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.
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.
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.
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)
Manchester at War by Clive Hardy (2005)
Blitz Britain: Manchester and Salford by Graham Pythian (2015)