Bristol Blitz: Recalling the bombing, 75 years on

By Caroline Le Marechal
BBC News, Bristol

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image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMore than 200 people died in the six-hour long air raid on 24 November 1940

On Sunday 24 November 1940, Germany dispatched 148 bombers to attack Bristol. The first bomb dropped at about 18:00 and the raid continued for six hours. Coventry had suffered a devastating air raid 10 days earlier, but that night the Luftwaffe was to wreak havoc on another historic city.

Bristol had to endure six more bombing raids until April 1941 - over those five months, almost 1,300 people died and 1,303 were seriously injured.

The plan that November night was to destroy the port and Bristol Aeroplane Company, but it was the city's mediaeval centre which bore the brunt of the bombs.

The port was an important Luftwaffe target as a distribution centre for essential supplies and shipyards where warships were made and repaired.

On that first raid, on 24 November, more than 200 people died, 187 were seriously injured and 1,400 were made homeless.

BBC News spoke to some Bristolians who remember the Bristol Blitz.

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The nurse:

Sybil Moores, now 100, was a casualty nurse, at the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI), during the raids.

image captionNurse Sybil Moores in the 1930s and today

Mrs Moores said although there was a shelter outside the infirmary, she "never went down it" because she was always too busy.

Recalling the night of the raid, when there were just two nurses on duty, she said: "You just didn't have much time to think. You just got on with it. Some of the casualties were pretty bad."

The BRI dealt with injuries below the neck, while the General Hospital took those with injuries above the neck.

"But that didn't always happen," she said. "You found yourself with all the casualties in the end."

As the raid wore on, the General Hospital closed its accident department and she assumed staff were being sent to her, but, to her surprise, they were then sent elsewhere.

"When I rang matron, she said, 'Don't try me, you'll just have to get on with it won't you?'"

She then went to the matron's office in person to tell them her department was "absolutely seething" - but was again told she could not have any extra staff.

"I went back to my office and I slammed the door. I paced up and down for a few minutes and dear old Mr Fitzgibbon, the surgeon, was in casualty at the time and said 'What's up sis?'"

She said she explained the lack of staff and he told her he "would see to that" and got her four extra nurses.

"It [the Bristol Blitz] was challenging because it was so busy and everything was chaotic. "

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The schoolgirl:

Mildred Ford, now 85, was 10 years old in 1940 and staying with her aunt and uncle, in Totterdown, on the night the bombs first fell.

image captionMildred Ford was 10 in 1940 and described her family as "lucky" as nobody was injured

"I spent that evening in a big cupboard under the stairs," she said. "[My uncle] had made it up all quite comfortable for us all.

"It's very strange because a part of you was frightened and the other part very inquisitive. You really wanted to get out and see what was happening.

"I suppose there was a lull in the bombing and I went out. I could twist my uncle round my little finger and I took his tin helmet and stood out in the garden."

She said she could see the flames from the Holy Nativity Church on Wells Road and described it as a "strange feeling - excitement but frightening at the same time".

"It wasn't until we went to see what happened that it really struck home. The devastation was quite terrible and in a child's mind you think 'how the devil did all that happen'?

"And you think 'I won't be able to get my ice-cream at Melhuish's'. It was things like that, it was the places you used to frequent that you thought about really."

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The fire watcher:

image captionFire watcher Eric Tyley was in his early 20s when the bombs fell on Bristol

Eric Tyley, now 97, was a volunteer fire watcher a day shy of his 23rd birthday when the Luftwaffe struck his home city for the first time.

His responsibility involved monitoring the bombing and then reacting to the resulting fires, helping put them out.

He and his colleagues didn't appreciate the danger they faced at the time. He said they "scooped up" the bombs shells with shovels.

"We didn't want to get too close to the damn things - they were hot you know - but we were all surprised by the severity of it.

"It was very scary. We hadn't experienced anything like it before."

He said he saw "bright red flames" on the night of the raid, but added "you couldn't hang about and enjoy the scenery" and said the bombing was "pretty noisy".

The following day, on his way to work at a city centre shipping business, he was stunned by the "terrible" scenes of buildings "all blitzed out" and still alight.

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The schoolboy:

image captionMonty Britton was 12 during the Blitz and lived with his grandmother

Monty Britton, now 86, grew up in an end-of-terrace house in Horfield, north Bristol.

He said everybody "knew we were likely to be bombed" because Bristol was a "prominent city with industry".

Along with his friends at Ashley Down primary school, the boys would compete to scavenge the "biggest piece of shrapnel" from the previous night's raid.

When the air raid started he was at home as his grandmother "issued instructions" for the family to get under the stairs.

"That night, in our little cul-de-sac, the men - including the boys of my age - had a patrol and we called it 'our bomb patrol'.

"We had a bucket of sand, the stirrup pump and a bucket of water. If the incendiaries were falling, we'd go out and put out the bomb - very hazardous. But at the time, the important thing was to deal with it and get rid of it."

He said as a boy he had found it all "very exciting", but one memory of the night still stands out.

Two lodgers who lived with him and his grandmother coped with the stress by getting "blind drunk". He said he and his uncle "rescued" them in his grandmother's wheelchair after they collapsed on the street.

"At the time I found it tremendously funny. But they were scared, petrified stiff and that had never occurred to me."

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image captionAbout 81,830 houses were completely destroyed and almost 90,000 buildings were damaged

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