Air Raids in WWII

In this interview George Woods gives his account of what it was like being caught up in the blitz. On this occasion George’s family did not have time to make it to the air raid shelter a few streets away and had to take refuge in the cellar and how the raid became more frightening when a bomb came down the chimney!

George explains how his family managed to escape alive and what he experienced on his journey to safety.

‘Manchester Took It Too’ – The City’s Stoicism During The Blitz

On the 19th of July 1940, Hitler made a speech to the Reichstag which was later transcribed and dropped in bundles over the country in August of the same year; it stated the following:

“If the struggle continues, it can only end with the complete annihilation of one of the two adversaries, Churchill may believe this is Germany. I know it will be Britain”

However, as a ‘persuasion prelude’ to this, Manchester fell victim to bombing ten days prior, when HE bombs fell on the corner of Trafford Park, which at the time was the biggest industrial estate in the world. Thankfully, no-one was hurt but it was an early warning a few months before the most devastating air raids on the city took place.

Miller street Christmas blitz

A Blitzed Property On Miller Street on the 23rd December 1940

Graham Pythian writes in his book Blitz Britain: Manchester and Salford about the various ways in which the city prepared for the prospect of bombing. Over 60 ‘rest centres’ were established in Manchester, these were converted halls, schools and churches that gave shelter to those who had their property destroyed. Furthermore, 6,500 volunteers had already signed up by early 1939 with 55 fire stations established and £18,000 set aside by the council that went towards enhanced equipment. Other measures taken included ones that were intended to deceive the enemy, such as the Platt Factoy in Newton Heath which was painted and disguised in order to look like a row of terraced houses!

Morale certainly seemed like one of the most important aspects that the Germans were not able to crack. Even after the ruination of the Christmas Blitz, many people returned to work the next day assuming that the building they were employed in was still standing. One of the pieces I looked at from the archive was a booklet entitled: City Of Manchester: What To Do In An Air Raid which contained a message ‘to all Manchester citizens’ written by the lord mayor who addressed the importance of stoicism. Although I couldn’t find an exact date on this piece, a bit of research shows that Elijah John Hart was the lord mayor from 1938-1939:

“Try to resume your normal life as quickly as possible, remember the enemy will be trying to dislocate our civil life so it’s our duty to get on with our lives in a normal way in spite of air raids”

On the contrary, Lord Haw-Haw, the famous radio propaganda broadcaster tried to scare the city’s populace by declaring that even though the citizens of Manchester have bought their Christmas Turkeys, “they won’t be cooking them”. The 22nd of December 1940 marked the first day of the most intense and heavy aerial bombardment of the city for the whole of WWII.

Portland street Manchester after the Blitz

Portland Street after the Blitz

For this first night; the city would suffer the repercussions of the bombings that happened in Liverpool the night previously – as many as 300 men, 450 vehicles and 30 pumps were still treating the flames in Merseyside when 270 aircraft descended upon Manchester, made up of three different units of Luftwaffe bombers (KG51,KG54 and KG55).

Despite the lack of manpower on the first night, it seems that those who were there to help did a brave and highly commendable job given the circumstances. We can also see plenty of evidence to show that regardless of the sadness and devastation surrounding the people of the city, they did indeed meet the sentiments expressed by the lord Mayor years earlier. A very extensive document available for viewing is a booklet entitled Our Blitz: Red Skies Over Manchester which was published in 1944: a facsimile of evening chronicle records that give particular attention to the Christmas Blitz. One testimony states that the destruction could have been worse if not for the wardens and home guards: “I did not see a single solitary blaze that was not being fought” said one witness.

The King and Queen would visit Manchester in February the following year, in order to pay tribute to the ‘endurance’ of those in the city.

Manchester Took It Too (1940/41) from NWfilmarchive on Vimeo. This film covers the ‘selfless courage’ of the people of Manchester

Primary Sources (Available to view at Archives+

Papers relating  to air raid precautions in Manchester, and  a poem about gases used in   warfare (1939-1941)

Our Blitz: Red Skies Over Manchester (1944)

Secondary Sources: 

Manchester at War by Clive Hardy (2005)

Blitz Britain: Manchester and Salford by Graham Pythian (2015)

This blog post was written for Archives+ by one of our volunteers as part of our Heritage Lottery Funded project.

The Dance Trains

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Saturday night dancing! Who doesn’t remember the excitement and the joyful days of Saturday nights in Blackpool during the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s?
“I was under age to go dancing… It was very exciting, making plans on Friday night and sneaking clothes and shoes out of the back door so my mum didn’t notice.” Jacqueline Kilcoyne

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“I would finish work, get changed quickly and meet up at the station with friends to get the train.” Nina Brookes

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The Blackpool Tower, which was influenced by the Eiffel Tower in France, was designed by James Maxwell and Charles Tuke. In 1929, the first Wurlitzer organ was installed at the Tower, in the Ballroom.

Reginald Dixon was the organist that played the Ballroom’s Wurlitzer organ from 1930 until his retirement in 1970.

For most of the twentieth century Blackpool was one of the most exciting holiday destinations in the UK. The Blackpool Tower Ballroom was a highlight and big draw for young people.

“Before the entertainment were theatre and cinema in black and white… If they wanted something different, it was ‘the place, Blackpool’.”Albert Barton

“The boom of the 1920s started with taking the 4:30pm train towards Blackpool and getting ready to ‘shake that skeleton’ at the Tower Ballroom with Reginald Dixon, Ken McIntosh, Ted Heath, Joe loss. We also had the the first Wurlitzer organ and so much more. It was the most popular place for seventeen year olds. But, we wouldn’t leave before stopping to grab a meal of fish and chips or eat some burgers, smoke cigarettes, enjoy the beach and drink beer at the local pubs.”

Here are the collective memories of the Dance train days. A very enjoyable clip where you could listen to some songs from the trips to Blackpool thanks to the collaboration of the Houghton Weavers who have shared with us ‘The Blackpool Belle’ and ‘The Wigan Pier’ songs. In this clip, Nina Brookes, Jacqueline Kilcoyne, Albert Barton, Raymond Morrison, Stella Morrison, Jim Jones, Wilfred Griffiths and  Walter Ainscough talk about their experiences taking the Saturday night special trains.  Jim Jones also shares his experience as a driver in Bolton at the organisation of the special trains. Others like Stella Morrison, Jacqueline Kilcoyne and Albert Barton talk about the dance hall fashions of the time.

To listen to the full song that plays in the clip (The ballad of Wigan Pier), visit the soundcloud site: https://soundcloud.com/save-wigan-pier/the-ballad-of-wigan-pier

This video from Aaron1912 takes you on a journey to the past with Reginald Dixon playing and people dancing in the Tower Ballroom.

Here there is another video from the Cannock Chase Organ Club,

With thanks to Tony Berry and the rest of the Haughton Weavers who kindly allowed us to use their songs ‘Wigan Pier’ and ‘Blackpool Belle’. The songs appear alongside clips from interviews conducted in 2005 as part of the Dance Train Days project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The interviews (references GB124.OH/2745-2757) can be listened to in the search room at Manchester Central Library – no appointment necessary.

Songs of Protest, Civil Rights.

The ‘Songs of Protest’ radio series is a fantastic production concerning many different social issues. This chosen radio show is focused on the civil rights movement. The show compromises of both recordings of songs and a commentary.

When the united states entered the second world war it immediately introduced conscription. Men of every racial origin were expected to fight for freedom – this included black Americans. It is unsurprising that post 1945, black Americans were bewildered that Jim Crow laws were still in operation after being expected to give their lives for America.

Here is a radio announcement giving detail of the segregation that Black Americans faced.

As mentioned in this sound clipping, Black Americans were segregated whilst using the bus service. For this reason, they decided to boycott the bus service. Official reaction was for the boycott leaders to be arrested for speeding and illegally carrying passengers in private cars or any other charge that they could be heavily fined. They could choose a fine or thirty days in jail, the majority chose jail.  This sound clipping is a ‘song of protest’ and  features the lyrics “Have you been to the jail?” for this reason.

The result of this was a declaration from the United States which declared bus segregation illegal. The next song of protest is rather charming, it rejoices the end of bus segregation.

Songs of Protest, Soldiers

A sympathetic song from the ‘Songs of Protest’ radio series describing the hardship a soldier would endure.

The invention of the electric telegraph allowed the horrors of the Crimea war to be read over the breakfast table. The following clip is an example of this, giving detail of the conditions soldiers were fighting in.