Memories of the Bristol Blitz
I lived in Mardyke, Hotwells Road. My family had a cafe there. We used to have a group of Cockney dockers lodging with us. They came down to work at Bristol and Avonmouth docks after London was Blitzed. That night some planes came over at about 6pm and dropped flares. The dockers knew what it was, they’d seen it in London, they knew our Blitz was coming. It was quite hellish – it lasted about 6 hours. It started before the theatres opened. I looked up the town from where I lived and all I could see was a mass of flames.
The whole of Bedminister Down was lit up by incendiary bombs. A house was bombed near by and all these bricks came into our house and through my bedroom ceiling. When the town was bombed we used to go onto the Bridgwater Road and watch the town - it was all lit up. We would watch the bombs and the anti aircraft fire.
The German planes came over and dropped flares first then incendiaries to get things going.
The first Sunday it was mostly incendiaries there were few bombs.
The fire brigade concentrated on putting out houses. They let the shops burn.
I got off a tram from Westbury-on-Trym. I was going out. I spent all night sheltering in the crypt of the Quakers Meeting House. I watched Barton Warehouse collapse. All Old Market was gone. The next morning I remember walking over all these barrage balloon wires that were lying on the ground. It was very frightening.
I was going to an Ensa Show at the Kings Theatre that night. We were having coffee in a place opposite St Peter’s church. I saw a parachute thing all alight coming down. There were some soldiers in the cafe they told us to get to a shelter. They’d been in the Blitz in Coventry two days before so they knew what was coming. We tried to get into the Castle Street shelter but couldn’t because it was locked and nobody had the key. We went to a shelter in St James instead. It was brick built and had a blast wall. We looked out and it was like an inferno. Everything was alight. As soon as the all-clear went we came out and walked home. There were walls and pieces of wood falling all around us. The firemen were putting fires out.
I heard the planes coming over. My husband made up beds for our girls in the Anderson Shelter. We spent the night in there.
You could smell all the burning.
There was an explosive smell.
I was 14 on the day of the Blitz. My mum had gone into town to go window shopping with a friend. I was at home with my Granddad when the sirens went. We stood at the bottom of the garden and watched the flares coming down over Bristol. We rushed to the front door to continue watching them when we heard this noise like an express train over our heads and then a bomb dropped 20 yards from where we’d been standing in the garden. My mum came home about 2am – we’d never thought we’d see her again. Her knees were cut and bleeding. She ended up in an air raid shelter outside Temple Church – the leaning church. Every time a bomb had dropped they’d dropped to their knees.
I come from Southville. I joined the army when I was 17. When I came back to Bristol I worked on gunsites at Rodway Common, Burwalls (by the Suspension Bridge) and Whitchurch. I came out of the Hebron church in Hebron Road, Bedminister that night about 11:30, I looked over the city centre and the sky was blood red. We heard bombs coming down and went into the bomb shelter in the vestry. When we came out we ran down Melville Terrace and then ran back because there was a plane above us.
I was going to go out that evening with four friends. One of my friends was a sailor on leave. We were intending to go down to Temple Meads Station at about six that night to see him off. A siren went off and we didn’t think much of it because sirens were always going off and we didn’t have any bombs. Well, as we got to the door there was a whoosh bang! So we scarpered back into the house and spent the rest of the night in the shelter. We sat there and we could hear all these bombs. After the all clear went, we went up onto Devon Road Bridge - it’s a high place over Whitehall. I’ve never seen anything like it – the whole town was on fire. The next morning I went off to work as usual and when I got there it was all gone. It seemed like all of Castle Street was flat – there were firemen and hosepipes everywhere. We didn’t know what to do. Then the boss came along and said, “We’ll get in touch with you, you’ll have to go home.”
My mum and dad were caretakers at East Street Baptist Church and in the middle of the service the bombing started very badly. It was a children’s evening for the Girls Brigade. Luckily, we were all kept safe there. As we came home we realised the town was alight and we walked down into our road and the gasometer there had a direct hit and everyone in the shelter was killed. There was water everywhere because the gasometer was filled with water. Luckily, our road was on a slope so it all drained away. Our house was still there but every window was gone. We had heavy curtains which saved it from coming into the room otherwise, my uncle who was there, would have been cut to pieces. I’ll never forget walking through all the mud to get to our house. That was the start of the awful heavy bombings nearly every night.
We were at my aunt and uncle’s on the other side of the valley – he had leave from the services for the evening. The raid started and we all went into the Anderson shelter - we were all crammed in there. I can’t remember how long it lasted. At the end my father said, “I’ll go home and see if we’ve got anything left.” He had to go round the valley and about half an hour later he came back and said, “Yes, we’ve still got a home!” I was a twin and my mother picked one of us up and my father the other and we had to go over the hill. We stopped and looked at Bristol and it was completely red. I remember that vividly – it always reminds me of ‘Gone with the Wind’. Everything was burning.
I was eighteen and out that night with my friend Paul. We saw a flare coming down so we went back to his house; he lived on Wells Road. The lady from next door was in their shelter too. During that evening she said she had some sandwiches in her house so I said I’d go and get them. I climbed over the wall and went into the house to get them. Just as I got them a bomb dropped outside in Beaconsfield Road. I found myself sat in the cupboard under the stairs with a tray of sandwiches and all the debris falling around me. I got up walked outside and found a gas pipe had been broken. I climbed back over the wall and took the sandwiches to the shelter – luckily they’d been covered so they were still edible.
Where I lived in the Dings area, on York Street we had the railway line on both sides. Temple Meads was only five minutes away. It was an inner city slum area. It wasn’t far from the entertainment area and the centre. The day before they bombed Castle Street we went up there shopping and the shops were very busy. The next day it was gone, it just disappeared. What no one ever mentions is the looters - people think nowadays that everyone was honest then. There were gangs that looted the bombed shops.
We were staying in Bristol the weekend of the Blitz. We had been to the Downs for a walk in the afternoon and I think the sirens went about 6pm, that was the first raid. We had a brick shelter built into the bank of the garden. We had the bunks in there and we felt we were quite comfortable compared to Anderson shelters. We had a very good view of the Blitz - it was very dramatic because we lived on top of St Michael’s Hill looking right down into the city. my dad was out there on the front waving his fist at the planes. Not that it did any good but I guess that’s what he felt like doing.
I wasn’t scared during the Blitz. We just watched Bristol burning the whole city was red. We lived on a bit of a hill and we could hear it crackling and burning. When Castle Street was bombed, just the walls were left standing.
My grandmother lived in Fairfield Street looking over the railway. We were all gathered in one of her rooms with an uncle who was in the RAF. When the bombs started to fall we just sat there but my RAF uncle dived under the table every time a bomb dropped because that’s what he’d been trained to do. There was a Butlers oil depot near the station about 300 yards from us. They stored barrels of oil. It was wonderful as a kid to watch these drums explode. They were like giant Roman Candles, flying into the air and down again.
I came home one Easter in 1941 for a weekend leave and we had a big Blitz on Bristol. I lived down at Easton where we had a land mine dropped in a little narrow street called John Street, which was cobbled. My house was about a quarter of a mile from John Street and one of these cobbles came through the roof and landed on my bed. They bombed the bus depot at the back of Berkeley Street, Croydon Street and Easton Road. They also had the railway there going up to the Midlands and down to South Wales. A land mine dropped on the Friday night (the Good Friday Blitz) and I spent my Saturday helping people trying to crawl out from under the rubble - we pulled about three out. It was our duty in the forces to help out the Civil Defence when we were home. All the windows were blown out and we had an unexploded bomb. I spent the weekend in the Church Hall.
I lived off Redland Road and there was a house there that was bombed right at the beginning, bombed and then burnt out. From that day until years after the war it was still standing. There was bedroom furniture and curtains hanging out the window. The curtains used to blow in the wind. There was a lovely dressing table in the window but no one dared go and take anything because it was only one wall.
I remember they were machine gunning the barrage balloons. The barrage balloons were there to keep the enemy planes up so the hope was they’d miss their target. They never had the sights they’ve got now where they lock on like, they had to manually drop the bombs. They had a field day bringing all the barrage balloons down, they were just machine gunning them. It was a moonlit night and I could see the bombers coming over. I remember a double-decker bus landing on the on the vicarage roof.
The biggest land mine dropped on the Downs was right by the ‘White Tree’. It made a crater big enough for six double-deckers to go in. We kept going up for months to see it. All the houses were blown by it. It was on that piece of grass between the ‘White Tree’ and those big houses.
You had to whitewash the kerbstone outside your house so you wouldn’t trip over it. You also had to paint your number on the house and keep a bucket of sand or water underneath it for putting out incendiary bombs. It was very difficult going out in the dark because we couldn’t use a torch and there weren’t any batteries anyway. We had to have the torch shielded. Motor vehicles had to have the top half of the headlights covered as well.
We were all issued with small phosphorescent discs that we stuck on our lapels so you could see people coming towards you in the dark.
There were no railings round the water so people fell in the docks.
There was a man called Roach used to make his living from fishing bodies out of the dock. 5/- for a person and 10/- shillings for a cow.
Most buildings had their own fire watchers. Each business had a rota for their employees. It was voluntary you did a days work and then had fire watching duty in the night.
I was working in an insurance office in the centre of town. We had to do fire watching duty once a week so we stayed at the office over night. We slept on the top floor - two women and one man in camp beds. We were able to hear the rats running about because the building was old. The Ack, Ack gun was in the centre just a few yards from where we worked. I remember one occasion running around with the shrapnel pinging off our helmets. We still had to be at work the next morning. Soon as it was daylight we could go home and have something to eat but we still had to be back to work by nine.
There was a fire watchers station opposite Electricity House in Colston Avenue. Anyone unfit for military duty was encouraged to be a firewatcher or go into the Homeguard.
Some people were responsible for certain roads. It could be hard for the men who’d done a hard days work and then had to go on duty over night.
We were sheltering at a neighbour’s house under the floor when an incendiary came through upstairs. They were trying to put it out when the bucket fell over, the water came through the floorboards and we all got soaked.
We spent hours under the stairs with a candle. It was the safest place in the house.
My dad was a firewatcher in Clifton. After one raid he came home with a mini tea chest banded with metal and made out of plywood. A warehouse had been bombed and when they went in they swept all the tea and sugar up and took it home.
There wasn’t anything about the Blitz in the papers. The day after the big Blitz in Bristol I was taking my daughter into town to be photographed at Jeromes in Castle Street. We got the little bus that went into town and it went a funny way round. When we got there I got off the bus and looked round and there was nothing there except smoke and rubbish. Everything was down. Nobody had told us what had happened – it wasn’t on the radio or anything.
After the blitz you didn’t see buildings entirely flattened. What you would see were three or four walls down. It would be in a dangerous condition. It was all temporary buildings in the centre.
After a Blitz any city came under the control of the military. They were only concerned with the safety of the city not with the age of a building.
We made a special trip into town after the Blitz just to see what had happened. We saw piles of smoking rubble. Everyone was saying thank God it wasn’t on a Saturday.
No one ever said we should give in.