On the night of the 14th and 15th March it will be 70 years since Leeds was hit by its most severe bombing raid of the Second World War.
West Yorkshire Archive Service holds some fascinating records which document that night in great detail – and helps us to remember all those who lost their lives as a result of the attack.
Just after 9 o’clock on the evening of the Friday 14th March, Air Raid Sirens across the City sounded the ‘alert’. Fire watchers on the roof of the Turner Tanning Machinery Company in Bramley reported planes flying from the East to the North West at 9.15pm [reference WYL1063, WYAS4922] and shortly after that the City was hit repeatedly and was quickly ablaze.
Just before midnight a large number of incendiary bombs followed by high explosive bombs fell over a wide area of the City causing widespread damage.
The bombs damaged around 4600 houses as well as hitting Kirkgate Market, the Town Hall and the Museum which was, at that time, on Park Row. The log book for the infants department of Leeds St Peter’s school details the damage caused by a bomb which exploded within a few feet of the south wall [reference RDP68/67/8].
65 people including 8 children died that night and a further 258 were injured. Despite the entrance to the casualty department being hit by a bomb, the Leeds General Infirmary Air Raid In-Patients book [reference WYL2295/240] shows that 59 people were admitted in the early hours of the 15th March with injuries ranging from burns to shock.
Over 4000 Wardens and 1800 fire crew were on hand to assist the public. Fire services were called out to 116 fires caused by enemy action through the night. The Leeds City Fire Brigade record book [LC/FIRE/1/1/8] shows when the fire crews were called out to each address and the method used to put each fire out.
Although Leeds was the main target of the raid it was not the only town to suffer – the raiders bombed a wide area searching for the David Brown Factory at Crossland Moor near Huddersfield (manufacturing Spitfire parts at the time); and central Castleford suffered as bombs rained down in the hope of hitting either Ferrybridge Power Station or Hickson and Welch Chemicals.
In all, 25 tons of bombs were dropped in Leeds (a quarter of the 100 tons that constituted a ‘major raid’) but the City quickly got back on its feet and learnt valuable lessons from the 14th and 15th of March. In light of their experience, people were advised to keep all their doors unlocked throughout the raid, leaving windows and internal doors slightly open to avoid the effect of the blast; to keep extra black-out material in case the blinds are destroyed; to make sure that lights in a damaged room are extinguished at once; and to always carry their identity card.
Resolved – That the Committee record their praise and admiration of the courage and fortitude of the citizens of Leeds during the recent air raid on the City, and of the splendid support given to the Fire Services by the voluntary fire parties in dealing with incendiary bombs [reference LL7/1/3/6]
70 years on, West Yorkshire Archive Service will be re-creating that night on http://twitter.com/WR_ARP. Based on the records held at our Leeds and Wakefield offices we will be tweeting events exactly as they happened, from the first alert through to the all clear.
For more information on any of these records please contact the Leeds office.