SHEFFIELD AT WAR (1940-1941) film no: 2881
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. 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.
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.
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.
This film is an extract. To access the complete film please contact the Yorkshire Film Archive