John Webster has sent us his memories of the Blitz in Broomhall:
“I remember it vividly and I now know it took place in December 1940. I was with my mother in the cellar below No 229 Broomhall Street, which was a little shop with living accommodation that specialised in tobacco and newspapers. My father was away on war work that night – although he did still live with us despite the war. The siren announcing the arrival of an air raid had sounded earlier that evening. There were 2 types of bombs, one fatal and one disruptive. It was the latter type which unluckily landed on our house/shop. But it was lucky it was not a high explosive, as everyone told my Mum once she had lost all her worldy goods in the unstoppable fire than engulfed our house after the incendiary hit. Mr Gardiner, an old neighbour, came with a long shovel and a rake and attempted to scoop up the bomb from the bedroom floor but it spit lethal shrapnel and he retreated down the narrow stair and I can still recall the blood pouring from wounds in his forehead and face.
We went out of the cellar into the street, and the sparks were bursting upwards from the roofs of our house and that of the next door. A man shook his fist in the air at the sound of the bombers and the beams of searchlights split the darkness. I was separated from my mum and put with a large group of children into a nearby factory and you know what? – I had my siren suit on and my micky mouse gas mask by my side and I believed myself completely safe.
After a long time in the factory, the “all clear” sounded and my gran came to collect me. I don’t know where my mother was. Together we walked about 2 to 3 miles to Walkely where my gran and grandad lived above their butcher’s shop. The walk was a marathon. I was 3 ½ years old but I knew I had to walk. No car, no tram, no bus could pass the devastated streets. We climbed over rubble and broken glass and there were leaking mains and leaking gas. Some trams and buses were blown out and deserted. The big and all consuming worry that I picked up from my gran was would her house be in tact, and where was grandad this dreadful night because he was an air raid warden – not the best, safest job during an air raid.
Gran was not good on her feet; she was tough though and had brought up 3 young boys and run the butcher’s shop for 3 years during the Great War, when grandad was called up.
She was crying a bit that night. I knew that. Anyway, all was well as far as it could be. All persons turned up – shocked but alive. I heard many tales of derring do but they all turned up – mum, dad, grandad, gran – I thought there was nothing more to worry about; the innocence of youth!
I swear I remember all this and indeed what happened next and in the weeks following. The next day my mum opened up her business on a side table in the grocer’s shop. There was a tin for money and the papers were delivered to the grocers.
That morning, my mum took me down to a wholesaler to buy cigarettes for sale at her table. Again we walked through rubble, wires and glass and there was no way but to walk. My mum was shattered and more than once we sat on a wall and gathered ourselves. I can’t remember a drink or a sweetie but it wasn’t that cold – not that I remember. Again, it was at least 2 miles each way. I thought it was another marathon but it was O.K. because I was a good eater and called strong.
Very soon after this we moved to the basement of the local G.P. He was Doctor Bradbury (the Scotch doctor) and he came from Lundin Links (for years I thought it was London Links). I had red blankets and they were prickly, but we were all together and it was cosy. Next we got a room in a laundry and all slept in the one bed. There was condensation everywhere but it was a big place and I had the run of the wet corridors.
This was when my mum peed the bed and leapt up weeping and shaking. I didn’t know why because there were not bombs that night. My dad cuddled her up and calmed her down and stripped the bed and got it ready for us again. I’ll never forget those times and I know I wasn’t 4 years old.”