Central Library, Sheffield.
12 Dec 2010 by Sarah
Picture, far right, courtesy of www.flickr.com under photos, Sheffield Libraries.
As Churchill inspected the rubble that was left behind of London, and announced to the world that “We can take it”, the women of London told the press that “We’re the ones who are taking it, not him”. And take it they did, throughout the whole of Britain. To commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Sheffield Blitz, The Central Library, Sheffield is holding an exhibition throughout December.
700 people were killed in the air raids of December 12th,1940 which began at 7pm, lasting for 9 hours. During this first night of the Operation, The Moor faced utter devastation. A layer of thick ground fog covering Attercliffe saved the steelworks, the main target of the attack. On the second night of the attack, the works were destroyed.
47,000 incendiary bombs were dropped killing or rendering as missing, 785 people. 1,817 people were also injured. Go visit the exhibition to find out the extent of houses and business properties, obliterated or damaged by the Blitz.
And behind the figures, are the people who lived through it, and who lost their lives to it. Mary Smith, from Heeley, was ten years old at the time of the Blitz. I’m sure the traumatic experience stayed with her for life, but, rather touchingly, her most vivid memory, is her mother’s cakes. The night of the attack, her mother was baking Christmas cakes with left over rations. Amazingly, the cakes survived in the oven, when the fire had naturally died out. She reports that they were the best cakes she had ever made.
The everyday tasks that needed to be done, resonate a certain poignancy when put into context. Gloria Gawith Hallett, an ARP (Air Raid Precaution) ambulance driver, wrote in her diary on May 16th, 1940, that she had taken it upon herself to “spring clean my bedroom”. As the adage goes “Life must go on”.
The collection of items, such as Gas mask used for infants, in which the whole child may be held, and a Lufftewaffe head gear are incredible to witness, both for their survival and the window into the past they offer.
The most startling feature in this incredible exhibit, is its namesake. Operation Crucible, was the name given to the secret, or “Geheim” German plan to destroy Sheffield and her Steel Works. The exhibition features the map that highlights Sheffield as a prominent target, the details of the day, from sunrise and sunset, to the time the attacks would end. Both wondrous and frightening, is the addition of information regarding a group of German boys, who visited King Edward’s school as far back as 1937.
To find out this information, get down to the Central Library. It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to get there. Anytime you go through town between now and the 31st of December, you can go visit this turbulent past, shown in-between the floors. I defy anyone, and especially those whose families lived in Sheffield at that time, to not be moved by the stories these artefacts and pictures tell. This era of “unselfishness and neighbourliness”, of stoic resilience is something not to be forgotten. After all, it harks back to a time that, despite its trauma, was a time when we truly earned the moniker, Great Britain.