SHEFFIELD AT WAR (1940-1941) film no: 2881

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A documentary film taken in Sheffield during the Second World War, this film includes footage of the severe bomb damage suffered by Sheffield during the Blitz as King George VI and Queen Elizabeth tour of the damaged areas.  It also shows a military parade civil defence exercises, including using gas masks, a barrage balloon, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), the ARP, and the Home Guard.  Additionally there is footage of the Women’s Land Army as they work in the countryside. 

The film opens with a car which has to stop whilst a farmer herds cows down a country road.  When the car arrives, some dignitaries get in.  Later they walk through bombed areas of the city.  A badly damaged church can be seen in the background.  Large crowds of people and photographers have gathered around the King and Queen, who are accompanied by the Mayor and Mayoress.  They stop and talk to some of the onlookers, and eventually, the King and Queen become completely surrounded by the crowd.  They get back to the car, still talking to people in the crowd waving as they leave. 

The film shows bomb damage to all kind of buildings, from terraced houses and shops, ‘Newmans’, to office buildings and churches. People in the city centre walk near a statue surrounded by the remnants of buildings, some with no roofs, others completely devastated and mangled from the bomb damage.  The film shows various bombed buildings, and a wrecked car, with a crane moving some of the mass of rubble.  The Royal Escort drives past buildings which are now just mangled steel skeletons.  Traffic and pedestrians go about their normal business, and people gather around a shot down aeroplane loaded onto the back of a lorry.  Many more people are crowded around another plane that has crashed in the city, and some of the children among them wave at the camera.   Parts of the plane, including a wing, are carried away and the main section is hoisted up and set back on its wheels.  A third plane that has crashed, with the Nazi cross visible, is also surrounded by a crowd.  There is additional footage of more buildings, including a steel bridge, devastated by the bombing.

Much of the damage in Sheffield occurred to domestic property.  There is a line of houses along a street which has been completely destroyed.  A church is also badly damaged.  More buildings are seen with what looks like the spire of St. Peter's Cathedral Church in the background.  More damage to a church is shown surrounded by bombed out streets of housing.  In amongst all the rubble, an air raid shelter can be seen having survived the bombing. The film moves on again to show a wrecked church with its baptismal font intact.  A group of men search for something buried in the rubble.  Elsewhere an elderly couple stop and take a peek at some rubble.  Old household items have been piled up outside a bombed out former butcher’s shop, ‘L Palmer’, next to a large area of devastation.  A group of people stand in front of the rubble as the camera pans around the destroyed buildings, and a group of boys pose for the camera.

More household items of furniture, which have presumably been pulled out of the rubble, stand alongside the road.  A wall left standing is held up with pieces of timber, and a car is buried under the fallen bricks of a house.  A large steel structure stands mangled by bombing, possibly Bramall Lane Stadium.  Among the other bombed buildings there is an upturned bus, and a working bus passes by in the background.  The film then shows large areas of damage from a high vantage point, looking out over the rooftops, most of which are now missing.

Next the film features a military parade which is inspected by a high ranking officer.  This is most probably George, the Duke of Kent visiting the ATS in Sheffield on  11-12 Jun 1942  (just a couple of months before his death).  He is accompanied by the Mayor, and rows of men in civilian clothes who stand at attention in front of a small light aircraft.  A group of veteran RAF men also stand in a line.  A large workforce stands at attention in a yard in front of some large buildings, which might be hangers at an aircraft station.  A group of officers do an inspection.  A uniformed women’s band, whose members play trumpets and drums, also stand to attention.  The lines of men then march off in procession.

Back in the city centre, two members of the ARP (Air Raid Precautions), wave rattles and walk down Barker’s Pool in front of City Hall.  They pass a line of women in white overalls putting on gas masks. A woman in a gas mask sweeps outside the Gaumont Cinema on Barker’s Pool where there is a billboard for George Formby.  There is then a gas attack drill as members of the ARP place smoke canisters in the road.   School children and other pedestrians wearing their gas masks watch from behind a barrier.  A warden stands on the street and rotates his rattle while smoke billows around him.   More demonstrations take place, one with an ARP riding past on a bicycle.  One of the wardens helps a woman put on her gas mask. 

Three ARP wardens are in protective rubber suits and gas masks.  They stand on the platform of a tram.  People mill around the city centre, all in their gas masks, and some in full rubber suits.  Another ARP warden in a standard black uniform and white helmet directs the traffic.  A woman walks past the camera with a shopping basket and holding the hand of a small girl who wears a gas mask.   Trams pass by through the smoke with people getting on and off in their masks. 

A man rings a bell, and after the city centre has been cleared, members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) set up a barrage balloon.  Women inside a metal cage, on a truck, pose for the camera as they operate the winch that controls the cables attached to the balloon.  Above them the large zeppelin shaped balloon hovers, tethered to the ground.  They raise the balloon by pulling on the guide cables which they tighten and clean.  Some of the women pose for the camera.  They also clean the RAF vehicle with the metal cage.  While sitting next to a tent beside a balloon, two women make notes.  Women in army uniforms watch one of their members paint a ‘V’ shaped sign on a wall.  An army officer talks to a line of the women, and others continue cleaning and repairing the cables and the truck.
In the countryside, a line of women, linked arm-in-arm, walk towards the camera.  They have presumably joined the Women’s Land Army.  The women take off their jackets and are given hoes which they take into a field of vegetables.  A woman shows them how to use the hoes, and they proceed to tend the vegetables.  The instructor hands one of them a drink which she lets run down her blouse, and they both have a laugh.  A bus full of women look out the windows at the camera, before a large group of women, who have disembarked from a row of buses, assemble and pose for the camera.  All dressed in overcoats and hoods, they make their way into a field and pick vegetables.  They stop to get tea given from a large bucket, and then queue before a table piled up with sandwiches.

Back in Sheffield City Centre, an army band passes.  It is followed by a line of trams and tanks turning from the High St. into Fargate past the Yorkshire Penny Bank, and there is a crowd of people who look on.  The tanks, one a Hollander II, come to a stop and the Mayor is hoisted onto one them.  He is watched by army officers and other dignitaries who inspect the tank.  Following this is a parade of the various services (the picture here is quite dark).  The film switches back to a field where bundles of hay are out to dry near a new housing development.  A farmer takes off on a horse drawn plough. 

The next portion of the film features troops on exercise.  On top of a tall building in the city centre, while trams pass below, an army officer taps out messages on a Morse code machine.  Down below there is a sign for JJ greaves & Sons, Auction Market.  Smoke is billowing out from an adjacent building.  Another army group, or members of the Home Guard, sit behind a machine gun perched on top of a building.  They set up machine guns in buildings overlooking vulnerable areas where the enemy might strike.  Fire fighters carry out a demonstration of putting out fire outside the offices of W. Grayson and Co., Chartered Accountants, on a cobbled street.  They use a pump and buckets before two fire engines arrive.  Members of the Home Guard practice drills with their rifles, with a sergeant holding a machine gun.  A group of servicemen with ‘FAP’ on their helmets carry off an injured person on a stretcher.  The Home Guard continue on exercise this time in a mock battle with bayonets attached to their rifles.  Here, the film comes to an end.

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This film came to the YFA as part of a large collection of films from Sheffield Local Studies. Unfortunately no other information came with the film, so there is no exact date for the film or information on who the filmmakers were.  The visit of King George IV and Queen Elizabeth to Sheffield was on January 6th 1941. Presumably the film of the various drills took place later on that same year. The YFA also has more film of the King and Queen visit to Sheffield taken by Willie Thorne, who filmed extensively during the war in Sheffield, including the War Weapons Week, Wings for Victory, Holiday Week and Salute the Soldier Week.   See also Holmfirth Tradesmen's Trip & Blitz in Sheffield (1940s) and New Towns for Old (1942)
The King and his Queen consort had previously visited Sheffield not that long before on the Oct. 21st 1937, and the YFA has this on film too. They also visited Hull, which was equally hard hit, later on in 1941 – see King and Queen visit Hull (1941). This visit to Sheffield in January 1941 followed the devastating bombing raids on Sheffield on the nights of Thursday 12th and Friday 13th of December 1940. Sheffield of course was an obvious target for bombing raids with its large steel and engineering industry, mainly turned over to munitions production during the war – see the Context forMunitions Factory (1940s) and for the Rotherham based Hickling Family during the War (1940s). 

Sheffield had been hit by bombs dropped by Zeppelin raids during the First World War, in particular on 25th September 1916, when bombs falling in Attercliffe and Burngreave killed 28 people and injured 19.  At the beginning of the Second World War anti-aircraft guns had been put in place to try to force the German planes to fly higher, thereby reducing accuracy (which was in any case extremely bad on both sides). By December of 1940 Sheffield had 27 heavy anti-aircraft guns at Shirecliffe, Manor and Brinsworth – there were also guns stationed around the city, see Hunshelf Gun Site(1940), another Willie Thorne film, and the Context for this on anti-aircraft guns.

In addition there were also searchlights, which could dazzle bombers, and 72 balloons, whose cables, as seen in this film, could bring down a plane. But in truth the defences were not up to preventing serious damage. In his chapter on ‘Sheffield at War’ in Binfield et al (References), Philip Healy provides a detailed account of the bombing raid of December, where the bombs fell and what the damage was. Apparently the raid was codenamed ‘Schmelztiegel’ (crucible), and consisted of 336 aircraft, out of an allocated 406. They flew from the south up Britain, thereby making it difficult to know what their intended target was. 

Reading through the list of places hit that Philip Healy gives, it would probably be easier to list the places not hit then those that were. But among the latter hit on the first raid, at 7.00pm on 12th were: Norton Lees, Gleadless, Abbeydale, Brincliffe Edge, Owlerton, Moorhead, Glossop Road, Park Hill, Millhouses, Sharrow, Broomhill, Crookesmoor, Walkey and Burngreave. More places were hit later on the same night. In the city centre this included the Moor, the High Street, Commercial Street, Haymarket, Exchange Street, and Campo Lane.

Philip Healy goes into more detail: “The fires in the city centre were out of control. Every building in Angel Street was bombed or on fire, King Street was an inferno, and the heat in the C&A building was so intense that the wall buckled. Thus Walsh’s Store caught fire from surrounding buildings at 4.30am after the raid was over.” (p 244) The strength of the heat is clearly evident in this film which shows a mass of twisted and mangled steel structures. In addition to damage to buildings, the Neepsend gasworks was hit as was Jessop Hospital, and the water supply badly affected. The single worst incident was bombing of the Marple Hotel where only seven of the 77 people sheltering there escaped alive. Over the course of that single night 335 tons of high explosives and 16,452 incendiary canisters had been dropped. Although the anti-aircraft guns had fired off 3,700 rounds, no German planes were shot down. The raid the following night was smaller, hitting other parts of the city, especially the industrial areas, including Brown Bayley, Hadfield’s and English Steel.

Needless to say, the clear up operation and emergency work that followed was huge. Over half of the city’s 150,449 houses were damaged, with 2,906 destroyed or beyond repair. Half the city was left without electricity and many areas were without gas and water for some weeks. Figures on the numbers that were killed or injured as a result of the raids vary widely, with the highest put at 693 killed (by Sheffield newspapers); the lowest at 502, according to the Civil War Dead Roll of Honour (Binfield, p. 247). 134 were buried in a mass grave in City Road Cemetery on 20th December 1940. Fortunately for Sheffield, other cities were mainly targeted after these December raids, although Sheffield was hit again on 14th March, 8/9th May, and lastly on 12th October, 1941.  For an extensive overview of the Sheffield Blitz, listing some of those killed, see the article on Chris Hobb's website (References).
With the outbreak of war gas masks were issued free to all, and everyone was legally obliged to carry them around at all times (although this was far from being implemented, and dropped off over time).  Mustard gas, which was almost odourless, had been used a great deal in the First World War, with many soldiers having died or been injured in gas attacks.  It was the British that first mooted gas poisoning as a weapon, in the Crimean War, but was rejected as contravening the laws of civilised warfare. These laws weren’t in fact put into place until the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land. This did not stop them being used extensively in World War One, first by France, and then much more by Germany with their more advanced chemical industry, although Britain soon joined in. 
The efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to enforce the Hague Convention during the war proved ineffective. There were several types of gas in use: first chlorine then phosgene, mixed in to make it more effective (more was breathed in), to form so-called "white star". Mustard gas came later, in September 1917. These became the main ones though bromine, chloropicrin and nerve gas were also used occasionally. To combat this soldiers at first used cotton wool dipped in bicarbonate of soda, or even urine, before filter respirators (using charcoal or antidote chemicals) were introduced, greatly reducing the effectiveness of gas attacks.
Nevertheless, it continued to be used after the war ended, by among others the British in Iraq. Winston Churchill, the then Secretary of State for War and Air, declared, I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisonous gas against uncivilized tribesI do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisonous gas against uncivilized tribes." (References)  The ICRC continued to press for outlawing poisonous gas after the war ended and this led to the adoption in Geneva in 1925 of the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare. Nevertheless, Italy used mustard gas in its conquest of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935. 

Neither side used gas as a weapon in the Second World War for fear of retaliation (although large stockpiles of nerve gas were found in Germany when the allies occupied in 1945). However, Churchill also issued a secret memo during the Second World War stating that poison gas should be used if necessary or if it would help end the war sooner by one year. See also the Context for Malton Evacuees.

Although both theWomen’s Auxiliary Air Force and the Home Guard feature in other films, Sheffield at War has some relatively rare scenes of them both in training. Women were active in many defence and emergency services during the war, as well as doing most of the munitions work and working in the Women’s Land’s Army. The Women’s' Voluntary Service worked in fighting fires, clearing rubble, guarding damaged buildings and assisting in rescue work.  Women could join the Civil Defence or Women’s Voluntary Service – which had one million members by 1943 – and later the Women’s Home Guard Auxiliaries for administrative duties. There was also the Auxiliary Territorial Service, which by July 1942 had 217,000 women members – see also Formation Of The Homeguard (1944) and Hunshelf Gun Site (1940).
The German’s hoped to break civilian morale through their bombing raids, especially in the early days of the blitz. The British Government were also very concerned that this could happen, and in this concern they were perhaps right – see again the Context for King and Queen visit Hull (1941). Yet Philip Healy reports that there had been no panic or mass exodus in the wake of the bombing in Sheffield. As Jörg Friedrich shows in his graphic account of the horrific bombing that British Air Command carried out on Germany, the tactic of breaking civilian morale is seriously misconceived. It was only after the end of the war that area bombing was made illegal, and this incorporated into the Geneva Conventions. However, each year brings with it thousands of more civilian casualties in wars. It is perhaps hardly surprising that Sheffield hosted the second World Peace Congress in November 1950.  This initiative, coming from the Soviet sponsored World Peace Council, was entangled up in the cold war. Yet even as we head into the 21st century, it is still arguable as to whether there is any effective world body to put an end to the atrocities of war.
Clyde Binfield et al (eds), The History of the City of Sheffield, Vols. 2&3, Sheffield Academic Press, 1993. 
Jörg Friedrich, The Fire The Bombing of Germany, 1940 1945: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945, Columbia University Press, 2008.
Juliet Gardiner, Wartime: Britain 1939-1945, Headline, London, 2004.
Arthur Marwick, The Home Front: British and the Second World War, Hudson and Thames, 1976.

Winston Churchill's Secret Poison Gas Memo

Chris Hobb, Marples Hotel - Thursday December 12th 1940


My father was in a reserved occupation, working for the Callander Cable Company, replacing high tension power cables after the Blitz.  We travelled to wherever required, including Sheffield, where there were five of us and my mother.  I was the youngest. My father was called up in 1944 and volunteered for the parachute regiment and took part in the largest parachute drop in history 'Operation Varsity' but didn't survive.

We came from a small town in Scotland, and at the finish of his work we returned to Scotland. My Mother always said, the war ended in 1945 and her war had just begun. She was widowed with six children and expecting her seventh. We all followed purposeful careers.  I was a Firefighter in Glasgow for thirty one years (about which I jointly authored of a book called Tinderbox Heroes). One brother became a Police Officer, one joined the military, and the eldest became Britain's youngest Station Master at nineteen, when steam trains ruled. So whilst it was difficult times for so many, I think, made from different stuff, we all survived.

James Smith

Wed, 2015-03-18 12:13

the description of the film "sheffield blitz" mentions rubble near a statue. The Statue is in Fitzalan Square and the Rubble to the right is the marples Hotel which as mentioned in the context section was the site of the largest single loss of life during the raids on Sheffield with 70 dead in the pub cellar

Thu, 2013-04-18 22:55

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