a searing orange flame,” he says. “I can remember gliding through air, mouth wide open. It all seemed to happen in slow motion.
“Oblivion,” he says quietly to himself.
“Apparently, I was hidden under a lot of debris and rubble. They tell me they had to clear a lot of stuff away to get me out.”
They must have told him his mates didn’t make it, but he can’t remember it, or much about his time in hospital.
A slug of shrapnel blew a hole in Jock’s steel helmet. The right side of his head was numb for months and it was two years before he could taste food.
“I don’t want you to make too much of my injuries,” he says.
“I had a few fractures and silly things like that. I was all right. I was lucky. I survived. It didn’t seem that long before I was back on duty again.
“I understand Len and George were killed outright. Brian died on the way to hospital.”
Jock has typed their service records on to three small squares of paper. He’s done it, he says, to make sure he never forgets them. Not that he ever will.
It is a heartbreakingly brief summary of three lives halted in their prime.
“George Edwin Trump. (PC 118). Joined Leicester City Police in September 1936. Killed by enemy action.
“Detective Sergeant 29. Leonard Thomas Norman. Joined Leicester City Police in 1928 as (PC 109). Killed by enemy action.
“Detective Constable Brian Mansell Hawkes. Joined Leicester City Police (PC 140) October 1933. Normal beat patrol duties. Driver attached to the Traffic Department. Transferred to CID. Killed by enemy action.”
Jock has also made a copy of his own service record.
“William (Jock) Joiner. Detective Constable 139. Joined Leicester City Police June 12, 1935. Blown up, buried and injured, but survived. Served for 30 years, retiring on a police pension at the rank of Inspector on June 12, 1965.”
How his entry in the police records does not come to an abrupt end on November 19, 1940, he’ll never know.
“I’m still here. I got knocked about but I’m still here,” he says. “How do you accept something like that? I don’t know.
“There must be someone up there waiting for me,” he says through a thin smile. “I don’t feel guilty, but there is a lot of remorse that I was the only survivor.
“I’ve got three daughters and two sons and 14 lovely grandchildren. I’ve had a good, long life. None of those lads had that chance.
“They were three lovely fellas. Brian was a lovely fella and Len was a lovely fella as well.
“They were good mates of mine. We’d been on jobs together, we’d locked people up together and we’d enjoyed a few bloody good drinks together as well.”
Jock met Len’s son, Peter, at a dedication ceremony for police officers killed in the line of duty a few years ago.
“We’ve been in close contact ever since,” he says.
“I’m sure I’ll speak to him on the 19th, I usually do.
“What happened will be on my mind that day. Most of the time I try not to think about it, but you do. You can try to write it off but it never fades, not really.
“Don’t play up my injuries,” he says once more.
“Just say I was in hospital and I was back on duty soon after. I’m still here. I’m grateful for that and I’m grateful that I’ve had 66 years of life that I shouldn’t have had.”
Memoir originally published in "Leicester Our War"
I lived in St. George Street, Leicester with my parents and young brother in a small terraced house. There was a cellar and an attic and we shared an entry with our next door neighbour. There was a small back yard with a lavatory at the end.
I remember the night of 19 November 1940 very well, although it is now over 60 years since the awful bombing of that night.
My father, who worked at Gents, St. Saviours Road, arrived home from work about seven o'clock that evening. He came in and said "Be quick, let's get round to the shelter as incendiary bombs are dropping." At that moment the air raid siren had not sounded. The shelter was at St. George's School, Colton Street which had been reinforced; this was where our family and many more people went to shelter during the air raids.
As we left our home to go to the shelter I remember very clearly seeing the curtains of Rowleys, Queen Street (part of the building was in St. George Street) were on fire; these were blowing through a broken window caused by an incendiary bomb.
During the night we could hear bombs being dropped, ARP wardens and other people would call into the school from time to time to report on what was happening round about. We also knew that fire engines were at work very near to us.
It was my mother's birthday on 20 November, so we were able to wish her 'Many Happy Returns' soon after midnight. This is why I shall never forget the date of the worst bombing in Leicester.
After the all-clear had sounded (I think if must have been between two and three o'clock) we made our way home, but it wasn't until just before nine o'clock that morning as I made my way to work at Wolsey Ltd, King Street. I saw the building of Lulhams (Shoe Manufacturers) which was situated at the corner of Northampton Square and Charles Street, still smoldering.
Later on that day we learnt that one bomb had dropped at the bottom of Swain Street bridge. Another one at the top end of Peel Street and a third one on Grieves factory (Knitting Machine Needle Manufacturers) in Queen Street, had been badly hit and there were some casualties.
Also very near to us were the factories of Freeman, Hardy & Willis in Wimbledon Street which was almost totally destroyed and Faire Bros.
when we realised that we had been in the middle of such destruction we
felt we were lucky to be alive.
After the all clear, I hopped over the dividing wall into the entry to the houses of Vulcan Road that backed onto ours and saw the dreadful destruction and confusion that was the lower end of Grove Road. My dad saw me and gave me a whack and sent me home. It was a few days before I got near the scene again. I have heard a tale that the parachute snagged the steeple of St Saviour's Church then rolled down the Grove Road hill before exploding, I don't suppose anyone will ever know the truth of it. My mother had a friend in Grove Road who's house was destroyed, fortunately she was working and the house was empty apart from a large persian cat which was crushed by falling rubble. Looking at the hits of that night it would appear that the major target was the railway line and the bridges of Vulcan Road, Nedham Street, Kent Street and Swain Street. If so, they were pretty close.
prayers almost answered.
night Hitler blitzed our Offey & Chippy.
I heard only of one casualty in our area, a
Mrs Bright was injured when part of the family shelter collapsed. If
there were others I never heard about them. Families who’s houses had
disappeared or were to badly damaged were rehoused in new locations, and
we often lost contact. I don't recollect ever seeing them again, but for
Mr Freestone a day or two later. He came round looking for his safe that
had been situated in the shop cellar. No one reported seeing it, which
puzzled him, as it was sizeable, very heavy and would take two to three
people to move it.
the war, many ammunition dumps were placed along the country roads.
These were never guarded and it was quite easy to gain entry, as a
result, they were subject to quite a lot of interest by local teenagers.
I remember some dumps near Keyham, contained artillery shells. These
shells were stacked in these open-ended sheds, with their noses pointing
outwards. I remember one day we played ‘chicken’ with these sheds -
the rule of the game was a dare each other to throw a brick at the
noses, as you biked past the dump, and hoped you had enough speed to get
past before they exploded! - yes! - we were quite ‘mad’ at that age
and had no respect for explosives. However, We didn’t know that these
shells were not fused or armed and therefore couldn’t explode!
a period of time my brother and his friend (who I think lived in Broad
Avenue) made frequent visits to these dumps, returning with rucksacks
full of various types of explosives. These were shared & stored in
our attic, to be later used in our attempts to make fireworks. Many
'experiments' took place, mainly with the use of cordite rings, but
results were not very good and most ended up as tubes of newspaper -
glued with flour & water (no adhesives available) - flying around
the garden like demented bats. Cordite burnt very quickly and produced a
lot of gasses. We found that a mixture of sulphur, carbon, saltpetre
& iron filings mixed in with cut up cordite then placed in a
Coleman’s mustard tin, produced a fantastic fountain effect - much to
the horror and concern of my mother, who arrived home one day to find
the kitchen ceiling black and her precious, un-replaceable, linen tea
towels - burnt to a cinder!
|From . http://www.wartimeleicestershire.com/pages/memoirs.htm|
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