York’s air raids: The unfolding story of how the city was bombed during the Second World War

York Guildhall burns after the bombing raid of April 1942. Photograph: Explore York Libraries and Archives

It’s been 75 years since the largest air raid on York by the enemy German forces.

The city was severely affected by the bombing raids, leaving thousands of homes, businesses and public spaces destroyed. To mark Remembrance Sunday YorkMix has looked at York’s air raid history.

March 1937 – Air Raid Wardens Service created

Offical wardens within the York area during the second world war
Back row, left to right: Newby, J. D. Holmes, A. L. Pearson, Col. I.N. Ware, A. Murphy, J. Donaldson, A. Hudson, G. Dwson, Councillor H.C. Deburgh
Front row, left to right: Birkett, C. J. Minter, H. Richardson, T. C. Benfield, R. S. Oloman, G. H. Hunt, R.B. Wright, E. Hardisty, W.G. Birch
Photograph: Explore York Libraries and Archives
The service saw 1.5 million volunteers across the UK responsible for escorting people to air raid shelters, handling unexploded bombs and checking an area was safe.

By the end of the Second World War 6,383 wardens had lost their lives.

In York alone 1,000 volunteers kept the city as safe as they could.

The co-ordination of response to an air raid took place within the 15th century Guildhall.

From here it was decided that 36 public shelters would be installed before the air raids could take place. The largest was in Lower Priory Street, able to hold 477 people.

August 11 1940 – Four bombs fall on York

Four individual bombs fell in and around the city.

York cemetery was hit causing damage to the gravestones and surrounding area. One bomb lay unexploded between Clifford’s Tower and Piccadilly.

November 1940 – York Waterworks bomb

A bomb targeted York Waterworks, but penetrated the soft ground and caused very little damage.

October 1941 – German map created

A map created by Nazi bombing command showing potential targets in York. Image: the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz
After the war German documentation of the bombing targets was revealed. A map dated October 1941 highlights the railway station, the Minster and the Terry’s factory as areas of bombing interest.

April 29 1942 – the Baedeker raid

The damage to the Bar Convent was caused by some of the 69 high explosive bombs which fell on York during the so-called Baedeker Raid. Photograph © Explore York Libraries and Archives
The Baedeker Blitz was the worst air raid to hit York.

The Germans’ decision to hit York followed the RAF’s raid on the German city of Lubeck of March the same year.

It is believed that the city was chosen for its historical, cultural and industrial attributes. On the night the targets were strategic: the railway station, the carriageworks, the airfield.

Platforms 1, 2 and 3 at York Railway Station after the raid. Photograph: National Railway Museum

More than 70 German planes were involved in the raid. Allied planes shot down four of them aircraft. Beginning at 2.30am and finishing 90 minutes later, the raid left 92 people dead and hundreds injured.

Houses and schools were destroyed, the Guildhall and St Martin-le-Grand Church on Coney Street burnt out. The Bar Convent collapsed after being hit, killing five nuns.

August 9 1942 – lone raider

A lone raider dropped four bombs in the centre of the city. Despite two bombs going unexploded, one person was killed, nine injured and 36 suffered minor injuries.

The rebuilding of York after the 1942 raids took decades.

But there is still evidence of the damage, including in the remains of St Martin-le-Grand.

And for those who lived through ‘York’s darkest night’ the memories are still strong.