- Contributed by
- BBC Open Centre, Hull
- People in story:
- Thomas Henry Baker
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 11 October 2005
Harry Baker’s Journal Part 2. Extracts from the Journal of 1429538 Gunner Thomas Henry Baker - Royal Artillery, of Hull
Harry Baker served throughout the war both at home and overseas; he was born in Hull in 1913 and died there in 1998. The journal has been kindly loaned to Iris Middleton by his daughter Joan Wright of Hull.
Being at Battery Headquarters, near Preston in Holderness, we had more than our fair share of entertainments. My favourite sport was football, and we managed to get a number of games with Hull teams as well as service teams. We also had concert parties and a few singers and musicians, sometimes we had a dance, and on the 7th of May 1941 we had a number of ladies from Smith and Nephew, a large Hull firm, invited to a dance. I was on duty from 2pm to 10pm and despite a report from one of our coastal units that enemy planes had been reported over the sea, nothing unusual happened. Just before I came off duty at 10pm the gun crews were called out, so we could expect our usual shoot-out. Almost all the Headquarters staff was in the canteen, dancing, but I decided to go to bed with an Edgar Wallace thriller, but before I turned in, I went to the canteen for a bottle of lemonade. The lad behind the bar welcomed me with open arms, he said he hoped I would call in the canteen because the Sergeant Major had invited him into the mess for a drink, and as secretary of the sports club I could take his place behind the bar. Stan duly went for his drink, and Roy Stather, a friend of mine, who had come off duty with me at 10pm, came in for a lemonade. We were chatting about conditions being ideal for a raid when two ladies came to the counter, and said ‘Your guns don’t make much noise, do they?’ Roy explained that the guns were two fields away and that the wind was blowing away from the camp, but that two weeks ago a string of incendiaries dropped between the huts, and last week a 200lb bomb fell near the football field, so any time now we were due for a landmine. He had only just finished speaking when a terrific crash shook the whole building — the west wall was replaced by a sheet of flame, and the whole world seemed to have collapsed. I ducked under the counter and listened to the crash of wood, beer and lemonade bottles. After a few moments I pushed my way out from under the counter, only to have a bottle of beer fall on my head. I crawled out and staggered to my feet to find men and women laid on the floor unconscious, the flames were still blazing but people were helping each other to their feet. A bombardier was picking ladies up from the ground and dashing out with them — he was awarded the Military Medal for this bravery. I did a fireman’s lift on a lady, and had just reached the door when this bombardier took her off me. I stepped out into the cold air and realised that I was only wearing my shirt, trousers and sandshoes, so I went back to my hut for some warmer clothes but what a shock awaited me there. The huts were a mass of flames. My hut was just a heap of ash and burning timber — all my gear was gone, and I would have been too had I not helped in the bar.
I was even more shocked to see the state of the city of Hull, fires were burning everywhere from King George Dock to the city centre including Alexandra and Victoria Docks, ships and warehouses were ablaze; stacks of timber in Victoria Dock were burning fiercely and the city centre had fires of all shapes and sizes. Vivid flashes indicated where bombs were still falling. Buildings seemed to go up in blocks and come down in pieces. Looking north towards Beverley the fires continued, some sheets of flame shooting skywards, some large mushroom clouds of black smoke, but in the main the city was covered with white and orange smoke. The sky was filled with the sound of enemy aircraft, bombs were dropping near and far, the guns were blazing away and I thought about the old and the young in shelters, not knowing whether they would survive the night, ‘My God, this isn’t war, it’s sheer bloody murder’ I thought to myself.
We relieved the night team on the radar receiver and were not surprised to find the screen full of enemy aircraft. Fire Control asked for a height on the targets and I managed to pick one plane on a height of 7,500 feet — the whole zone barraged on this, and for a while we kept the air above the docks clear, but by now I think the enemy was dropping bombs and landmines any place and beating a hasty retreat. One after another our guns had to stop firing to cool down, and we listened to the enemy planes above, hoping that our town guns wouldn’t give them time to pick us out as a sitting duck. About 5am the last German plane disappeared from the screen.
The lad I had relieved in the canteen was among the injured and when I next saw him, three months later, he said all he remembered was having his drink when a crash shook the building and he blacked-out. He woke up in hospital and asked a nurse ‘Where am I?’ she replied ‘Hedon Road Maternity Hospital’. [Used as a military hospital for the war]
I borrowed a bicycle, and my sergeant turned a blind-eye so that I could dash home to check on my family. On the way I passed air raid wardens checking damaged houses for survivors, workmen digging out a bombed shelter in case people were under the rubble, and several blazing factories in Stoneferry. The ride home was difficult because the roads were blocked with debris but I was relieved to find my family safe and the house intact. Rumours were flying around about the damage — I even heard from an air raid warden that my own battery had been wiped out, so I put him right and suggested that he should go home and get some rest because the lights from the fires burning in the city would be an invitation to the bombers to return the next night.
Sure enough the next night, which was clear and moonlit, our station at Spurn Point called us with ‘Pip up — hostile target on bearing 95 degrees’. We found a lone target, possibly a reconnaissance plane to draw our guns whilst the rest of the pack sneaked in. The guns deliberately did not fire, but an hour later all stations were reporting targets and the guns engaged but it was really difficult as the heights were very varied. The sight of Hull being bombed was enough to make you weep; it was worse than the night before. The air was filled with the noise of aircraft and our shells whistling up whilst the bombs whistled down. The Lutwaffe had the advantage that even if their bombs missed the docks and factories they would hit civilians in their houses nearby, and hundreds of Hull people were killed before the enemy departed at around 5am leaving the city centre devastated. If the Germans had come a third night I think there would have been nothing left of Hull. The air raid wardens, firemen, army and everyone were worn out but the docks were still functioning and Hull was down but not out.
Two Scottish lads from our camp asked me if the YPI was open again. I replied that I didn’t know but the back had been bombed. ‘Yes,’ said Jock, ‘we were there when the bomb dropped, we were awakened by a terrific crash about 3 am and got out. Bombs were dropping on both sides of Holderness Road so we ran and walked back to camp at Preston as fast as we could. What I was wondering was whether we could get our money back because we didn’t get a full night’s sleep or any breakfast.’
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