Eighty years after the first blitz on York, a major new project ‘relives’ the air raids in real time

Bomb damage on Westminster Road after an air raid on York in 1942. Photograph: Yorkshire Evening Press
11 Aug 2020 @ 9.11 am
| History

It was 80 years ago today that York suffered its first bombing raid of the Second World War.

While the Baedeker Raid of 29 April 1942 was easily the largest and most deadly of the raids, it is less well known that there were 10 individual targeted-bombing raids on York between 11 August 1940 – when the first bomb in York Cemetery – and the last raid on 24 September 1942.

To mark the anniversary, a two-year project launches today: Raids Over York.

Led by York Civic Trust, will use the 80th anniversaries of raids to relive details of each raid in ‘real time’ on social media as well as provide a wealth of information online.

The material will draw upon archival research, including newspapers of the day, including the Yorkshire Post and the Northern Gazette, as well as public contributions from previous and current York residents.

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Fantastic memories

Platforms 2 and 3 at York station are all but destroyed by an air raid on April 29th 1942

History enthusiast Nick Beilby said: “We’ve been delighted by the response. 

“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.”

Damaged headstones in York after an air raid

Raids Over York emphasises how the war on the home front affected York’s children and young adults.  Their memories include:

  • the delight of an Acomb schoolboy in turning a street corner to discover Poppleton Road School had been bombed overnight, meaning his summer holidays had come early
  • a young mother in labour during a raid in the Burton Stone area, and arriving at the local Methodist Chapel shelter with her new-born baby in her arms
  • a newspaper boy in the Fulford Road area unsure what to do with his ‘spares’ on finding homes on his round now flattened
  • and two schoolgirls in the Beckfield Lane area who hated their gas masks so much that they would stand next to the ‘beck’ and swear that their masks would “go in there once this war is over!”

Get out and explore

Over the next two years, public exhibitions and other commemorative events are planned, including the unveiling of new plaques.

York’s Second World War heritage, including oral history, will be celebrated through an interactive digital map – showing the location of bomb craters, shelters and sites associated with people’s memories of the raids

Duncan Marks of York Civic Trust said: “During the Covid-19 lockdown period, people have found great comfort in better discovering their local environment, including its heritage. 

“As York’s WW2 experience is a city-wide story, it offers something for all communities. 

“We hope the project encourages people to get out and about and explore forgotten World War II heritage: to spot air-raid shelters standing in terrace backyards or bomb craters on the city’s strays and parkland, and to engage with the stories of the ten raids as they are celebrated over the next two years.”

Raids Over York is a collaborative heritage project led by history and heritage organisations and individuals in the city, including York Civic Trust, the University of York, Explore York, Yorkshire Architectural & York Archaeological Society, and York Oral History Society