York Blitz: The Baedeker Raid on York

Posted on 20 August 2012 | Narrative

We bring you another personal story of the York Blitz of seventy years ago, told through the words of Desmond Feakes.

“During the war we lived at Number 7, Hanover Street on Leeman Road. Mum and I and my twin brother; my father was a Japanese prisoner of war.

In 1942, on the 29th April, the siren sounded to warn of an air raid and we went next door to Mrs Craggs’s house, Number 8, to take shelter under her staircase – that was reckoned to be the safest place to be,which was proved to be correct when we saw all the bombed houses, nearly all had the staircase damaged but still intact!

They always kept beer under the staircase and the adults drank the beer, and the boys were allowed lemonade or a weak shandy; if we were going – we were going to be happy when it happened!

The raid was a Baedeker raid – Baedeker being a German tourist guide to historical English cities; these raids were in retaliation for a British attack on the German medaeval town of Lubeck. As we had left our house, the sky was lit up with flares as though it was daylight.

We had been under the stairs for some time when we heard an almighty bang. After the “all clear” had sounded, Mrs Craggs’ son, George, who had been “firewatching” came in and said that a bomb had dropped in the street about five or six doors away and there was a hole that you could have dropped a railway engine in. There was also an awful smell of gas as it had blown up the gas main.

Further along the street, Numbers 11 to 15 were so badly damaged that they had to be knocked down and rebuilt later, and the chapel in Albany Street was totally wrecked.

When we got back to our house there was considerable damage. All the windows were blown out and a foundation stone from the chapel in Albany Street had come through the roof, bedroom, ceiling and bedroom floor and came to rest on a shelf above the family radio in the front room downstairs. The house was virtually uninhabitable – to us boys it was a great adventure, not realising the potential consequences of it all, we were six years old at the time.

Mum always used to lay the table for breakfast the night before and turned the cups and cereal bowls upside down on the saucers and plates. The table and pots were covered in soot that the bomb blast had blown down the chimney,so the next morning when we had breakfast Mum – who had always kept in a good stock of tinned fruit) simply turned the cups and bowls over and we ate pineapple chunks for breakfast.

Luckily for us, the wife of a fellow sergeant in Father’s regiment, Mrs Beckwith, heard about the damage on Leeman Road and came to offer accommodation with her mother, Mrs Heath, who lived at 18 Levisham Street in Fulford where the family stayed for six months; my brother and I attending Fishergate School.

During this period, the house was being repaired, but there was a shortage of skilled tradesmen due to the war, so the ceiling damage was repaired by nailing up new plasterboard and just sticking tape over the joints and stayed that way until we left in 1949.”