AIR RAID OF 18 JULY 1941
Ministry of Information internal report
The National Archives document reference: HO 199/45
Effects of Enemy Air Attack upon
REPORT BY HULL AND EAST RIDING INFORMATION COMMITTEE.
Canon A. Berry Counc. Mrs. Hangar and Mr. J.M. Peddie
This was one of the most devastating raids that the city has experienced. It followed two previous attacks, all of which took place within a week. The major weight of the attack was concentrated upon the eastern part of the city. There was severe damage to industrial premises and factories, and extensive destruction of residential property.
A remarkable feature of the first of these three raids, was the apparently negligible psychological effect upon the people. The general public appeared almost contemptuous of the raid. It was very little discussed, although the damage was by no means light.
To a lesser extent this feeling was also in evidence after the second of the three raids. This fact is mentioned because it is such a contrast with the public reactions to the raid on 18th July.
The severity of this raid was a great shock to the East Hull residents, upon whom the attack was heaviest. Public spirits during the hours immediately following the raid were exceedingly low. Throughout the Friday, within the bombed area one could frequently hears comments by people of all different social types, which indicated that they "would find it impossible to stand the strain any longer". This feeling of depression may have been stimulated by the general conditions that prevailed immediately after the raid.
During the Friday morning the Rescue Squad continued their work in the mud and rain which fell in a steady down-pour; earth from bomb craters and the debris of demolished buildings was strewn about Holderness Road. The knowledge that Messers. Reckitts and Colman had been hit may have added to the gloom, as the prospect of loss of employment may have been feared in some cases.
Work of the Services
Very favourable comment indeed was expressed upon the services of the Rescue Squads. Some heavy casualties resulted from hits upon shelters. Under most difficult conditions the rescue squads worked well, and in several cases they were enthusiastically assisted by civilian volunteers.
The Ministry of Information's loud speaker vans were quickly available, although the need for public announcements was not great.
Mobile canteens were in most cases quickly on the spot. In those districts where they operated the general public expressed great satisfaction with them. We were told, however, by a number of people in the New Bridge Road area that the arrival of the canteens had been delayed, and that a number of people were without refreshment until late on the Friday afternoon.
State of Defences
There was some strong and bitter criticism of the city's defences. "All bark and no bite" was a typical comment. Whether this was justified we are not in a position to state, but it certainly appears that this point of view was created by the absence of German plane losses, the savage nature of the bombing, and the apparent ease with which the planes carried out their work. The bombers were heard to swoop low across the city, before dropping their bombs.
Despite the experience of the last 'blitz', organisation for dealing with evacuation seemed to fall a long way short of perfection.
On the Friday night we had conversation with scores of people who, with hundreds of others, were making an exodus from the city. Very few appeared to have the slightest idea of any available organisation for evacuation. We saw many large groups of people in Holderness Road wandering towards the country, and other struggling to secure conveyances towards the Bus and Railway Stations, in hope of reaching the Western environs of the city and beyond.
Hull has been extremely fortunate in the fact that it has been spared a return visit from the enemy just at that moment when a repetitive raid might have shattered its evacuation plans. As it is, "trekking" is on the increase. If this remains uncontrolled it is possible that it may develop into a serious problem.
Handling of Fatalities
Immediately following the raid we came into contact with a bereaved person who was most critical of the treatment received and the experience encountered in seeking to identify one of the raid victims. In consequence of this, we felt it was necessary to observe whether this was a general impression among those who had been brought into contact with the arrangements for dealing with fatalities.
We regret to report that the general feeling was exceedingly bitter in its denunciation of this organisation. We heard of many individual experiences that were most distressing, and it is with deep concern and intense reluctance that were record these conditions.
One party of relatives were instructed to be at the mortuary on the Sunday morning, arrived at 10 o'clock and apparently had to wait until 2 p.m. before receiving attention. According to our informant, they were then informed by the attendant that the party would be taken in after she had had a cup of tea. They were also told that the body of the person they had come to identify had been picked up in Barnsley Street, when actually the body was found in Franklin Street.1 The description of the clothing given to them was incorrect; both of which statements led to confusion in the process of identification.
There were other cases where parties of relatives were kept waiting until midnight in the open before receiving attention. Another group of relatives who desired to identify a number of bodies from Rustenberg Street were informed that all the bodies were unrecognisable. This was afterwards fond to be untrue, as the bodies were in perfect condition.
Distressed relatives had to tramp from the bus terminus to the mortuary and were then kept waiting without facilities or convenience. There were numerous cases where relatives were kept waiting outside the mortuary from early morning until late at night.
From the information received it was apparent that there had been some carelessness in the handling of the victims. One family intending to identify two bodies had picked up two identification tags outside the mortuary, where they had apparently dropped off the bodies. The family were informed that the victims they wished to identify were not there, yet the fact that they had found the tags suggested that either the bodies were in the mortuary, or had been wrongly identified and removed. They insisted upon a search, and finally the bodies were found.
There was another case in which a child of a few months old had been killed. At first the body could not be found, but was later discovered in the mortuary among an accumulation of human remains.
Complement must be paid to the hundreds of ordinary people in the centre of the affected working class district, who in the hours immediately following the raid quite unconsciously displayed a calm courage and unconcern that was truly amazing.
In one long street where almost every house bore the scars of the raid, there was a stretch of houses where the roofs had been pushed forward as if by a giant hand, and were over-hanging the streets below. Opposite we met a group of women late on the Friday night, "cleaning up." At that time hundreds of other people were rushing out of the city. We asked if they, too, were evacuating. But although their houses were damaged, they were not. They had nowhere to go, they said, and they might just as well keep busy at home. To those who have experienced or seen the shattering desolation of a bomb-wrecked home, it must demonstrate a courage of no mean order to keep busy "cleaning up" on the eve of the night that might mean the return of the bomber.
Spreading of Rumours
We heard several exaggerated stories concerning the number of casualties. This appears now to be a normal feature of post-raid rumour. On the Sunday and Monday following the raid the rumour was widespread that Mr. Winston Churchill had paid a visit to Hull, and had received a hostile reception. [This rumour was subsequently denied in the Press – R.I.O.]
Arising out of rumour concerning the Premier, we heard many expressions of opinion regarding recent statements made by the Prime Minister in which he adopted a challenging attitude towards the Nazis, as, for instance, when he called upon them to, "Do their worst." While there appears to be no lack of courage on the part of the people, some seem to be under the impression that such speeches are an incitement, the consequences of which are borne by the civilian population.
This report may appear to be in a somewhat critical vein. In every case, however, we have dealt only with the aspects of the air-raid organisations so far as they affect public morale.
If some of our observations are condemnatory we hope that such expressions do not detract from the very high praise that must be extended to the many members of the services who rendered great work during the raid.
In the days following the raid public spirits steadily improved, and after the severe shock so many had experienced this in itself is a well deserved tribute to the courage of the ordinary people.
28 July, 1941