George Cunningham: Second World War in Broomhall ~ Part 6

An Air Raid ~ Part 1

Researched and written by Gemma Clarke

Illustration taken from taken from "More George! Growing Up: The Story Continues..." Page 65. 1994
Photo: The Hallamshire Press

George and his family were involved in an air-raid during the Second World War, and Parts 6- 8 show the story of that particular event, from the beginning to the very end of that disastrous event for the people of Broomhall.

A Trip Out

‘The Autumn faded into winter and on a cold frosty evening in December, feeling a bit flush with money as I had received a shilling a week rise on my birthday, Bill and me decided to go to the first house at the Landsdowne Picture Palace. It was Thursday, one of the nights I should have attended the School of Art, but I eased the pricks of conscience by telling myself that the child’s plate only needed engraving to finish, and that process I could easily do before end of term.’

‘The old ‘Lanny’ was pretty full when we took our seats in the six-pennies, just in time for the start of the programme. A Three Stooges film was on first, with Curly, Larry and Mo in cracking form, and then came the newsreel. Hitler had apparently decided to switch his peace-making bombing overtures from London to give Liverpool and Coventry a sample of his benevolence.’

Fred’s Seven Hills

‘As scenes of devastation and death flickered on the screen, a flat-capped Jonah at the side of me muttered to his headscarfed wife, ‘It’ll be ar turn next, just thee see.’ I sniffed contemptuously at this ill-informed remark. Evidently he was unaware of Fred Clayton’s seven hills that shielded Sheffield from the Luftwaffe. The prediction of the cobbler had been proved correct a fortnight earlier, when hundreds of German planes flew over Sheffield on their way to Liverpool, without dropping a bomb, and Dad said, ‘Fred’s right, they can’t find Sheffield.’


It was with some surprise, then, that halfway through the big picture, a boring film about nursing called Vigil on the Night starring Carole Lombard and Brian Aherne, a message of war flashed on the screen, informing us that the air raid sirens had sounded. This was followed by an announcement from the manager that the show would go on. There had been so many false alarms during the past weeks that only a few people got up and left the cinema. Most of the audience stayed on, not because it was a particularly entertaining film, but having paid a tanner we were determined to get our money’s worth.’

The End

‘At quarter-past eight, Vigil on the Night thankfully ended. ‘God Save the King’ was played and we all filed out. In the foyer stood the commissionaire, nicknamed ‘Bulldog’ because his undershot lower jaw and big eyeteeth bestowed on him a distinct likeness to our national symbol. Being an old soldier he was quite calm when he growled ‘Gerrof ‘ooam quick as y’ can, ‘ee’s droppin’ ‘em.’

Going Home

‘Out in London Road all was quiet in the moonlight. A few searchlight roamed the heavens. There was a rosy glow down near St Mary’s Church and an acrid smell of burning in the air, very different from the ever-present aroma of coal fires. Bill and I sauntered along, laughing about the antics of the Three Stooges, and we had just crossed over Cemetery Road when a noise like an express train travelling at high speed rent the air. A tremendous thump on the ground lifted me off my feet, and when I landed back on them I was off alongside my brother, like a pair of sprinters. Another almighty ‘Crump!’ was followed by what sounded like a shower of tin cans falling on the slates. ‘Incendiaries,’ gasped Bill, as we tore up Clarence Street and into our back yard.’

The Garlick’s house

‘I didn’t knock on Mrs Garlick’s door. We went straight into the house, stumbling against the furniture in the darkness of the living room and clattered down the spotless, donkey-stoned steps into the cellar. It had been reinforced with corrugated sheeting to provide an air raid shelter for the four families in the yard. Anxious faces stared at us as we ducked under the low doorway. My mother cried out, ‘Where have you been all this time? We’ve been down here ages – it’s terrible!’

Mrs Garlick

‘Although she meant well, a tightening of lips and a direct look from Mrs Garlick indicated that she had taken it as a personal slight against her cellar, which like the rest of the house was a credit to her. The corrugated sheeting was whitewashed, and the supporting pillars painted a pleasant green. Even the floor was carpeted, complete with a pegged rug. A single bulb in a pretty shade gave just enough light for us to see each other.’

Who was in the cellar?

‘From the corner nearest to the gas meter a racking cough indicated the presence of Mrs Hill from the bottom house. Mr and Mrs Garlick and their family, Joyce, Betty, Gordon and Nigel, sat all together on a long wooden form. Mrs Taylor, their next-door neighbour, her husband being a window cleaner and used to climbing ladders, had been drafted into the Auxiliary Fire Service and was on duty. Every time a bomb dropped she bent her head and stifled a sob with her handkerchief.’

‘My parents, Bill and me made the little cellar rather crowded. In addition, the yard’s population was increased by the presence of George Rastrick, whose mother now kept the corner shop, and his fiancée Elsie, who had been visiting the Garlicks and had decided to stay when the sirens sounded. George was short, stocky, and balding, but a very natty dresser with a liking for Barney Goodman suits.’


‘He was also an authority on aeroplanes and had an impressive collection of them which he had painstakingly modelled from balsa wood. ‘Them’s Jerry planes!’ he suddenly exclaimed during a slight lull in the bombardment, ‘Listen.’ We all listened fearfully to a strange, uneven throbbing, which sounded all too close. ‘They make a noise like that because their engines aren’t synchronised,’ quoth the expert. ‘They’re not as good as ours.’ This technical British superiority seemed of little consequence to me as I struggled to subdue a rising panic and stop my legs from trembling each time a bomb dropped.’

The Raid

‘About midnight, the raid intensified. A series of heavy explosions culminated in one so near it seemed to lift the house, causing showers of whitewash to fall from the ceiling. This annoyed Mrs Garlick so much that she rushed up to the cellar head for a dustpan and a brush, which she applied with immense vigour under everyone’s raised feet. At one time I thought that she was about to give us all a going over, for we each had a white coating on our heads and shoulders.’

‘A few times I heard a distant banging, which George claimed were our Ack-Ack guns, but this was soon drowned by bomb blasts. Once again, Jerry hadn’t played fair. It seemed to me that they had found an easy way into Sheffield, totally ignoring the seven hills that Fred Clayton had so definitely stated were impenetrable. Slowly, my second ‘Vigil on the Night’ dragged endlessly on.’


‘With strained, pale faces, made whiter still by the deposit from the ceiling, we stared blankly at each other, wincing with fear at every near miss, praying for the dawn. Mr Garlick daringly went up to the kitchen and procured a white enamel bucket, which he placed halfway up the cellar steps, for use as a relief station. George Rastrick, who always liked to be the centre of attraction, started singing ‘There’ll Always Be An England’, which we all falteringly tried to join in, but a tremendous explosion cut it short, just as we had got to ‘while there’s a country lane’, making me think that there couldn’t be much left of Clarence Street, let alone country lanes.’


‘Just when I had got to a stage when cold, tried and paralysed with fright, half hoping that a direct hit would put us all out of our misery, I jerked upright and cocked my head on one side to hear better. Could it be? Yes it was, the blessed, long-prayed-for sound of the all clear: the long-awaited, strident, but yet exhilarating noise of the long-drawn-out wail heralding our release, at least for the time being, from the clutches of terror. ‘Thank God for that,’ said Mrs Garlick, with great feeling, with which we, as overnight converts to the power of prayer, agreed whole-heartedly.’

PP. 64-66, Chapter 14, More George! (courtesy of The Hallamshire Press Limited).


George’s Life during the Second World War ~ Part 7

The Man and His Art ~ Introduction

This page was added by Gemma Clarke on 26/03/2015.

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